Caroline Paradise

UK & Europe

Caroline Paradise is Head of Design Research at Atkins where she leads a research driven approach to developing innovative design solutions across the education sector. Caroline has pioneered research across the education, science and healthcare sectors and is passionate about the inherent value in capturing lessons learnt from completed projects. Her current role at Atkins is divided between developing and managing research initiatives and working with clients and design teams to develop a vision and detailed brief which captures the aspirations of a project with a focus on the importance of wellbeing.

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With universities becoming more and more customer-focused, what’s the impact on how they design their estates and new buildings? Campuses are having to improve their offer to meet the increasingly demanding expectations of fee-paying students, academic staff and grant-awarding bodies.
Industries like the car manufacturing and consumer electronics have sophisticated ways of measuring their customers’ wants and needs. But when it comes to architecture and the built environment, how do we know what our customers really want?

It is accepted wisdom that great, new spaces can be inspirational and promote wellbeing and mindfulness. But how long does the effect persist, particularly when other factors - such as imminent exams - drive behaviours and perceptions. What will have a real and lasting impact on wellbeing and, more importantly, can we codify it so that we can mass produce it, reliably and efficiently, across the higher education sector?
At Atkins, we’ve taken Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) seriously for some time. The award-winning Law School at Northumbria University is an example of how we engaged users to find out ‘how it was for them’. These exercises have given us a wealth of data to better understand how the spaces we design have an impact on occupant satisfaction and performance. We’re now on a mission to transform this data into information that can be embedded into our digital design tools. The world of BIM facilitate this, but we also need design tools that connect this information to our design outputs. 
With our development of a suite of tools as part of Atkins’ WellBriefing service, we bring together in-depth stakeholder engagement and specialist design expertise to early stage design decision-making. 

Our bespoke digital design software brings together a range of high level analyses - typically undertaken at a later stage in the design process, at a fraction of the cost, and includes:
•       Daylight access for building massing – quickly analyses options and their impact on the internal environment by façade or floor level
•       Solar access for open spaces/public realm – to assess the impact on thermal and visual comfort of external spaces
•       External views from the inside of buildings (known to promote wellbeing)

Maximising the opportunity provided by advances in computational design and analytics, WellBriefing allows our design teams to assess conceptual design strategies and evaluate the optimum balance between potential energy use, cost and the wellbeing of building users.

In this way the client can be given better advice through an integrated design development process from the very beginning of the project and is able to commission the final building to reflect their specific ambitions and end-user needs.

This same approach is being adopted for digital design tools to model the acoustic environment and air quality. What’s more, these approaches are already being used on live projects, including the £250m Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College redevelopment.
Combined with drive and vision from Clients and designers, the dream of efficiently designing people-centred buildings that perform predictably and reliably through the intelligent application of digital design tools is now within reach. 

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The study, published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, is based on a survey of almost 1,500 women aged 64 to 95 and found that those that sit down for most of the day had shorter telomeres, tiny caps which are found on the ends of strands of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. As telomeres shorten with age, risk of disease increases. 

This is one of an ever growing number of studies to come out demonstrating the importance of movement to our health. The World Health Organisation found that sitting for eight hours a day increases your risk of developing a chronic disease by 90 per cent and puts lack of movement as the forth leading risk factor for death.

But it’s not just our physical health that suffers from remaining sedentary throughout the day. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity, whereas skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion. Sit-stand desks have also been proven to improve employee productivity by as much as 53 per cent over a period of six months.

These are startling statistics and yet 37 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women still spend less than 30 minutes a day on their feet. That sounds terrible, but perhaps not surprising when data recently collected from over 1,500 respondents using Atkins’ new WellBriefing tool suggests that between 45-50 per cent of people aren’t aware of how much they move throughout the day.

With people spending an average of 90 per cent of their time indoors I think it’s time we took a serious look at how we can both create buildings that incorporate movement needs into their use and look at ways to encourage people to spend more time outdoors.

Lime Tree Primary Academy is a great example of Atkins’ architects bringing this theory to life and working closely with staff and students to design a school that enables over half of the curriculum to be delivered outdoors. With a central, open avenue running through the school, breakout areas outside each classroom and a large outdoor play area, the children incorporate far more movement into their daily lives than a more traditionally designed school building would allow. As well as the physical benefits, teachers have noticed wider improvements to the students’ self-esteem, motivation and enthusiasm to work.

As architects and designers we need to rethink the world around us. If we design to make movement around a building, home or public space enjoyable and part of people’s daily routine then we can make a big difference in helping to change behaviour. Not only can we have a positive impact on individual’s lives and wellbeing, we can improve student performance and help companies achieve significant financial savings, through reduced absence rates, and increases in staff productivity.

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Three of the London based universities, including Imperial College and UCL, are investing in new campus sites outside the city centre. Other universities in the UK, like Northampton, are making a conscious decision to consolidate their estate. They’re doing this not just to create efficiencies, but to create a single campus that brings together all of their students in one place. This has got me thinking: how do universities foster a sense of community when they don’t have a clearly defined campus?

Some people might argue that there are students who choose a university solely based on quality of education (see article here from AUDE 2013). They think students aren’t necessarily interested in being part of a community, and are just there to soak up as much knowledge as they can. Others argue that learning communities have moved online, and the next generation is just as happy digesting knowledge through a virtual learning environment or MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses).

But with students now paying up to £9k a year in tuition fees, I believe most want the full university experience. They want the total package where they feel part of a community that exists beyond the classroom, built on human interaction and a sense of belonging, and that they will be a part of their entire lives. This is particularly evident for undergraduates where the university often becomes their ‘home away from home’.

In many cases, students actually like the smaller, more intimate communities that form around a shared interest – most commonly, around their Faculty, Department or course. Knowing that everyone in their building is taking the same course gives them a shared purpose with their peers, and something to talk about if they cross paths on the stairs. This has come across as part of our Post Occupancy Evaluation study at Northumbria University where students really value being able to identify with City Campus East as their ‘home’ and that they can sit down in any one of the variety of learning spaces and know they could be sitting next to a future colleague.

Northumbria University
A consistency of landscape design and public realm was key to maintaining an overall identity for Northumbria University.

Northumbria University, while not as dispersed as some universities, does have a few autonomous campuses across the city, each with its own identity and community. When we worked with the University on the development of City Campus East, one of the main design drivers was ensuring that the different components of the University estate have a strong connection to one another, as well as providing a strong visual identity for the new campus. The flow of people on foot and by bike from the main campus to City Campus East was an area which our colleagues in Atkins’ intelligent spaces team analysed in detail through pedestrian flow modelling.

Having a university in the middle of our biggest cities poses additional challenges. Universities like Glasgow have been embedded in the fabric of their cities for hundreds of years, and the development of the university estates is directly connected with the growth and development of the city. The University of Glasgow’s global vision for 2020 sets out its commitment to a continual dialogue with the city so that they maintain a positive relationship between their students and the wider community. They want their students to feel as much part of the academic community as they do a part of a more global community, encouraging students to experience the city as a citizen as much as a student. Retaining this kind of connection to the university as well as the city is challenging, but can offer an incredible and unforgettable experience when done right, particularly for foreign students.

So outside of faculty buildings and transport links, what steps can universities take to encourage communities? First it’s about putting in place the supports you need to provide the foundation for a community. These could include facilities to encourage the development of friendships outside the lecture theatre or seminar room, and, maybe for more mature students, potentially to support their families. A good example of where this is happening is the development of Edinburgh University’s Easter Bush Campus.

Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus
Edinburgh’s Easter Bush campus, situated outside the city, is currently being developed to provide a better ‘place to be’ for students, in particular the Centre building, which is a hub for staff and students.

Creating a sense of community also relies on creating a sense of common purpose. Encouraging students to get involved in volunteer groups is one way to bring students together. By getting students involved in, and giving back to, the community, you create not only a sense of shared purpose but a closer link to students’ shared surroundings. Encouraging entrepreneurship and links with local businesses is another good way of doing this. Oxford University, for example, encourages students to volunteer and to collaborate with local businesses, ultimately becoming ‘active citizens in their local community and beyond’.

But really it’s about how the university is perceived, both by students and the wider community. You could go so far as to say the first step to creating a university community is to create a ‘brand’ – a strong and unique identity for the university that people buy into and will pay premium prices to be a part of. This is seen most vividly in the USA with universities like Harvard creating a brand that even those outside the university want to be associated with.

For the universities building new, combined campuses, it’s a fresh start, and an opportunity to consciously brand the campus as a single, cohesive community that students identify with and want to belong to. For the universities that have facilities spread across the city, it’s about finding a way to connect these elements together with a common identity – whether it’s through transport or building aesthetics or common purpose – so that they build a community that is the connection across their disperse campuses.

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