About specifications for a new campus

If you are not a civil architect or a professional in the domain of town planning and construction, you are likely to find it tough to identify requirements and creating suitable specs for various facilities which should be built in a new campus of a university. It is a complex task. Recently I went through such an exercise for my university. This was a team effort with couple of my colleagues (all of us are members of faculty in different engineering departments of our university) -- none of us were into civil architecture or anything resembling it. I will share my views and experiences about this exercise.

First question that may come to one's mind is: "should I really be part of such an exercise? what's there in it for me?" This is a normal thought :) As far I'm concerned, I chose to be part of this exercise because: a) I genuinely wanted to contribute towards building our institute b) the proposals and ideas that were being put forth about facilities in our new campus seemed flawed to me and I wished to fix the course of things. After all, I felt that if I'm going to spend large part of my career/life in this place I better act now to shape the place. Let me also caution that if the leadership at the institute is not receptive of your views (no matter how well meant and well researched your ideas may be), you will face lot of frustration. Also, a lot of your time will be spent in this engagement. Your research and teaching may also take a hit. The only reward is the satisfaction and joy of having shaped the infrastructure of your campus (and in my case also learned the intricacies of a new domain).

Let me now come to the main point of this post: how to elicit/identify requirements for various infrastructure facilities in the campus. Three key questions that need to be answered are:

  1. What needs to be built,
  2. In what numbers and sizes and
  3. In what order should it be build
For a residential institute of higher learning answer to the first question is mostly around creating following facilities:
  1. Buildings to house teaching and research facilities
  2. Residential buildings for students and employees
  3. Recreational facilities and
  4. Common utilities for all residents. E.g. health center, shopping complex etc.
For answering question #2, we worked with the number of students as our starting point. For a university, the number of faculty and supporting staff can be easily worked out from standard/recommended ratios w.r.t the number of students. If your students population projection is fairly good then it will be straight forward to estimate the overall capacity of various facilities that will be needed. Unfortunately, for us this was not the case as we were not getting clear message about this important parameter (i.e. student intake projections) from our leadership. Nevertheless, a related question is: what should be the size (and other specs) of various units in those buildings? For instance, what are the dimensions of a wet lab, of a faculty office, a class room etc.? For this we surveyed several universities in the country and abroad. After carefully studying the specs of facilities at those universities we formulated our own specs for carving our space in various buildings. A very good source of information for us has been Stanford University's Facility Design Guidelines library. Particularly, Space and Furniture Planning Guidelines (UPDATE: This link is broken. Here's another similar one. Also, this document may be useful as well if you are starting afresh.) have been very useful for reference.

One of the major challenge is identifying specs for power supply and HVAC needs for different buildings. Particularly, the teaching and research labs are very difficult to spec out. None of us or those who were asking for those labs had much idea about how to estimate power and HVAC needs etc. Though the stakeholders who gave us the estimates for their labs claimed to have done due diligence in providing the numbers, my suspicion is that their numbers may not be realistic. Basis for my suspicion is that none of them cited any equipment power ratings or other data based on which they prepared their estimates. Therefore, my suggestion is that in case you are gathering the inputs from others about labs etc., ensure that you get the reference to proper equipment data.

Another point which I would like to caution in this regard is that you should not blindly trust the stakeholders who are giving inputs about building requirements. For example, head of a particular department may say that they need N number of such and such lab and each lab should be equipped with specific equipment. You should ask them to supply the utilization plan for the labs (or other facilities whatever it may be). The utilization numbers should reconcile with your projected students numbers. Unfortunately, we did not get this check done -- we just took it on the face value trusting the providers of information. Only time will tell whether this was the right decision (though my feeling as of today is that we might face issues). Also, whether the estimates for various labs and other facilities have considered pooling etc. should be explicitly checked. We did not do this (and my feeling is that it may pinch us later when the project gets into execution mode).

Couple of other points which are related and you should check when reviewing the input numbers from various stakeholders:
  1. All labs are almost never used concurrently. After all, a batch of students is attending classes/labs one at a time.
  2. All equipment in a given lab is unlikely to be always on at the same time.
These points should be kept in mind when preparing and checking the input numbers for power and other types of requirements.

I would also like to add few of my notes about the process of gathering and consolidating inputs from stakeholders: Our process was simple -- we just requested various departments to give their requirements in a specific format. The format mainly had fields to capture specs such as carpet area and other parameters such as HVAC needs etc. After collecting such inputs from the point persons in various departments we just aggregated the inputs. In retrospect, I think this was not a very good method. A better method, in my view, could have been to the following:

  1. Design a suitable input gathering document. It should have fields/sections to allow specifying key parameters such as:
    1. Carpet area needed for a facility (e.g. a lab, classroom, office etc.)
    2. Average and peak heating load (for calculating HVAC specs).
    3. Average and peak power load and how much should be on backup/UPS etc.
    4. List of equipment to be connected (for verification of heat and power loads etc.).
    5. Expected utilization of the facility. E.g. a lab may be used only three days of a week for 5 hours on each day.
  2. Circulate the input document to various stakeholders such as departments in the university. Stakeholders giving inputs should ensure that they put accurate values as far as possible.
  3. Review all the inputs taken together with the aim of:
    1. Identifying opportunities for removing duplicate allocation/demand for certain facilities.
    2. Identifying opportunities for pooling resources to improve utilization. E.g. you may find that certain labs can be created as central facilities instead of creating multiple separate ones in different departments.
    3. Validating input numbers against the norms/standards. E.g. the carpet area of a faculty office is fairly standard, similarly areas for classrooms of certain capacity are also standardized.
  4. Communicate the observations from review step back to the stakeholders to get their buy-in (or just informing them).
  5. Finalize the inputs for communicating to the architecture/design team.

For answering third question it will help to prioritize the requirements (i.e. buildings). Primary stakeholders are students. So in my view residential and teaching facilities for students should take highest priority. Then comes the residential facilities for faculty and staff. Fancy research stuff may be put on somewhat lower priority (perhaps linked to research projects as an when they come). Let me quickly add that these priority are generally dictated by institute's vision and growth plan. So it may not be same for everyone.

That's it for now ... more in a different post.


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