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The Importance of Activating Outdoor Spaces on College Campuses

Today, the need has never been greater to create new outdoor spaces on higher education campuses that bring learning outside, offer an inspiring sense of place, and reflect the unique identities of their institutions. To explore this topic in greater depth, Landscape Forms brought together a panel of industry experts for a live webinar discussion of the importance of connecting people with nature in built environments. 

Continue reading to learn about the importance of utilizing outdoor spaces on college campuses, and the possibilities offered by Landscape Forms to participating agencies of OMNIA Partners!

Landscape Forms | OMNIA Partners

LFBlogimageBeyond the Classroom Walls
The Importance of Activating Outdoor Spaces on College Campuses

Panel Includes:
Byron Sampson –

University Landscape Architect & Associate Director, Arizona State University
Tom Flynn, RLA – 
Landscape Architect, Penn State University
Roberto Rovira, PLA, ASLA – 
Professor & Chair FIU Landscape Architecture + Environmental Design,
Florida International University, & Principal, Studio Robert Rovira

Aan Garrett-Coleman, ASLA, LEED, AP – 
President & Founder, Coleman & Associates

The webinar kicked off with an overview discussion of each panelist’s experience in addressing the opportunities and challenges of designing for students on their respective college campuses. Detailing the landscape architecture of Arizona State University, Byron Sampson describes working at the intersection of desert design and campus space design. “We’re looking for ways to make the campuses in our system more indicative of the Sonoran Desert and the environment in which we live,” he says. Sampson identifies his key planning considerations, including the need to correlate campus traffic patterns and student feedback with location-specific factors like mitigating climate change’s impact on the desert landscape. Sampson and his team also identified the important role that visibility plays in communicating senses of comfort and safety. “Even more so than access to our blue phone campus emergency access system, being able to see and be seen and being in proximity to high-traffic areas proved very important to our students.” Sampson continues to describe his approach to merging the need for visibility with the need for climate adaptation, detailing different methods of structural and vegetative shade that gather students in spaces that are both physically and emotionally welcoming. 

Roberto Rovira joins the discussion, describing some of the significant changes he’s experienced at the Florida International University campus brought on both by the advent of remote learning and the changing desires of university students. “Universities are becoming more and more like small cities, and their needs and services don’t end at any specific time,” he says. Rovira continues on to stress the importance of viewing campus design through both the dimensions of space and time. He describes the need for outdoor space to be able to adapt to both organized and unstructured activities, offering inspiring collective and individual experiences at different points throughout the day. He shares examples of dynamic design on the FIU campus—quads that become hubs of evening activity, passthrough spaces that become canvases for presentation, and façades that become outdoor theaters after dark.


Building on the discussion of the changing nature of higher education and its implications for campus design, Tom Flynn takes a zoomed-out approach identifying four trends influencing the composition of civic space on campus. He begins with a discussion of affordability, describing his experience with Penn State University administrators and the higher value they are placing on the quality, durability and maintainability of outdoor space. Flynn’s trends two and three closely echo the sentiments of Roberto Rovira, highlighting the importance of campus space that is flexible and designed to foster a sense of community. “Lastly and I think really importantly is the idea of biophilia,” Flynn says as he arrives at his fourth key trend. “Whether it’s depression, sleep deprivation or financial pressures, a large percentage of students are experiencing mental health issues. So as landscape architects, we need to create the spaces that make people want to get outside, unwind and be a part of nature.”

As the discussion progresses, moderator Aan Garrett-Coleman zooms back in, sharing a collection of design examples and strategies she has identified as authentically embracing and enhancing the way today’s students utilize campus space. To hear the full scope of topics discussed, watch the full recording of the roundtable webinar below:



OMNIA Partners & Landscape Forms

Landscape Forms and OMNIA Partners help K-12, higher education, and state and local organizations achieve their outdoor design visions while taking advantage of group volume to reduce cost, save time, and maximize the returns on their investments. The Landscape Forms cooperative contract through OMNIA Partners provides public sector and nonprofit customers a comprehensive range of high-design outdoor site furnishing and structure solutions to meet a wide variety of needs.

Interested in learning more? Download the original whitepaper here