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Mid Atlantic Real Estate Journal


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The Green Lane building at Kean U. showcases new trends in academic bldgs.

The web and explosion of personal technology
has transformed how people live and work, while empowering the individual to expect everything “their way” whenever they want it, from the palm of their hand. The same can be said for we learn today. Higher education institutions that fail to recognize and embrace transformative technology may not exist as we now know them in 50 years or so. This is not to say that education and learning will not continue; it will as an inherent aspect of human nature. But traditional university and college campuses that cannot evolve will become a relic of a bygone era if they cannot adapt to the quickly-evolving empowerment and socialization that personal technologies provide the individual.

The features, spaces, and educational experiences showcased in the recentlycompleted Green Lane Building at Kean University in Union, NJ, illustrate some of the trends that traditional universities and colleges can begin to use to remain relevant and engage the imaginations of future students in this developing age of online learning and virtual universities. Typically, universities and colleges build only classrooms and offices - anything else is often considered a waste of space and money. Online degrees have over time become a more acceptable mainstream option. These virtual universities provide its students with the value-added benefits of reduced tuition costs and the ability to take your classes whenever and wherever. 

This growing online presence, coupled with increased student expectations for a more engaging, social, and less formal learning environment, is driving higher educational institutions to create enhanced on-campus classroom experiences that fosternew learning opportunities and educational environments. The goal is to make the on-campus experience attractive and compelling enough that it will continue to be the gold standard in higher education, drawing students to make the more expensive investment in attending a physical university or college. While many universities and colleges build signature buildings to make their campus memorable, the goal for Green Lane was to make a bold architectural statement that brings the promise of a Kean world-class education to life — to create an exciting facility that will capture the imaginations of students, parents, and teachers alike; to communicate that this is a place for individuals who aspire to personal and professional success and desire academic excellence.

Green Lane also embraces the evolving reality that today’s plugged-in, technology-savvy students can learn as much outside the classroom as in it. They no longer need to go to a library to find a book or do research, since the university library is now essentially in the palm of their hand. All that a student seems to need today is an Internet connection, an electric outlet, a comfy chair, and maybe a good cup of coffee. The building offers students and faculty numerous opportunities to socialize, engage, learn, and study outside the classroom via its numerous lounges, breakout spaces, intimate nooks, outdoor terraces, and even corridors-turned-gathering spots.

The building is designed to facilitate exciting new ways for people connect, engage, and learn in these gathering spaces with the help of integrated technologies. Hallways are no longer wasted spaces that students pass through to get to class; at the Green Lane building, they are now prime places for learning, socializing, studying, and having educational gatherings and classes. Offices for the staff and faculty are not hidden away as private areas separate from the students, but co-located with the classrooms and student lounge/study areas. They are not defined by solid walls and doors, but use wall-to-ceiling glass walls and doors, so the professors, staff, and teachers are in constant contact with the students and goings on outside their offices, while allowing the students to feel more connected to their teachers. This reminds the professors and staff that they are there in service of the students. And, rather than give the teacher/staff offices the prime views, the student study lounges and spaces now have them.
Everyone enjoys studying, socializing, and getting work done at the local coffee shop. Green Lane brings the coffee shop experience to the students so that they are more compelled to remain in the building both before and after classes. Besides having a real coffee shop/cafe on the first floor, complete with outside seating, each floor has extensive student lounges with comfy chairs, cafe tables, ambient lighting including power and USB charging ports, and Wi-Fi for all their devices. These areas are not placed as afterthoughts, but designed into the building such that they become one of Green Lane’s defining elements--both inside and outside the building. Even numerous rooftop terraces provide opportunities for students, groups, and classes to convene outdoors.

During nice weather, students can access the building’s outdoor cafe and roof terraces, but also spend some time on the grand stair or, as it is called, the escalera. This is not just a staircase where people just move from one level to another, but another locale where students can be found studying, socializing or just “hanging out: on its south facing, bleacher-like section, This feature not only connects the students to each other, but humanizes the university, since everyone who drives by the building can see all of these people rather than just experience the university as distant buildings located behind fenced walls -- people connecting with people is the key to making the university experience something everyone can aspire to.

Kenneth Gruskin AIA, is principal and founder of Gruskin Group™,an integrated design firm based in Springfield, NJ. Gruskin Group designed the Green Lane building. nI always kept in mind Leroy Merritt’s philosophy regarding the critical importance of forming strong relationships with vendors, tenants and people we interact with on a day-to-day basis,” said Dorsey. “Making money or finishing on top with a lease negotiation is not the most important thing. Rather, it is treating people fairly and with respect and forging strong bonds that encourages future and positive business transactions.” 

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