Topic: Article
Posted on 29th Apr 2020

Beyond the Classroom: Societal Value Through Campus Design

In 2015 ADP Architecture completed a 10-year masterplan for the University of Leeds. The scope for this work included the design of world-class research space, ensuring buildings and grounds facilitated new ways of working, fostering inter-disciplinary engagement between University departments, and creating a campus that supported innovation and enterprise. At the half-way point of the life of the masterplan, RealWorth was invited to review the way people’s lives had been affected by the changes ADP had helped to bring to the campus.


Specifically, ADP was interested in understanding how social value influenced three stakeholder groups including students, University employees, and people living in the surrounding community. Three changes stood out after an analysis of the masterplan. These were:

More Inclusive – the campus was now more accessible with community-oriented spaces and increased business opportunities

More Vibrant – many parts of the campus were now 24-hour spaces which lead to a safer and more social place with an enriched local economy

Greener – the campus contained calmer spaces, with more places to meet and better climate management.

RealWorth assessed the current and potential capacity of the campus to generate social value based on a review of survey data as well as interviews with University staff and the ADP design team. The main factors that influenced the findings of the assessment included:

  • Effects on physical and mental health
  • Changes to the feelings of wellbeing (the way people feel about their lives)
  • Influences on educational attainment and other learning experiences
  • Changes to job prospects
  • Changes to income and expenditure due to impact on living expenses or local economic conditions
  • The way people experience green and open space.

This analysis was then ranked to show the societal value that had accrued to date, and how much potential there was for campus to produce more value in the second half of the implementation period of the masterplan.

What will be interesting going forward is to see how the potential for the future development of the University of Leeds campus will be influenced by the societal value review. The enhancement of the social and environmental benefits on the lives of the three stakeholder groups are vitally important, but this competes with other calls on higher education finances. The Covid-19 requirements for social distancing will also reinvigorate the argument that face-to-face teaching is anachronistic and the time for University campuses is fast fading.

But while some requirements to travel to the same place as everyone else may be redundant, there should always be a place for sites of learning to facilitate spontaneous discussion and argument which can only be successfully held in the physical company of others. This is before considerations about the way University campuses add social and environmental value to the communities that surround them, and the way they facilitate the discourse between academics looking to work together to solve the problems of the present and the future.

If design was simply a matter of financial return on investment, University campuses would resemble any other commercial office estate. The fact that so many seek to enhance their appearance and function to facilitate learning and research is evidence that traditional methods of valuing the built environment are missing vital piece of the puzzle. ADP Architecture’s desire to identify what it is about the Leeds University campus design that changes lives for the better should be commended. It points to a future time when societal value will inform the way society establishes all types of development on an every-day basis.

Crafted in Liverpool by Kaleidoscope