Up Close: Marc L’Italien

HGA Design Principal Marc L’Italien, FAIA, is a nationally recognized architect with 30 years’ experience providing strategic planning and design expertise for leading arts, community and higher education clients. Here, he talks about how great design enhances the college campus experience.

Why does higher education work interest you?

I enjoy the depth and opportunity working with clients who encourage innovation. My role as an architect is really about designing spaces and places that inspire clients and users to do their best–and perhaps change the world in some way. Higher education architecture offers opportunities for cross-fertilization, to bring different disciplines, people and cultures together to share new ideas and experiences. That is really what campus life is about.

What Challenges Are Impacting Higher Education Today?

Shrinking public funding is challenging colleges to do more with less–especially public universities that serve diverse student populations. Budget challenges impact student services, course offerings, tuition, and financial aid. The budget also impacts facility maintenance and potential new construction. The quality of the facility has a direct impact on educational outcomes and the student experience, and that is why it is important to plan spaces that will bring tangible benefits to students.

How can design enhance the campus experience?

Great campus design starts in the planning process by developing the right program for the right problem. I like to partner with clients before they even decide on a building program. By engaging with campus leadership, students and faculty in an ongoing dialogue, architects can help colleges envision the best program and facility solutions for their needs.

This early dialogue helps set the tone, redefine the problem, and outline potential options. Perhaps the solution is a new building, or maybe it is a renovation or addition or shared space. Through planning, campus leadership can envision the kind of spaces they need and how those spaces can serve multiple purposes. This enables them to better target financial resources that will actually give them more than they originally imagined.

Planning is really about being smart with resources.

What is your ideal campus project?

Often the most interesting buildings defy categorization and blur the boundaries between building types.

The Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at the University of California Berkeley, for instance, is housed in a flexible hub that supports coursework, clubs, competitions and design investigation with a series of studios, labs and shared spaces, designed by colleagues at a San Francisco firm. Similarly, traditional campus buildings such as libraries, arts centers and science buildings are being planned to encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue through shared spaces and more interactive teaching models that encourage campus-wide and community-wide engagement.

There is a need to anticipate future adaptability in campus architecture. But the answer is not to create a big warehouse–but to create the right level of flexibility for student exploration within an armature for change to occur.