The Happy Campus

HappyCampus2.jpgHappiness is essential to positive mental health—and crucial to student safety and wellbeing on campus. As such, achieving happiness should be integral to the master planning process to improve the campus experience for students, faculty, and visitors.

Here are several ways to start thinking about planning a happy campus.

Social Spaces and Sound

Social relationships often are influenced by how sound can change spatial experiences. In general, we consider small rooms more pleasant and safer than big rooms, yet loud sound can compromise the comfort of any space. To mitigate the impact of sound, simple design strategies can go a long way. For instance, vegetated buffers and water elements can effectively create smaller “rooms” in a gathering place and muffle ambient noise so conversations can take precedence. In outdoor spaces, well-located plantings, trees, flora and water elements can reduce street noise, create a relaxing and inviting environment, and introduce positive sound, such as song birds or softly gurgling water. Adding landscaping and shaded walking paths is particularly beneficial at commuter schools with a lot of surface parking or urban campuses connected to the concrete street grid.

Built-in Exercise

By now it has been well documented that exercise maintains cognitive function and reduces anxiety. As such, smart planning integrates exercise into everyday experiences, such as restricting campus car usage to encourage walking, running, cycling, roller blading, or other physical transportation. Also, topography and grade-change can add physical challenges to paths to subtly increase strength training, while “nudge” behavior strategies can encourage additional exercise, such as positioning stairways in prominent locations while moving elevators to less convenient locations.

Connections to Nature

It also has been well documented that nature has a direct—and positive—impact on our emotional wellbeing. While walking through a bosque of evergreens at Princeton University recently, I overheard “It smells so good I wish we had something like this on my campus!” As it happens, the phytoncides in the scent of trees have healing properties. Moments like this achieve Attention Restoration, which all campus design should offer.


Our bodies and nature are intrinsically linked. Because of this, we need to shift campus and facility planning toward complete sensory engagement, beyond just program and function. If we can more intuitively tune into our sensory experiences, we can start to build the happy campus.

Celine Larkin co-presented on The Happy Campus: Designing Campuses That Reduce Stress and Improve Learning on July 10 at SCUP-52 in Washington, D.C.

Topics: Education


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