Centering the Community in Design, Planning, and Execution

Centering the Community in Design, Planning, and Execution

with University of Missouri-St. Louis / 6 months

Project led by the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, in partnership with Urban Strategies, Inc., Rickes Associates, Lochmueller Group, and David Mason + Associates

Design at any scale can start with the experiences and motivations of the people who are directly impacted, including the large scale of planning for long-term change to physical infrastructure and facilities of a campus. At the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), new leadership and a reinvigorated vision of campus being part of catalyzing change in North County set the stage for an important Campus Master Plan. Campus Master Plans guide the development of buildings and how land is used and UMSL’s is updated every five years to set the trajectory ahead. A good Campus Master Plan should support the goals of the University, and address the needs of students, faculty, staff, and community members. 

UMSL serves students from across the St. Louis region and around the world, with a particular focus on students transferring from other institutions or community colleges. Many students live elsewhere in the region and commute via car or transit to campus. The campus has grown organically since its founding in 1963. Located on a former golf course, it features a mix of century-old buildings and new construction. As enrollments have decreased and more classes have moved online, UMSL has been left with more space than necessary. One intention of the 2021 Campus Master Plan was to guide the administration through thoughtfully removing some spaces while improving the experience of campus for current and future community members.

As part of a multidisciplinary team, Public Design Bureau sought to incorporate the experiences, wisdom, and ideas of UMSL’s students, faculty, staff, and neighbors into the campus plan. Through two rounds of engagement, we learned from the people closest to the buildings and landscapes our team was focused on. 

Process + Outputs

  • Seeking stories and experiences: To help inform the early phase of the planning process, we created a widely-distributed survey for faculty, staff, students, alumni, and nearby neighbors. With over 1000 respondents, this survey helped us gather diverse perspectives, as well as recruit over 100 participants for virtual workshops – including harder-to-reach community members such as parenting students, commuter students, and adjunct faculty. Workshop participants shared stories of their experiences with campus, focusing on topics like feeling connected and welcome, navigating campus, and having the resources they needed. Participants also identified ideas and examples that could address the opportunities and gaps raised in conversation.
  • Identifying opportunities for design, policy, and messaging: Following the workshops and survey, we synthesized the stories and lessons from the UMSL community to identify opportunities for the campus going forward. While there were several themes specific to spaces and places, opportunities for UMSL extended beyond the physical campus and infrastructure into creating policies, messaging, and experiences that supported the UMSL community in feeling (cultivating emotions at individual and group levels), connecting (gathering, fostering, and strengthening relationships), and doing (taking care of what you need to get done, including learning, researching, teaching, supporting, and providing service). 
  • Centering the experiences of the UMSL community in the planning process: Public Design Bureau worked closely with the planning team to ensure the feedback and experiences from the UMSL community informed the campus plan. This included emphasizing shared priorities, raising questions, pointing to specific locations and amplifying stories, and reviewing drafts with careful attention to the different stakeholders’ needs. 
  • Refining and socializing the vision of the Campus Plan: Once the team had developed a more refined vision of the campus plan, including some specific design interventions that might be considered, Public Design Bureau engaged over 500 members of the UMSL community in feedback sessions, gathering reactions to  five priorities in the campus plan that would impact the experiences of individuals and prompting for feedback to further clarify the vision of UMSL’s campus going forward. 
  • Testing concepts for mobility, landscape, spaces, and more: Using a curated set of visual prompts, feedback session participants responded to what they would like to see in categories including mobility, landscape, classrooms, collaboration spaces, and more. Critically, these participants responded to why they did or did not want to see specific types of interventions, eliciting ways to clarify what kinds of spaces and experiences would be part of the future vision. 
  • Incorporating the voices of the UMSL community to tell stories: Finally, Public Design Bureau worked with the entire planning team to produce a final document that weaves the vision for UMSL’s campus with the stories, quotes, and experiences of the UMSL community. This document makes a compelling case to implement both the short-term and the long-term vision and serves as a touchstone for the team responsible for implementation. 

The University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators adopted the UMSL 2021 Campus Plan Report in late 2021 and the facilities team is moving towards implementation of Phase 1 of the planning document.