There is an old adage, “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.”

As an architect, it is easy to see every problem as an opportunity to build anew. But we’re not here to just build more buildings, or take the easy approach. We’re here to solve problems in a creative way. We’re here to build smarter.

On college and hospital campuses, boardrooms, city governments and many other places there is an increasing nation-wide desire for VALUE. INVISION is helping these places respond in big ways through a better understanding of resources and how they make the biggest impact on one of the largest investments many institutions will ever make—building.

The most important step in the process is to take the time to clearly identify the problems before solving them. We are constantly pushing the entire team to better understand the real challenges before we start drawing, and data-driven thought processes are one way we do that.


Thinking of Space as a Resource

Often times, the people we work with have a solution already in mind. They are just as excited as us about building a new, shiny building. Sometimes that is indeed the answer, but it is always good to take a step back to see the solution in the larger context of operations to ensure we are solving the right problems as a group.

Delving into a deep level of understanding of the problem has always been part of the INVISION design process. Matt Davis, our first full time data analyst joined the team in 2015 as an additional resource that allows us to further expand how we use data to understand the problem.


Case in Point

INVISION began a new master plan for a community college partner facing significant projected enrollment growth on a large campus. Our partner also understood that new types of spaces, not currently offered on campus, were also key to the future of the college. Many on the committee came to the table with visions of new buildings on campus. The general consensus was that additional space was needed.

As part of the Discovery process, we focused on understanding the real problem through space utilization studies. With the help of Matt, our data analyst, our ability to use data to understand the problem was extremely helpful to the planning committee. It urged the group to look at things a bit differently, cut through opinions and get straight to the facts about available space, classroom utilization and how the resources were currently meeting the student’s and faculty’s needs.

First question: how much additional space was needed?

INVISION used over 6,500 lines of data to look at usage, existing resources, teaching patterns, styles of teaching and technology to determine how much additional space was required. The answer: zero. The campus had enough space, just not the right kind of space.

The next question became: Which spaces were being used efficiently and which were not?

The average classroom utilization rate was 60% of the usage goal. Likewise, seats were used, on average, half of the goal. The college was shifting to more one-on-one, small classroom learning environments, leaving their large lecture rooms underutilized. At the same time, some small classrooms didn’t offer the technology or space required for active pedagogical styles.

On the surface, it seemed like they didn’t have enough space, which created the perceived need for a new building on campus. In reality, they didn’t have the right types of classrooms for their programming. Using data, the master planning team could see how to repurpose and prioritize existing curriculum space to create room for new types of student spaces. For example, for this client, splitting a large classroom into two adequate sized classrooms increases room availability and utilization.

By better understanding the problem, repurposing space and freeing up existing capacity, the college saved 33-50% of the money available. In the end, existing resources were maximized to significantly improve efficiency, and therefore value, to guide student success.


Opportunities for Value

Organizational change, whether growth or decline, is a big challenge. Understanding how existing facilities are utilized helps inform decisions about what and where impacts can be made. We use these studies as a tool for many different situations. It is most commonly a critical component in master planning efforts. It can also be a tool for regular facility evaluation, or a way to measure the impact of particular changes.

These studies are designed to uncover the effectiveness of space as a resource. The quantitative analysis evaluates total space available and efficiency of use by such factors as size, type, date and time of use, to name a few. The results are comprehensive, with individual metrics, data relationships, trends and an overall observation report. However, these results aren’t the answer, or even the entire picture. They give us a platform to ask questions, see patterns and push everyone to think differently about the problem.


Get Started

Completing a space utilization study can seem overwhelming. Get some help going through the process. Take a look at these first steps to get started:

  1. Identify the data
    Most scheduling systems already have much of the data you need. Basic room information, including identifiers, sq. ft. and capacity, coupled with usage information. Historical data is always helpful for comparison over time.
  2. Collaborate with resources
    In addition to your scheduling software and data, you will need a scheduling expert that understands how you use your resources and a facilities expert who understands the resources available.
  3. Consider timing
    It’s ideal to do an extensive study as part of master planning efforts. This is a time when you are considering how you will use your resources into the future. If that can’t be done soon enough, a specific and focused space study can be valuable in and of itself.

The overall message here is to think critically and invest some time before you decide to build. Ask questions about how you can utilize your existing spaces as a resource. What you build will have a lasting impact on how your organization fulfills its mission long into the future.