A 'Sticky' 

An Article




Universities are no longer just labs and lecture halls. Students want spaces to socialise in. These areas are an important part of differentiating between individual universities, in defining the student experience.

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Blended and group learning extends beyond the classroom. Facilitated by laptops and access to online resources, much of today’s learning occurs outside the traditional teaching environment.  The opportunity lies in the ability to create a more vibrant campus, greater social interaction and an improved student experience. The challenge lies in creating spaces which encourage this to occur on rather than off campus. Creating the ‘sticky’ campus, a place where students choose to be to meet their friends and do their work.

Humans are emotional beings. In creating the best student experience, social, lifestyle and academic aspects are all of equal importance. To attract and retain the best students, a campus environment needs to deliver both the social as well as the academic ambitions of the students.

“In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes, we learned the importance of the student community to the success of the campus,” says Warren and Mahoney Director, Graeme Finlay. “There was complete loss of social spaces for students both on and off campus. The emergency rebuild needed to not only fix the formal academic and research facilities but also recreate the campus life. It was a big challenge to fix this, while balancing all the other critical infrastructure projects.”


Two projects were the Temporary Events Centre to replace the damaged USCA Building and construct the Puaka James Hight, which provided a new student hub. Both have become central elements of university life.

“Part of the challenge was designing spaces that students wanted to be in. Providing a comfortable environment with a variety of different types of seating for relaxation, social interaction, group learning, eating or study become essential tools. It is about learning outside the classroom. We’ve created areas for peer-to-peer learning, so students can get together, rather than try to learn in isolation,” says Graeme. “It was about crafting opportunities for students to come together, study and socialise. It forms a fuller university experience.”

Social spaces, while not considered critical historically, have become essential tools to support modern learning and build positive student experiences.



Many universities struggle with the architectural vestiges of another time. Waikato University’s old library was one of these buildings. Inwardly focused and outwardly intimidating, this Brutalist concrete edifice did little to engage with the campus.

Open, approachable and inviting learning environments have become crucial to new learning styles; so the University of Waikato briefed Warren and Mahoney to rework this building. It was to become a central beacon for the campus, connecting students and the community.

The Student Centre is a refurbishment of and extension to the existing library. It’s designed as a place for people to study, to create opportunities for peer-to-peer learning outside of traditional teaching spaces.

Built structures meet open spaces. Students can migrate freely across the entire site, moving through the campus without barriers. There are cross-over spaces between the re-invented library with an information commons and café spaces.

The building is acutely aware of its surroundings. Its shape follows the contours of the landscape, as one sinuous container for student activity. It was the second education building in New Zealand to be awarded a 5 Green star rating. The building echoes the University’s ethos: it integrates learning and living seamlessly. It forms the geographic, intellectual and spiritual heart of the campus.

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Puaka James Hight, University of Canterbury 
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Waikato Student Centre, University of Waikato

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