Putting our heads together to improve student wellbeing

In the first of a series of multidisciplinary higher education design sprints, Buro Happold asks what engineers can do to reduce the instances of poor mental health and boost wellbeing among our students

The number of students reporting feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and loneliness to their higher education institute is increasing. Compared to ten years ago, five times as many first years now disclose issues, and there has been a 94% increase in demand for counselling across the board.

As engineers with over 40 years’ experience working closely with higher education institutions, we are invested in the future generation. That’s why we held a ‘Designing for Student Wellbeing’ event in our London offices on 29 November, with the aim of understanding how we can use our skills and expertise to better support young people in our universities.

We frequently collaborate with some of the world’s most creative problem solvers in the built environment. They challenge us, and we challenge them, to create better places in which people can live, learn and work. We brought together a cross section of these collaborators for our event, inviting architects, academics, students, a theatre producer and a member of the House of Lords to work alongside our engineers to push the boundaries of design and find ways we can enhance the student experience and improve levels of mental health.

Participants were divided into four teams, and over four hours we designed for student wellbeing across three scales – city, campus and building. The ideas that our teams came up with were insightful and varied, ranging from adopting a major road across London and turning it into a dedicated student cycle and pedestrian thoroughfare, to including a ‘cat cafe’ within the campus design on the basis that stroking a pet reduces stress levels.

Across all four teams, there was a real focus on the creation of communities within our universities. A key way of achieving this came in uniting disparate buildings to increase cohesion and connectivity among students and staff, forging stronger links and relationships across the university population.

After the success of this initial event, the second and third ‘Designing for Student Wellbeing’ sprints are planned for early 2018 in our Manchester and Edinburgh offices. We also hope to join our colleagues in Berlin, Dubai, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles to discuss this important issue at international level.

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