Ayers Saint Gross released the first Comparing Campuses poster at the 1998 Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Conference in Vancouver, BC. It featured black and white figure-ground drawings of 11 campuses at the same scale, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carnegie Mellon University. Hobart and William Smith Colleges appeared on the poster in 2000. 17 posters later, the collection exceeds 200 campuses.

This year’s poster compares physical campus growth at three institutions between 2000 and 2014.

Across the firm, we’ve had many reasons to reflect this year: we installed a timeline of the firm’s 100-year history as part of recent office renovations, celebrated the retirement of Lex Schwartz after a 45 year tenure with the firm, and marked 10 years of student life innovation with ACUHO-I in our book for this year’s conference in Washington DC.

Insights gained from looking backward offer us a starting point to look toward the future. This year’s research reinforced several themes of our practice:

Technology has transformed our relationship with data.
Early on, the poster provided information that was not readily available. Google Earth, institutional research websites, and open source Geographic Information Systems data have increased access to information about higher education. People have become more savvy consumers of data as they engage with more and more of it daily. Our research efforts today focus on filtering and interpreting the vast resources available to tell important stories.

Every institution has its own story.
Nationwide demographic and economic trends led to growth across higher education in the first decade of the new millennium. Growth manifests differently at each institution. At UNC Chapel Hill, for example, the combination of state-sponsored bond bill funding, generous philanthropy, and pressing needs for new facilities created a rare climate supporting redevelopment that was unique to that place and time.

Going forward, each institution’s specific culture will impact how the emphasis on greater utilization and efficiency continue to play across the industry. Context matters.

Growth is both qualitative and quantitative.
Each of the three institutions experienced quantitative growth, particularly in enrollment. The “People” column reveals that growth in one area does not directly translate to equivalent growth in other areas. Values put parameters on growth. Having more students doesn’t necessitate more parking, especially on urban campuses like Carnegie Mellon’s where land comes at a premium. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, housing expansion intentionally outpaced enrollment growth to strengthen the residential college environment.

In a world of slowed quantitative growth, the quest for qualitative growth remains compelling.

Campuses change.
From day to day the pace of change can feel slow, but looking backward highlights ongoing transformation. Each entry in the Comparing Campuses collection reflects a specific moment in time. While the drawings showcase the enduring qualities of the campus core, that one new building missing from the drawing hints at its age. If only slightly, the place has changed.

Each project changes campus in some way. What part does it play in a bigger story? Does it reflect our values? How does it move the ball forward?

This year’s effort was a great opportunity to refresh our collection. If your institution is included in our database and you’d like to update your information, send us a note at

Click here to read more about our Comparing Campuses poster.

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