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About LE-DR Lab I

    Challenges for the higher education sector

    The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is characterised by the proliferation of technological advances such as the internet of things, augmented reality, big data, virtual reality, 3D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics (Schwab 2016). These developments are anticipated to reshape the nature of work, some of which are evident in current trends of decentralised working and automation of jobs. Substantial national programmes will be required to retrain and upskill people whose jobs will be affected by these disruptive technologies, and lifelong learning will gain renewed importance (Leopold et al. 2018). 

    Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics will create a pivotal shift in the higher education (HE) curriculum. New models of higher education will also require to develop different skills such as creativity and empathy so that learners can thrive in such context. One such example of a new model of higher education is proposed by  Aoun (2017) based on the ‘humanics’ framework which nurtures unique human traits of creativity and flexibility, alongside data and technological literacies. He proposes the idea of the multi-university network which take a modular approach for learning through life. This implies that rather than studying a complete degree programme, a learner can study modules gradually over time while working to lead up to a degree at their own pace.  This approach is akin to the recommendations proposed by Augar Review for UK higher education (Hubble and Bolton 2019).

    The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an unprecedented and rapid digital transition in the HE sector. There is a call for new ways of learning such as online and blended learning. It has also been argued that the use of digital technologies to provide online and blended learning could improve access, retention and progress in HE (Osborne et al. 2011). New communication technologies and virtual reality are facilitating pedagogical innovations and encouraging access to HE (cf. Holland and Hilaireau 2020). The sector is grappling with the question of which learning activities should be delivered online and which ones face-to-face. The typical classroom, lecture theatre or laboratory is likely to be unfit for such evolving pedagogy.  The new ways of learning pose new challenges for the design and use of physical learning spaces.  Going forward, a robust learning system is required such that the learning infrastructure connects people, technology and place (Sandbrook 2009).

    While the challenges around curriculum and pedagogy surmount, the HE sector also needs to reduce its carbon emissions. The implications of this for the university buildings include maximising the use of spaces, improving the energy performance of new and existing buildings, reducing embodied carbon, and minimizing emissions from activities such as travel and catering.  It is equally crucial to create biodiverse campuses as well as enhance the well-being of the learning community. 

    Aim of the Lab

    The LE-DR Lab aims to investigate the spatial, digital and organisational strategies to address the challenges presented above. The spatial challenges relate to the formulation of the architectural brief and the design of the form.  The digital challenges relate to how the technological interactions will be achieved such that the physical and virtual learning environments complement each other.  The organisational challenges relate to how the learning spaces will be used to facilitate innovation within curriculum and pedagogy. This could be explored through developing tools and resources for the users (tutors and learners) to enable them to use the learning spaces effectively.  All three dimensions must be jointly addressed when devising architectural solutions.  The Cardiff University Campus will be the site of investigation for the unit and engaging different stakeholders will be essential. While each student will focus on a specific typology, it will be essential to collaborate with others to ascertain how the different typologies interlink. The unit will collectively progress the knowledge base for university campuses through design research.

    The Laboratory

    The ‘laboratory’ will be central to the unit as a place for experimentation and discovery. The laboratory infrastructure will include the physical studio, digital tools, conversations with tutors and external experts, peers and stakeholders and the site of investigation. The laboratory provides three areas of exploration:

    Developing an intellectual basis – We will collectively unpack seminal texts on the role of universities, the agency of architecture to promote knowledge creation and knowledge exchange, and design research. This will be carried out alongside pursuing individual reviews of published literature and architectural precedents for specific typologies.

    Developing a spatial, digital and organisational response – Problem framing will be a key part of the process and the students will be prompted to iteratively review their framings in response to their emerging design solutions. The scale of the design response could be determined by the students themselves (interior, building, inter-building, neighbourhood, city). Each student will develop their unique methodology for design exploration based on design research methods. It will be essential for each student to identify key stakeholders for their typology, and devise and implement stakeholder engagement. The student outputs will create new knowledge for a particular typology through developing design-research methodology leading to a unique integrative architectural proposition.

    Developing personal design-research practice – This will be a student-led initiative within the unit. We will invite design-research practitioners from the learning environments field and beyond to share their journey and inspire the unit team. The engagement with practitioners could be in the form of podcasts, interviews, or events.


    Aoun, J.E. 2017. Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

    Holland, P. and Hilaireau, N. 2020. Growing Regional Outputs With Innovative Next Generation Communications (Growing Comms) Project Report. Swansea.

    Hubble, S. and Bolton, P. 2019. The Post-18 Education Review (the Augar Review) recommendations. House of Commons Library. Available at:

    Leopold, T.A. et al. 2018. The Future of Jobs report. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

    Osborne, M. et al. 2011. Flexible learning and its contribution to widening participation: a synthesis of research. York: Higher Education Academy.

    Sandbrook, I. 2009. A Learning City Perspective. Leicester: National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

    Schwab, K. 2016. The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Geneva: World Economic Forum.