Skip to content

Connecting the Campus, Inside and Out

“The concept of ‘university cities’—as planned university campuses are typically known in Latin America—is undergoing a rebirth process, characterized by their greater immersion in their city contexts, stronger connections to their social and economic fabrics, and the reinterpretation of their academic and student life spaces,” says Dennis Pieprz, Hon. ASLA, Sasaki principal and Chair of Design. “Embracing the evolution of university cities as key economic drivers will be an imperative for forward-looking institutions in Latin America.”

For the past three years, there has been a consistent decline in international student enrollment at higher education institutions in the United States. While many news sources such as The Washington Post suggest the decline may be due in part to international students’ aversion to the American political climate, another factor could be that access to quality education globally is at an all-time high. Through increased economic vitality that allows private institutions and governments to prioritize education funding, many countries are able to offer their citizens an education comparable—and at times, better—than what they would receive abroad.

As Sasaki continues to pursue work in global markets it is simply not enough to develop a plan for a foreign university as we would for a domestic institution. Since each country we work in operates in a vastly different context we must eschew a U.S.-centric approach to creating new campuses and in turn support local evolution of higher education.


In South America, Peru has seen the longest sustained economic growth since the 1990s. As a result, UNESCO data has shown that the country has consistently invested nearly 20% of its national GDP in secondary education institutions. According to World Education News and Review, in 2016, 74% and 66% of college-age women and men, respectively, were enrolled in university, totaling almost 3 million students. Lima, the country’s capital, has 31 higher education institutions alone. Despite the multitude of options, a ballooning middle class has made supporting the growing college-age population difficult for not only the universities, but also the city itself.

Today, one of the largest, most influential institutions in the city, University of Lima, is expanding its campus and rethinking its core offerings to serve students in unprecedented ways. While peer institutions in Lima face similar challenges, many are approaching campus evolution differently—dispersing satellite campuses to get closer to their target population in growing neighborhoods, seeking partnerships and international accreditation with foreign peer institutions, or doubling down on new platforms for research. University of Lima, a private institution of primarily commuter students, is instead betting on the strength of its centralized campus, investing heavily in an expansion and making an unprecedented investment in student life, research, and entrepreneurship to offer a different kind of “destination campus” experience to prospective students in a region where the norm is to leave campus as soon as class is over.

Sasaki’s work at the University of Lima focuses largely on inventing a new kind of deeply integrated student experience hub right into the heart of the expanded campus. For the first time, students will have spaces in which they can sit, relax, eat, exercise, and socialize all in a centralized location. They will be invited to linger and eventually to live on campus, a relatively rare offering on campuses outside of the United States. The University of Lima’s framework plan is unique not only in its design, but also in its existence; Latin American institutions do not often pursue framework plans as U.S. institutions do.

“The University of Lima is already a very successful institution, recognized both for its academic success and impact in the local industry, as well as for its growing academic platform and student enrollment. As the university pursues greater program diversification, specialization, and research, it also pursues a quality leap that will set it apart from other well-established institutions in the country,” says Pablo Savid, LEED® AP Sasaki principal and Chair of Architecture and Interior Design. “The annexation of strategic parcels to the existing campus opens up the opportunity of creating a ‘campus ideal,’ while regenerating the historic campus core. The opportunities generated by this change can be translated to new programs and typologies; new modalities of teaching and learning; the integration of research in undergraduate and graduate instruction; the creation of a more resilient campus environment; and the reinvention of the campus student life experience.”

Life on the College Campus: A New Latin American Experience

Latin American campuses historically have served one purpose for students: instruction. Students typically spend eight to 12 hours a day on campus, with an average commute of 30-45 minutes. The class and lab-only model leads to a lean approach to faculty staffing, with a large number of part-time professionals teaching, which Sasaki’s master plan helps transform into a more holistic living and learning experience. Behind the master plan, however, is the University’s long-term bet on a thriving on-campus life for students. Part of this bet stems from the fact that the city’s notorious traffic and congestion inhibits students from easily leaving campus between classes.

Despite traffic congestion, the current state of the city of Lima presents a multitude of opportunities. With the rapid expansion of the middle class, the University of Lima saw its student body increase from 16,000 to 20,000, a whopping 25%, in just two years. By contrast, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that it took 16 years for the college enrollment rate in the United States to increase as much. It follows that a campus intended solely for classes with a rapidly increasingly population is quickly rendered unfit to hold its student body. How then does an institution maintain its relevancy and become an attractor to prospective students? With this question in mind, the University of Lima project team thought of the campus as a new paradigm; the master plan intends to bring real enterprise to the school as well as create unique facilities for the students, leveraging the all-inclusive campus as part of the university’s competitive advantage.

New Infrastructure at University of Lima

The University of Lima acquired parcels of land just outside of the current campus border, which allowed the master planning team to develop a comprehensive vision for the infill of new buildings and public spaces in the existing campus, as well as expanding its building infrastructure and programs into the new parcels as part of a seamless new campus fabric. Primary among these pioneering structures are a new library, a student recreation center, a center for admissions, student services and general studies, and an engineering innovation center.

“The design of the new buildings breaks the mold of the traditional academic typologies of the campus, promoting new programmatic possibilities and greater flexibility of uses, anticipating the likely processes of adaptation and change of the buildings over time,” explains Savid. “Hybrid design solutions feature high-bay, long span steel and modular concrete structures in multi-story settings; combined with passively shaded, thoroughly glazed and naturally ventilated facades; accessible roofscapes; and exposed, flexible electrical, IT, and mechanical layouts—creating a new building infrastructure in support of multi-use facilities and spaces intended for large numbers of users.”

The Center for Admissions, Student Services, and General Studies

At one of the major urban fronts of the campus, the renovation and expansion of the former General Studies and classroom building creates a new campus gateway as well as the first impression and point of service for prospective students. The new center creates a home and a visible face to the university’s admissions operation and a series of new teaching and advising and tutorial spaces to reinterpret completely the academic experience of first years’ students.

The ground level of the building is defined by a large pedestrian promenade flanked by student services that introduces visitors to the sequence of public spaces on campus. Atop this active public space, a new wing of flexible, interactive classrooms and advising spaces cantilevers over, providing shelter and framed views into a new model of campus learning environments. The structure is crowned by a large accessible roof terrace and garden that serves as space for informal teaching, recreation and gathering.

The Library

The master plan also calls for a new library at the center of campus, the new social hub for students. The proposed library signals the physical shift in approach to teaching by creating a strong visual connection to the rest of campus, providing social spaces, and integrating flexible teaching areas with new teaching technologies. It is ultimately the launching pad for new learning and teaching modalities on campus as part of the migration from traditional instruction to a far more participatory and collaborative experience.

The building incorporates three entire floors of dedicated social spaces with student services and gathering and event spaces and provides an accessible rooftop terrace that houses a multipurpose space surrounded by decks and gardens, turning the building’s roof into a sky-level quad.

The building interior is conceived as a series of interconnected social and circulation spaces that spiral around the 50-by-50 meter footprint of the library, orchestrating a path of discovery and learning inside the building. In this sequence across programs, the users are constantly surrounded by books winding around the building as each floor unfolds into a large atrium, reiterating the library’s role as the nuclear core of the campus.

The Student Recreation Center

The student social experience does not end at the library doors; the multipurpose recreation, wellness and student life facility provides a high-energy complement to the peaceful library atmosphere. The building structure is lifted two stories off the ground to create a covered plaza, home to dining and student programming spaces. Student services encompass everything from nutritional counselling and mental health to physical therapy for athletics as well as wellness areas to gym spaces that can hold up to 600 people.

Structurally, the building utilizes a bridge-like structure to avoid columns throughout the lower covered plaza. The enclosed, air-conditioned fitness areas surround the open-air atrium space at the center of the building, exposing their anchoring trusses and the active spaces behind them, and incorporating them into the visual ethos of the space.

The complex also renovates an existing structure adjacent to the new building and provides new access to the university forum space, located below the new student plaza. The renovated and expanded structure provides a home for student government, clubs, and student social areas with a new cafeteria and a flexible auditorium space. The terraces of this renovated building serve as day-to-day dining and gathering destinations, as well as the focal point of the a new outdoor plaza that can accommodate large size events programming with capacity for 2,500 people.

The Engineering Innovation Center

The Engineering Innovation Center is the physical manifestation of the new enterprise-university collaboration model and the university’s shift from traditional engineering instruction to applied research in emerging technologies

Bringing disparate departments together for the first time under one roof, the new building is conceived as a showcase for the incubation of student projects, enterprise-sponsored research, digital simulation and prototyping, and project-based learning in a series of local and nationally emerging technologies like textile engineering, food design and production, sustainable development and machine learning.

The vertically organized center stacks each discipline onto a distinct floor, weaving them together with a network of pedestrian paths, stairs, and meeting spaces that meander from the building’s atrium on the inside to a number of balconies and terraces on the outside. From the ground up, the building begins with logistics and robotics programming located around the center’s main auditorium, followed by entrepreneurship, the enterprise research center, and makerspaces on the second level. The third level is dedicated to artificial intelligence, virtualization and computer science, the fourth level is home to the textile innovation center and the fifth level houses the  food development and production center. The building’s basement houses the center for sustainable development and the central services for all other programs.

A Renewed Student Experience

The first wave of projects to come out of the master plan regenerates the historic campus with a series of infill and renewal operations intended to put student life and a new way of teaching and learning at the center of the university. The new campus landscape that accompanies the building projects turns the previously ornate and picturesque gardens into a carefully orchestrated set of pedestrian ways, gathering spaces and teaching landscapes that bring cohesion and a new collegial character into the larger campus fabric. This initial conversion paves the way for the development of a “new campus ideal” that is further realized in the projects destined for the newly acquired campus land.

The master plan’s phases are designed to open more portals into the school. These range from increased accessibility to better pedestrian walkways, greater visual connection of the school buildings to neighboring communities to increased and alternative modes of transportation. Eventually, construction of residential halls will be a large step for the university as well. Breaking the boundaries of the campus and putting students and their experience in focus will be progressive for both the university and the city.

Sasaki colorful logo Sasaki 中文