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Designing Universities for Aliveness Published: Sunday, September 8, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

What makes universities to be successful over time is their capacity to generate enough intellectual and emotional excitement, relevance and value to attract and engage internal and external members of diverse kind. Although many factors contribute to this type of environment a key element is that of communicating a sense of aliveness. The acid test for university leaders is their capacity to design and manage for aliveness…

How do you design or manage for intellectual and cultural aliveness? Certainly, you cannot impose or dictate it. Universities as communities of knowledge need to invite the interaction that makes them alive. Thus, the structure and processes that configurate relationships and events should invite a particular kind of interaction. Meetings that contain some open time, with enough space to mingle and share around critical problems are part of the culture of the active institutions.

A university or a faculty, as a community of theories and practices, allows for participation in group discussions, having one-on-one conversations, sharing about new ideas and research pieces, structuring team – teaching ventures between professors and students, watching experts duel over cutting – edge issues, and listening to other actors from different sectors of society. Even though universities should be organic and flexible by nature, it is necessary to deploy a good working environment design that can invite and evoke aliveness.

Designing to evoke aliveness is different from most bureaucratic, budgeting or control-driven designs, which mainly focus on creating structures, systems, procedures and job descriptions to achieve fixed institutional goals. What is sometimes paradoxical is that even when universities are intended to be designed to be flexible and responsible to their environments (for knowledge interfacing), organic growth and aliveness are typically not primary design goals. Of course, universities need to contribute to financial and resource oriented goals, but designing for aliveness requires of a different set of structuring principles. The goal of a university design as a very alive community is to bring out the institution’s own and constructive internal direction, character and energy, which in turn should be founded upon research and usable knowledge.

The principles that have been researched and developed for human institutions that by definition are natural, spontaneous, creative, innovative, self-directed and alive are: (1) Design for evolution, (2) Open a dialogue between internal and external perspectives, (3) Invite different institutional levels for participation, (4) Develop both public and private work spaces, (5) Focus on value added, (6) Integrate familiarity and excitement, (7) Create music and rhythm for the community.

The design principles always reveal the thinking behind the design and allow people to preach what they really practice...


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