Design Specifications


Ideally, classrooms are located within buildings housing departmental functions and are not isolated in “classroom buildings.” Reinforcing the notion of ownership in a multipurpose building enhances safety and security and heightens the departmental role in stewardship of classrooms. Classrooms located on lower public floors minimize disruptions to other functions occurring within buildings.

Multipurpose buildings often facilitate greater student access to classrooms and academic services. Because classrooms are located on the lower floors of buildings, instructional support staffs can improve the efficiency of their service delivery. Cordoning student traffic to specific areas may mean that the harsh effects of a Syracuse winter (ice, snow, salt and mud tracks) have a limited impact on buildings.

External Features:

Seating is desirable in public circulation areas where code allows. In some locations, code may require fixed seating. Seating permits an atmosphere of unhurried scholarship. Students are able to linger in hallways before and after classes, have impromptu discussions, and are not shuttled in or out in an impersonal manner once classes end.

Phones and vending machines located away from classroom areas contain noise and trash. Classrooms located away from vehicular traffic areas and loading docks are insulated from external noise sources.
The signage in and around classrooms should be clear and uniform.

  • Corridors and lobbies shall be sized commensurate with code requirements to accommodate crowds during class change periods.
  • 3 s.f./person shall be provided in lobbies and corridors. The number of persons to be held shall equal the occupancy of classrooms served by the corridor.

Seating Density

Seating density in Syracuse University classrooms is a product of several factors. Room configuration, the “teaching zone” and audio/visual equipment usage are all factors which affect the seating capacity of a classroom or auditorium. Seating density should promote efficient space utilization while supporting the teaching mission by providing good sight lines and permitting verbal exchange among students. The Seating Density Guidelines provide useful planning assumptions. In many classrooms, however, satisfactory sight lines to the screen will require additional space for students.

Room Configuration

A good room configuration will simultaneously address acoustics, traffic flow and spatial proportions.

The spatial envelope should enhance acoustics with the proper balance of reflective and absorptive surfaces in classrooms and lecture halls, and use non-parallel surfaces to minimize sound reverberation in auditoria.

The flow of traffic should be confined to the back of classrooms to lessen the disturbance of students entering and exiting classrooms. The room configurations should be aesthetically pleasing; an oddly shaped room can be as distracting as any other factor. The room should be configured to allow the appropriate exchange and interaction amongst students and faculty.

Experience has shown that the ideal length/width ratio for Syracuse University classrooms is 3:2 or 2:3. Preferences on classroom orientation vary. The Student/Faculty Classroom Survey clearly indicates that for lectures and discussions most faculty prefer rooms that are wide and shallow rather than narrow and deep. However, rooms designed for effective use of monitors or projections screens should normally be orientated toward the short wall.

The following figures illustrate optimal classroom setups for both orientations. The 3:2 ratio is a good rule of thumb for the average classroom but loses much of its applicability for lecture halls and auditoria.

Entrances should be located at the rear of the room away from the instructional wall.

The blackboard should occupy as much of the front wall as possible.

The ceiling height in rooms should be a function of occupancy room capacity as well as a function of screen heights if applicable.

  • Configuration: length/width ratio-3:2 is more appropriate for visual displays, 2:3 for standard lecture and discussion
  • Traffic Aisles: primary-36″ wide, secondary-24″ wide min.
  • Instructional wall placement: Typically on shorter wall, for rooms emphasizing AV use or longer wall for rooms emphasizing lecture and discussion.
  • Entrance: At rear, away from instructional wall.
  • Ceiling Height:
    • 0-20 people 8 ft. minimum
    • 21-50 people 9 ft. minimum
    • 51-75 people function of sloped floors, 9 ft. minimum
    • 76-149 people 12 ft.-front, 9 ft. minimum-rear
    • 150-299 people 15 ft.-front, 9 ft. minimum-rear
    • 300+ people 18 ft.-front, 9 ft. minimum-rear
    • Ceiling heights should be a function of occupancy density as well as a function of screen height, which is dependent on viewing angles and distances away from screen.
  • Disabled seating: disabled seating shall not be concentrated in a “corral” but should be dispersed. Minimum handicapped seating space shall be 30″ wide by 48″ deep. Ramps to platforms must not have slopes exceeding 1:12.


Finishes used in classrooms should be chosen with the acoustical and architectural characteristics of the room in mind. Floors should be non-slip, durable and easy to maintain. Hard surfaces such as stone, wood and tile are easier to maintain and should be considered as preferred alternatives to soft surfaces such as vinyl and carpet. As a practical consideration, both vinyl and carpeting are very susceptible to wear brought about by extreme climate conditions. Wherever possible, only one surface should be used in a classroom. A variety of surfaces may result in increased maintenance and custodial costs because of uneven wear and varying reactions to ice, salt, mud. Where hard floor surfaces are used, compensation with acoustical ceilings and wall panels should be made. Accent colors or design elements should be used to provide visual interest while maintaining the room’s architectural integrity.

Walls should have durable, non-glare finishes. Chair rails or wall protective features should be provided in rooms with moveable seating. The rails should be made of materials that hide or aesthetically accept gouge and marks.

Materials, finishes and colors should be chosen with deference to the architectural makeup of buildings. Many Syracuse University classrooms are housed within buildings listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Alterations to these classrooms should be consistent with the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation. These guidelines will affect most of the older buildings such as Crouse College, Maxwell Hall, Carnegie Library and the Hall of Languages.

  • Materials, finishes, and colors shall respect character of overall building design
  • Chair rails shall be from 28″ to 32″ from the floor
  • In buildings listed on the National Register of Historical Places, alterations should be consistent with the Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation
  • Reflectance:
    • Ceiling light reflectance 80-90%
    • Floors have reflectance 30-50%
    • Wall light reflectance: 50-60%


As instructors rely on computers, video monitors and projection systems to a greater extent, flexible lighting capabilities become essential. Classroom lighting should permit a range of levels from dark to bright. Lighting should permit note taking while projection equipment is in use.
Light switches should not complicate usage. The University should move toward standardization of lighting controls.

Additional Lighting

Separate lighting should be installed on teaching stations. Lighting on teaching stations allows instructors to conveniently refer to any notes they may need. The ambient lighting should be contained within the teaching station so as not to distract students from lectures or presentations.

Chalkboards should have lighting in classrooms with more than fifty people because lighting assists legibility from distances. Chalkboard luminaries should be evenly distributed across the chalkboard and be screened from the view of students.
Projection booths should have their own lighting circuitry so as to assist problems with projections with minimal disruption to the lecture.

  • Ambient lighting levels shall be between 60 and 70 footcandles. When lighting is dimmed, the seating area shall have 5-10 footcandles for note taking.
  • New lighting systems:
    • Front one-third of room closest to instructional zone shall be adjustable from 0 to 70 footcandles.
    • Rear two-thirds of room consisting of seating area shall be adjustable from 20% to 100%.
  • Lecture halls and auditoria shall have manual overrides of preset positions.


A balance of “live” and “dead” sound should be achieved in classrooms. Classroom construction should minimize noise transmission through surrounding walls, ceilings, and floors. Furnishings in classrooms should also be able to absorb appropriate noise transmission levels.

  • Sound Transmission Coefficient (STC) shall be 50 minimum.
  • Walls, floor, and ceiling assemblies shall achieve a noise reduction (NRC) between 55 and 65.
  • In classrooms and lecture halls, the noise criteria for mechanical equipment shall not exceed 30.

Heating, Ventilation, & Air Conditioning

HVAC requirements will depend upon location of classrooms and the site orientation of the building. Mechanical ventilation and cooling for classrooms with operable exterior windows should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  • Interior classrooms, classrooms without windows or classrooms with fixed windows shall have mechanical ventilation and cooling.
  • Interior classrooms shall meet outdoor air minimum requirements of 15 cubic feet per minute (CFM)/person (ASHRAE standard 62-1989).


Furnishings should be durable and appropriate in style and character and suit the building design. Table, lecterns/podiums, teaching stations and a stool or chair are primary components of the instructional zone. Student seating should accommodate the body sizes of the population at large, the increased presence of older students, as well as acknowledge the many variations on body types. Left-handed seating should comprise 10% of all chairs in a classroom. Classroom seating for both students and faculty should be comfortable as well as capable of accommodating the 5%-95% ergonomic range. Instructional zone furnishings should be able to withstand use and abuse. In smaller classrooms (rooms with less than 25 occupants), efforts should be made to provide coat hooks on walls.

  • Tables in instructional zone shall be four-legged or a design that is resistant to wear.
  • Tabletop lecterns or full size podiums shall provide a surface of 24″w x 18″d minimum.
  • Student tables shall provide 30″ frontage for each seated person.
  • Tablet arms shall be movable and be 100 sq. in. minimum in area.
  • Finishes shall be Class A in terms of smoke production during combustion.
  • Ten percent of total of tablet arms shall be left-handed.
  • Tablet armchairs shall have book storage below seat.

Audio-Visual Systems

To avoid heavily concentrated pockets of technology, and to encourage all members of the faculty to use contemporary technologies, playback sound systems for tape, video and disc should be evenly dispersed in classrooms of various sizes around campus.

Projection screens should be installed to permit two simultaneous projections. Projection screen configuration should account for good sight lines and viewing distance from screens. Screens and equipment should be mounted so that projected images are not keystoned or blocked by audience.

Classrooms where projection equipment has been permanently installed reduce the demands on technical support staff as well as instructor’s class time. Any equipment permanently installed in classrooms should be as secured as possible to prevent both theft and damage.

  • Lecture halls and classrooms with 100 or more occupants shall have voice amplification systems.
  • Farthest distance from screen shall not exceed 6 times the image width for optical projection or 4 times the image width for electronic projection.
  • First row of seats shall be no closer than 1.5 times the screen width.
  • Bottom of projection screen shall be 3′ minimum above the floor.
  • Permanent projector cabinets shall be provided in rooms of over 30 students where projection is used. Projector cabinets shall be sized to house two carousel projectors, and store one 16 mm film projector.
  • Projection rooms shall be utilized in spaces with 200 or more occupants where projection is used. Projection rooms shall be 48 sq. ft. minimum and shall have lighting and sound controls that duplicate controls in the instructional zone.
  • Monitors shall be sized for the maximum viewing distance: 1″ diagonal measurements for each 1′ of viewing distance.


Blackboards should cover as much of the teaching wall as possible, be mounted on walls as opposed to the freestanding variety, and they should be black. Chalkboards are generally preferable to marker boards, but there are occasions where a marker board is the most appropriate instrument of instruction in spite of the greater difficulty and cost of maintaining them. When a marker board is preferred over a blackboard, it should be white.

Tacking surfaces should run along the top of boards or be placed on the sides of boards.

  • Chalkboards shall be black and marker boards shall be white.
  • Minimum area of chalkboard shall be 48 sq. ft. The entire teaching wall should be covered.
  • A two-inch tack strip with map hooks shall run above chalkboard.
  • There shall be a minimum of 24 sq. ft. of chalkboard available when used simultaneously with a projection screen.
  • Chalkboards and marker boards shall have trays and bottom shall be mounted 3′-0″ above floor.


Classrooms with independent circuitry increase the likelihood that electrical problems occurring outside classrooms do not affect classrooms’ electrical service. Lecture halls and classrooms should have pathways to IDF or MDF closets.

  • A two-gang (four outlets) electrical outlet box shall be located in the middle of the instructional wall. Electrical outlets shall be located around the perimeter of classrooms at 12-foot intervals. Separate pathways shall be provided for electrical and communication wiring.
  • In classrooms with permanent projection equipment, there shall be a pathway from instructional wall to equipment location. Pathway shall be 3/4″ minimum conduits with a two-gang box on the instructional wall.

Academic Affairs Functional Improvements (AAFI)

The assistant director for Academic Facilities submits an annual request for functional improvements as part of the University’s Capital Project Budget. This request encompasses projects required to modify and improve academic facilities that may not otherwise be candidates for improvement under other sections of the University’s Capital Project Budget. In the past, such improvements have included the construction or renovation of research facilities, improvements to instructional labs and classrooms, and functional improvements for administrative offices.

Projects submitted for consideration under the Academic Affairs Functional Improvement budget generally have an estimated budget of $50,000 to $600,000. Projects can be either fully funded by the AAFI budget or partially funded with the balance funded by the requesting school or college.

For a project to be considered for summer construction, a written request must be submitted to the assistant director for Academic Facilities no later than August 1 of the prior year. This will provide the proper planning time to develop the project’s scope and budget and determine the project’s feasibility; in addition to, should the project be funded, providing sufficient time to design and construct the project.

Departments wishing to have a project considered for inclusion in the AAFI budget must submit a request to their dean for review and approval prior to the request being forwarded to the assistant director for Academic Facilities. All direct requests from departments will be referred back to the requestor for dean’s approval.

Discretionary Funds

The assistant director for Academic Facilities has a limited amount of discretionary funds available for smaller projects not normally covered within the annual AAFI budget request. These funds are available to assist academic units in meeting their short-term needs for improvements. Projects funded in the past have included minor laboratory or office reconfiguration, classroom audio-visual improvements, and upgrading classroom fixtures.

Projects submitted for funding consideration generally have an estimated budget of $2,000 to $50,000. Projects can be either fully funded or partially funded with the balance funded by the requesting school or college.

There is no set deadline for submitting a project request. Requests can be submitted at any time. Completion of approved projects is on a rolling horizon, dependent upon the length of time required for planning, design, and construction. The time required for construction, in conjunction with the availability of the space for work will determine when an approved project is executed. Occasionally, after a thorough review of a project scope is completed, it may be determined the project requires funding beyond the limit of the discretionary funds. These projects, with the consent of the requesting dean, will be submitted as part of the next AAFI budget cycle.

Departments wishing to have a project considered for funding must submit a request to their Dean for review and approval prior to the request being forwarded to the assistant director for Academic Facilities. All direct requests from departments will be referred back to the requestor for dean’s approval.