Live, work and study: the future of university accommodation

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Live, work and study: the future of university accommodation

Student accommodation takes many forms around the world, but most often it is envisioned as closed accommodation in a darkly designed dorm. As prospective students choose universities based on academic rigor, athletic programs, extracurricular activities and future career opportunities, they now want to know what life on and off campus will be like – and that has forced designers to rethinking traditional dorm designs into something more innovative that better reflects what students want (and expect) in their residence halls.

Cie Global Institute Macro Sea. Image © Chris Mosier
Cie Global Institute Macro Sea. Image © Chris Mosier

Student housing in the neighborhood generally lacked any sort of emphasis on design. Small square bedrooms, shared bathrooms at the end of the hall, and tiny bunk beds are probably the images that come to mind when you think of dorms. But those spaces, at the time, were really meant for sleeping and storing a few key items, while living rooms were meant for social gatherings, dining rooms for eating, sports facilities for exercising, and sports facilities. libraries to study. Dormitories were built cheaply, as they were cheap to live in and did not need to contain a lot of amenities.

Munger Hall Axon.  Image via UC Santa Barbara
Munger Hall Axon. Image via UC Santa Barbara

But today, expectations for student accommodation are much different as we explore changes in the way people want to live. Most college and recreational dorms made headlines when the University of California, Santa Barbara unveiled its plan for a massive new student housing project. The design was spearheaded by a wealthy donor who donated $200 million to the school for the project. This mega-dormitory caused such a backlash that even the architect who was to design the project quit. The problem was that the 1.68 million SF structure would house nearly 4,500 students, only 6% of whom would have direct window access. By filling the interiors with small rooms, the intention was to bring students into social spaces to relax and collaborate, almost ignoring the problem of the remaining 94% of students having access to light and fresh air.


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Besides this controversial Southern California dorm, prospective students want their housing to be much more luxurious to meet their needs when moving on their own for the first time. Dorms are becoming essential marketing tools to attract students to universities as they aim to project an entertaining and rewarding lifestyle. In addition to over-the-top amenities, many students want private bathrooms, large study spaces, and room for storage.

through KPF
through KPF

The future may also contain dormitories that serve more as multi-purpose spaces, where classrooms are on the lower levels and living quarters on the top. Where students live can also be where they can dine, exercise and relax, as a way to create micro-communities within these buildings that can establish their own identity on campus, and as a way to differentiate themselves from others, allowing universities to charge a premium. It borrows from the concept of living near where you work, or in this case, living near where you learn.

The outdated dormitories we think of today are relics compared to what is yet to come on campuses around the world. As our needs and desires evolve toward more space, more amenities, and a more fluid way to live, study, and relax, where we spend our college carers will need to reflect this as well.

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