On-campus and off, architects and developers are bringing complex, sophisticated buildings to life. The goal: to re-create a resort experience while also urging academic success.
Student housing's most in-demand communities continue to be dense, urban-style, walk-to-class buildings. Apartments on middle floors are generally sandwiched by retail or classroom space on the ground floor and impressive amenity space on the roof. Whether on or off campus, architecture firms are the creative force behind these valuable buildings, often guiding developers through processes they may not always be fluent in.
The unintended consequences of zoning ordinances for the past several generations have created developers who primarily specialize in one area and aren't as confident in each and every component of a mixed use project, says Cannon Reynolds, associate principal with Niles Bolton Associates. "We've got a lot of Baby Boomer developers who remember the days when they could build an apartment complex right next door to a strip shopping center. The zoning ordinances and the demographics are all pushing us to stack these things on top of each other, and the real estate values are pushing that, too."
As opposed to hiking trails and tennis courts that went along with garden-style developments, today's new student housing projects are required to jam big amenities into smaller spaces. "That's the real impetus today," Reynolds says. "To try to figure out, how do you make amenity space that's really compelling?"
Compelling amenity space can be seen in many exciting new projects that have just opened or are under construction around the country.
NBA's Meridian at Fondren is one such project. Opening in fall 2014, the on-campus housing for the University of Mississippi Medical Center is located within walking distance of the university in a hip area known as Fondren. Maintaining Fondren's sidewalk community within the design of Meridian was important. Reynolds, project manager for Meridian, says a long conversation with the developer, SKD Development, about the potential for the project had to iron out exactly how the mixed-use concept would be applied here.
The students living at Meridian are going to be older students, and because the neighborhood is full of character and is popular with joggers and pedestrians, the streetscape and "walkability" became a major part of the building design. There is currently about 10,000 square feet of retail built into the project. Some of the space is for restaurants, including a coffee shop, and Reynolds says the management is in conversations with local community-owned businesses, while the university has committed to lease half the ground floor as medical office.
"A lot of what I'm working on right now is true mixed use," Reynolds says. "This means we're doing street-level retail, coordinating between different developers who are spearheading all the different aspects, such as office, retail and housing. And in many cases, even on–campus, they're putting instructional space on the street because they want to have a more active streetscape."
Another trend that's showing up in many new student communities today is impressive roof top amenity space. At Meridian, a rooftop terrace will include a hospitality suite that Reynolds says will appeal greatly to the university, which has expressed interest in using it for alumni events. It also includes a garden style pool that will be built in with retaining walls.
"We're putting a lot of pools on roofs, on top of parking decks. We're putting significant outdoor amenity spaces up on roofs," Reynolds says.
Landmark Properties is developing an interesting rooftop pool at the Standard at Athens. Humphreys & Partners is the architect on the project. The Standard will feature an infinity-edge pool at the top of the building.
"That's expensive to do," says Greg Faulkner, president of Humphreys & Partners. "It may cost half a million dollars or more to do that because it affects the structure of your garage, but, when you're done, you not only have a roof top on your garage, you've got an incredible pool amenity with all kinds of outdoor extras up on top of the deck, including a view premium in an area that gets lots of light for more hours a day than amenity space that's set down in a courtyard."
Humphrey's & Partners is working on a similarly elaborate pool amenity for Residential Housing Partners,which is developing District on Apache in Tempe, Ariz., near Arizona State University. The project not only includes retail, but the star of the 210-bed community is a 4,500-square-foot pool that includes a lazy river. Students will float in inner tubes along a waterway that's connected the pool, similar to a water ride at an amusement park.
"We build nice units for our students," Faulkner says. "But for the most part, they seem to be living in these common areas: in the cyber café and out by the pool and study areas. That may vary project to project, but I know many of the student projects are doing more over-the-top common area features outside the unit."
These features aren't limited to off-campus developments. At the University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif., a project that opened last fall took on many of the same street-scape features as off-campus communities.
The idea behind the LEED Gold residence hall, Vista La Verne, was to create an environment that united residential and commuter students as well as the city of La Verne itself. KTGY Group was the architect and Hanover Pacific was the developer. The building represented many "firsts" for the 122-year-old university. It was the first time the university had worked with a private developer. It is the largest building constructed on the campus. It is the first LEED Gold certification for the university as well as for the city of La Verne.
The 101,087-square-foot building includes the residence hall, which houses 378 students in a variety of multi-room suites, and the campus bookstore.
"The retail component, housing the campus bookstore, occupies approximately 10,000 square feet of the building's ground level and serves as a continuation of the historical downtown retail frontage along the main thoroughfare," says KTGY Design Principal David Senden. "An important design element to the retail frontage was to set back the residential units so that the pedestrian experience would mirror that of the predominantly one-story retail structures within the downtown area."
A green space connects Vista La Verne to the parking area. KTGY designed Vista La Verne to integrate with the newly completed student center by having the campus green space connect with the project's green courtyard to integrate the residential and commuter student populations.
"Transforming commuters into residents, eliminating the need for cars, is one of the greenest actions a campus can take," says Robert Y. Kim, executive managing director of Hanover Pacific.
The living areas provide multi-room suites, study areas, lounges and laundry rooms. "The project was modeled after a boutique hotel with the appropriate accents and higher-end finishes," Senden says. "The entryway sets the tone with dark wood trim set against lightly colored walls, united at the base by flooring featuring whitish expanses interrupted by large and distinctive deep-hued rectangles. Visitors are naturally drawn forward to a reception counter reminiscent of a boutique hotel front desk."
At Wichita State University, a $60 million residence hall project is combining technological elements into a building that aims to transform the NCAA-Championship-winning school into a walkable, 24/7 campus.
The new residence hall, ready in fall 2014, will house about 780 students and will be located between Cessna Stadium and Morrison Hall. A new 400-seat dining hall will be attached to the residence hall.
Mostly first-year students and some returning students will reside in the new residence hall, but an honors college is tentatively planned for the future. Each floor will have a laundry room, community kitchen and lounge area.
After completion of the new residence hall, Wheatshocker Apartments and Brennan Halls will be razed for future development. The university selected EdR to develop the residence hall, and the lead architect is Page Southerland Page.
"At Wichita State University, a renewed emphasis for on-campus student life has become a top priority for WSU's new president, John Bardo," says Chris Carvell, design principal for Page Southerland Page.
Carvell adds that the new dining hall be a multipurpose restaurant concept that will also be able to accommodate special events and include a fresh-food, grab-and-go retail concept. All together, the dining hall and residential complex will create a full block of a quadrangle at the central core of campus.
"The new residence hall exudes sustainability, technology and advanced on-campus student living designed initially for freshmen, and in the future with a hybrid of mixed private bedroom units to facilitate an honors college with the dean's office suite and classrooms located on level one commons," Carvell says.
"The project includes all the essential amenities for life on a 24/7 walkable campus. The concept of technology is advanced for student housing. It includes electronic digital flat panel boards on each floor posting on campus announcements, weather warnings, activities, photos and streaming live video via the Internet."
Another project at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is bringing a typically off-campus sense of sophistication onto campus. Campus Circle Apartments is being developed by Bainbridge, with Charlan Brock and Associates as architect. It will be the second "Campus Circle" project for the architect and developer, but they are also looking into future sites as well.
The 509-bed community at will open in time for the 2015 school year. According to CBA principal Mary Moltzan, this is the very first project of its kind on this campus. Located in the engineering and life science area, the facility will be home for a large number of international students. The amenity space is crowned by a rooftop deck that will feature gathering space at a bar, seating around a fireplace and seating for an outdoor TV-watching area. Around the perimeter of the roof, canopies will provide shade and create gathering spaces within the larger overall space.
"Meeting the needs of today's college students requires both stimulating their intellectual learning experience and providing a resort experience," Moltzan says. "The client has been focused on the amenity package. They want to give students purpose-built housing that's outstanding. They are reaching for the amenities that these students would expect to find in the major cities. Not only in Chicago and New York, but also Tokyo and Singapore. Our goal is to inspire these students."
KSQ Architects has also designed an on-campus commons at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that the firm says represents a new direction in SMU student housing. The Residential Commons features 1,250 beds, a 505-seat dining commons and an 800-car parking garage. This project will enable SMU to implement its new sophomore live-on campus requirement.
"It will also facilitate the transitional integration of academics and student life," says KSQ Principal David Short. Each of the five new 250-bed residence halls will blend a residential college to the housing which will include seminar rooms, offices, faculty housing, administrative and support functions and other amenities.
"This project has a very European feel to the design," Short says, "due in part to the density of the beds within the footprint. It's a very vertically oriented project and offers a pedestrian-friendly appeal with courtyards and green spaces to create a sense of place. The school wanted the non-Greek students to feel as though they have a place to belong."
— Lynn Peisner