Director of Interior Design and Shareholder, Sixthriver Architects
Design requires tapping into the Millennial zeitgeist for inspiration, which can be found in hotels, spas, restaurants or even a unique shop.
In the past, student housing consisted of cinder-block walls, linoleum flooring and communal washrooms. Nowadays, student housing amenities and marketing are changing to enhance the benefits offered to residents, their families and owners. Having worked on more than 100 student housing projects, I’ve developed and researched the best practices and sought innovative designs that are important to the current generation of university students. Staying up-to-date on modern trends, technology and pop-culture have been imperative to the process.
With each project, the developers we collaborate with garner extensive amounts of market research in an effort to learn about the community and determine if there’s a need for luxury student housing, which was identified as a need found at The University of Arizona. The Retreat, a student housing project in Tucson near the U of A campus that’s being developed by Landmark Properties for a fall 2013 opening, offers a variety of housing options, common programming spaces and exterior landscaped areas. Sitting on about 21 acres, The Retreat has 183 residential units with 774 beds for individual leasing. Sixteen different floor plans are offered, allowing students to customize their living experience.
At the Retreat, we utilized higher-end features and amenities not found in conventional student housing. It features an amenity first for me in student housing: a luxury spa for residents, which includes a manicure and pedicure station, a treatment room for facials and massages, three tanning beds and a relaxation lounge. This project also includes the largest, multi-tiered pool in Tucson, with tanning areas and cabanas. The 9,500 square-foot clubhouse is where the spa is located along with a state-of-the-art fitness center and golf simulator. Luxury is great when designing student housing developments, but I’ve learned the savvy young Millennial residents demand and expect cutting-edge technology.
We’re on the brink of a new digital paradigm, where the capabilities of our technology are beginning to outstrip our own. A recent survey by Zipcar, a global research and advisory firm, found at least 95 percent of Millennials go online, 81 percent own a smart phone and wireless connectable laptop and/or tablet and 83 percent use social networking sites. In fact, the majority of Millennials are wired 24/7. Much of that technology is used for e-communication, social media and entertainment. Students are quick adapters, and that is why properties need to include the newest tech features, making sure more permanent tech offerings can be updated regularly to incorporate new features and updated products.
I have found that thinking outside of the box with technology is absolutely essential with student housing. Some of the technology being utilized now in these developments include the option to receive text messages when a washer and dryer cycle has finished; automatic sensors for air-conditioning that turns off automatically when students leave their room; and fitness equipment that allows users to check their email during their workout.
At Austin-based The Callaway House, which is being developed by American Campus Communities at the University of Texas and will open later this summer, we were assigned the task of creating a tech-based theater room for a recreation area. There were two big design challenges when working on this amenity. First, theaters are generally underutilized, and second, they require immense square footage. I was responsible for making the most out of a large space and driving relevancy to maximize utilization. My first thought was Millennials like to be interactive, social and seen. So to incorporate all three of these elements, we have the theater encapsulated in glass. This allows it to be a central focal point when entering the main recreation area.
Individual game consoles throughout the theater allow for multiple games to be displayed on the large HD flat projection screen at once. Since residents will most likely sit in this space for hours playing games or watching movies, I kept the design features modern, comfortable and durable. Incorporating those needs, we used customized chaise lounge chairs with bold graphic fabric along with vibrant carpet.
From a unique inside amenity to a creative outside one, ACC’s Orlando-based Plaza on University at The University of Central Florida, opening in 2014, has a large exterior courtyard. The courtyard was created as part of the mixed-used development to include an active pool for socializing and a lap pool for serious swimmers. We added contemporary hanging chairs surrounding the lap pool to further enhance the relaxed atmosphere. Though, relaxation isn’t the only component we wanted to capture in this property’s outdoor amenities. The developers took it a step further adding in active areas with an Astro Turf putting green, Bocce ball and sand volleyball court and home-like features including a Jacuzzi spa, a kitchen and projection screen. When completed, the mixed-use student housing redevelopment project will contain approximately 1,300 beds.
When my team becomes involved, we are customarily facilitating design, but we have helped on other aspects, including the functionality of amenities, such as suggesting that a dry sauna is not needed in southern Arizona. I discover aspects of design and distinctive features that I know would interest students everywhere I go, whether I’m at a hotel, spa, restaurant or even a unique shop. Amenity packages will continue to expand at student housing projects, meaning my job as an interior designer in this area will only continue to evolve.
— Jill Lung is a shareholder and the director of interior design at Austin, Texas-based Sixthriver Architects.