Today’s student housing can be an asset by meeting varied needs.
No longer should student housing simply be somewhere for students to crash after a hard day’s study. To attract the best students, universities and colleges across the States need to offer the best facilities across the whole campus. Student housing is one area that these institutions are reviewing in order to provide students with a living/learning environment that addresses both the academic and social needs of students’ lives.
Twenty-five years ago, the innovative step towards the “living/learning community” involved adding classrooms in new student housing buildings. Life has moved on considerably since then. Students are now demanding more of a balance between learning and life, but do not necessarily want to forego their home comforts. This throws up a number of challenges to the designer/architect of 21st century student housing. When the model is to provide students with creative spaces for learning beyond the traditional classroom setting, how can this be integrated into a new student housing facility?
The current trend in campus design and master planning is to provide students and faculty alike with a common space for greater interaction and socialisation. The Athenaeum at Goucher College in Baltimore is a fine example of this. The new space is a four-story fully sustainable building, open 24/7 and features a technologically superior library; a spacious open forum for performances, public discussions, and other events; a café, art gallery; a center for community service and multicultural affairs programming, radio station, exercise studio; and spaces for conversation, and quiet reflection and relaxation.
By seamlessly integrating academic and extracurricular learning into one interactive experience, Goucher College has embraced the challenge facing the modern school. By doing so, the college proved that it was prepared to listen to the next generation of students by providing them with an innovative and an award-winning central learning hub.
The same challenge is now being faced by the planners and designers of student housing. In part, this drive is being initiated by the students themselves. Incoming freshmen have forced colleges and universities across the US to rethink their models of student housing. The modern freshman is a very different entity to his counterpart of yesteryear. New technologies mean that students are in constant communication with their peers as well as with faculties on a 24/7 basis. The student of the second millennium is also more concerned about his or her impact on the world and is therefore demanding that the learning environment is sustainable from an environmental point of view.
Coupled with these demands from students, schools aim to create a learning community, as it these types of collaborations that have proved to be the best way to learn. Therefore, designers of student housing are needing to analyse how and why students learn before they can develop groundbreaking designs for the new wave of accommodation.
Princeton University has recently opened the new Whitman College, which has taken three years to construct after a 2-year planning process. The university has ended up with an ultra-modern accommodation block equipped with a state-of-the-art dining hall, a digital photo lab and plentiful greenery. 200 freshmen, 100 sophomores, 200 upperclassmen and 10 graduate students have moved into the college that promises to transform student life at Princeton.
Princeton University have realised that if students are provided with accommodation that addresses both their social growth as well as their academic developments, not only will they attract the best applicants, but they will also create a learning environment that will enable students to reach their full potential.
There have been a number of research papers looking at how to create the best learning environments. The over-reaching conclusion of many of them is that schools and colleges have to instigate a sense of shared experience within a “learning community”. By creating shared learning experiences within an environment that fosters the ethos of sharing, studies have shown that students learn and develop better than those left to their own devices.
The new breed of student accommodation has to strive to create these “learning communities”. No longer can we simply provide dorms. We have to address the needs of the modern student and provide them with the best environment possible. By learning lessons from the new breed of university campus, with greater emphasis being put on greater interaction within a classical Greek “forum”, we, as designers, can embrace the challenges and provide the students of tomorrow with accommodation solutions that are an extension of both their academic and social learning.