Inside Look: Residence Halls: Expectations and Innovations for Students' Home Away from Home

By Ezarik, Melissa | University Business, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Inside Look: Residence Halls: Expectations and Innovations for Students' Home Away from Home


Ezarik, Melissa, University Business


With any campus building, what's on the inside counts just as much--and probably more--than what's on the outside. This is especially true with residence halls, which must include a balance of private and shared spaces. "The buildings need to promote interaction among students to encourage peer-to-peer learning in support of the institution's academic mission," says Jackson Kane, an associate and housing specialist at Lord, Aeck & Sargent. That's no small order.

Whether rooms, suites, or apartments, the living areas of today's residence halls are typically designed for modest comfort. "We tend to make the private living quarters as efficient as possible to allow more time, space, and budget to make common areas of the building attractive and inviting," explains Kane. "Individual units tend to exhibit only subtle variations on a number of standard typologies, in contrast to the common areas, which exhibit a far wider degree of variety and innovation from project to project."

Julia Nugent, a principal at HMFH Architects, says that for first- and second-year students still establishing themselves personally and socially, "common areas are the primary venue for connecting with others, studying in groups, and exploring new activities." On the other hand, juniors and seniors, typically in suites or apartments, "are looking for an adult experience that simulates the real world that they will soon enter," she notes. "The living space is often intentionally neutral, awaiting the personalization of the inhabitants."

Following are examples of how institutions are providing students with the comforts expected, as well as some more innovative interiors that help in shaping the residence life experience.

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Let There Be Light

Contemporary furnishings around a cozy fireplace, with plenty of natural daylight, foster a sense of community in the three Hamilton Village high-rises at the University of Pennsylvania. The 1960s-era, 27-story buildings spanning four city blocks had become unpopular with students. A $150 million renovation in 2005 significantly improved both infrastructure and interiors, including new shared lounges and cafes. Each building was given a distinct identity and color scheme, and a "college house" approach links students by academic experience. Project design was by MGA Partners Architects (Philadephia).

Fostering student development through mentorship is the residence life philosophy at Framingham State University (Mass.), and North Hall does just that. The 410-bed, $40 million facility, open since 2011, houses students in "neighborhoods" of suite- style units. Semi-suites (for sophomores and juniors) and full suites with living areas (for juniors and seniors) are located on opposite sides of the corridor, allowing older residents to serve as mentors. Floor lounges, located at intersections of wings, are transparent from the outside. EYP Architecture & Engineering (Albany) was the project's design architect, and Pfeufer Richardson Architects (Cambridge, Mass.) was the executive architect.

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Bring the Outside In

The warmth of the "great rooms" of lodges in the nearby Adirondack Mountains inspired the lounge design of the four Newing College residence halls at Binghamton University, State University of New York. The 1,600-bed, $100 million project, completed in phases in 2009 and 2011, features modified traditional double-loaded corridors of rooms organized into wings that function like residential neighborhoods. The lounges, which are large enough to house a floor of students at a time, are Located at the building corners, with floor-to-ceiling windows providing views of surrounding vistas. The buildings were designed by Stantec Architecture (Philadelphia).

Interior arcades provide spatial and visual transitions to the outside as well as link the Living and learning spaces at Fordham University's (N. …

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