Treanor Blog/News

University Residences – 8 Major Design Trends

2011-06-03 Posted By: Emily Bengoa
Treanor Architects' Joseph Stramberg interviewed by Building Design & Construction Major Trends In University Residence Halls Peter Fabris They’re not ‘dorms’ anymore. Today’s collegiate housing facilities are lively, state-of-the-art, and green—and a growing sector for Building Teams to explore. There are logical reasons why university residence halls are one of the stronger sectors for AEC firms in the current construction market. Age is one of them. Many colleges and universities have a portfolio of ageing residence halls constructed in the 1960s and 1970s for the post-war generation. The baby boomers’ children, the so-called “echo boomers,” and even their children’s children, are now flooding the nation’s universities, and they have no interest in yesteryear’s dormitory-style living. Today’s college students wouldn’t think of sharing a bathroom with a whole floor of cohorts. They expect fl at panel Tvs, cable, and high-speed Internet access everywhere—for both academic and social reasons—along with comfortable nooks and crannies in which to gather and study. For schools in warm climates, how about throwing in a leisure pool and a barbecue patio? These amenities may seem excessive to their bill-paying parents, but university officials say they’re competing fiercely for top student talent, so they’re giving their customers what they want.Many institutions are targeting out-of-state and international students (who generally pay full tuition), raising the demand for on-campus housing. Urban schools historically geared to commuters are building residence halls to create more of a “collegiate” atmosphere on campus. For research-based universities success in the dog-eat-dog fight for grant dollars depends on attracting bright, driven graduate students who are willing to work long hours on research projects and need affordable places to live, preferably on or near campus. Building Teams invested in programming, designing, and constructing collegiate residential facilities would do well to consider several trends that are influencing activities in this sector: • Alternative financing – Many universities are taking a hard at partnering with private developers to fund new projects. But careful: AEC firms have two masters to serve in these arrangements. • Mixed use/urban infill – To help foster more vibrant neighborhoods and boost goodwill with the surrounding community, some urban residence hall projects include retail and restaurant space open to non-university patrons. • Innovative flexible common spaces – Informal learning settings, such as nontraditional residence hall classrooms and spaces for students to collaborate on projects, are high priorities. • Sustainability as a lifetime learning tool – Universities are using cutting-edge green features and technologies to influence student behavior, promote physical sustainability, and enhance the curriculum. NEW FINANCING SCHEMES ADDRESS RAPID GROWTH Private developer partnership agreements can be complex, with almost unlimited possible permutations. A common format is for the university and the developer to form a separate corporation that issues 30- to 50-year bonds to finance construction. The developer Might be the primary bond issuer, thereby assuming the most risk, with the university as the secondary issuer; rating agencies are likely to rate the bonds higher when the university stands behind the project. After the bonds are retired, or shortly thereafter, ownership of the property reverts to the university. Building Teams need to understand the nuances of how these partnerships impact programming, design, and construction. That’s because there are two clients to please: the developer, who typically pays the bill; and the institution, representing its board and, ultimately, the students. Sometimes these two entities don’t see eye to eye on key aspects of residence hall projects. A case in point: The University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif., about 30 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles. For most of its history, the school was geared to commuters, but in recent years La Verne has been enrolling more out-of-state and international students. This influx has led to a housing shortage so pressing that the university had to put up some students in hotel rooms. To alleviate the housing crunch, the school partnered with developer Hanover Pacific LLC, Irvine, Calif., on a 103,255-sf mixed-use retail and student housing project, which recently broke ground. David Senden, a principal with design firm KTGY Group, Irvine, Calif., says the programming and design process called for “a delicate dance” with the two clients. “We had longer, more intense meetings than on the typical project,” he says. “It was a slow process of consensus building.” Building Teams need to recognize the sometimes competing interests in developer/university partnerships. The developer has to balance its need to maximize revenue-generating square footage with the school’s demands for less profitable amenities. “The university usually wants more common space and educational space than the developer wants to build,” Senden notes. This conflict can even come down to the number of bathrooms in the residence hall. While the institution might want every student to have a private bathroom, cost constraints may limit how many actually get programmed into the final design. For such partnerships to succeed, the two parties must be willing to negotiate, and sometimes the design firm gets thrust into the role of mediator. Of course, the developer’s job is to optimize financial return, while the institution is looking to keep down costs. “The developer gets to cry uncle when the price gets too high,” says S. Michael Evans, FAIA, principal and vice president of Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, Norfolk, Va. “Often, the limit on cost comes down to What students can pay.” The university or the developer may want to raise room rates over the years, says Evans, but ultimately they have to maintain affordability for the students. Building Team members accustomed to working with university clients might have difficulty adjusting to the dualclient dynamic, says Greg Strickler, a principal with Anderson Strickler LLC, Gaithersburg, Md., a market and financial consulting firm focused on the university sector. “Some architects are not comfortable working for the developer rather than the university,” he says. “Some are not comfortable designing to stringent developer-set budgets.” Firms eyeing the university housing market should be prepared to work within these partnerships or risk being shut out of potentially lucrative projects. Evans says most institutions are at least willing to talk about third-party partnerships. However, says Strickler, the schools tend to be cautious about such arrangements.“Universities are loath to give up control over these projects,” he says. In certain cases, particularly where speed is of the essence, they can be an attractive option. MIXED-USE: ENERGIZING NEIGHBORHOOD VITALITY Urban universities increasingly look to mixed-use, urban-infi ll projects—including student housing—to add vitality to their surroundings and enhance town/gown relations. A shining example is Emerson College’s renovation of the historic Paramount Theater and Arcade Building in downtown Boston. The Art Deco-style Paramount, a 1930s movie house that sat vacant from the mid-70s until its recent renovation, is now a 590-seat live performance venue with a 125-seat black box theater, a 170-seat film screening room, nine rehearsal studios, practice rooms, a sound stage, and classrooms. “Emerson now has the finest performance spaces of any academic institution in the world,” says Howard Elkus, FAIA, RIBA, LEED AP, a principal with Elkus Manfredi Architects, Boston, the design firm on the project. Passersby on busy Washington Street may be attracted by the theater’s 7,000-bulb marquee but may not notice the new residence hall hovering behind the theater. Construction of the residence hall was a key component in the resuscitation of Boston’s infamous Combat Zone, where strippers and prostitutes once roamed. Emerson, which has built several new and renovated housing projects nearby, has been instrumental in the turnaround. Students now patronize restaurants and Retail shops night and day. “Emerson has literally regenerated this part of the city,” Elkus says. Two thousand miles away, in Austin, Texas, a project to be built on the edge of the University of Texas campus will have space for retail shops, restaurants, or university-related uses.This street-level space will be constructed with a separate entrance from the residence portion of the structure and a separate elevator, giving the university the flexibility to use it either for offices or classrooms or to rent it out to retail use, says Chris Carvell, AIA, NCARB, design principal based at PageSoutherlandPage LLP’s Denver office. Urban colleges and universities have to be keenly sensitive to neighborhood concerns when designing new residences. Emerson chopped the Paramount Residence Hall from 155 feet down to 109 feet to accommodate neighboring condominium owners.“We also hid as much of the rooftop infrastructure equipment as we could,” says Ross Cameron, project architect with Elkus Manfredi. The college paid a premium for two custom-made airhandling units that could be stacked. The alternative would have required six off-the-shelf units with a larger roof footprint, an unattractive sight to the nearby condo owners. Emerson also clad one side of the structure with a glass curtain wall featuring some translucent panels to blend with the neighboring Ritz Carlton Residences and Millennium Place condominiums. COMMON AREAS MUST SERVE MULTIPLE USES The concept of the living/learning environment is gaining popularity in residence hall design. “Studies are showing that informal settings are better for learning than the traditional academic setting,” says PageSoutherlandPage’s Carvell. Three new residence halls at the University of Colorado, Pueblo, address that trend. Each has a ground-level classroom that can be used for informal seminars, student project collaboration, or other learning formats that don’t hold to the conventional lecture style. A grab-and-go café is adjacent to each classroom. The classroom space can be expanded by opening a translucent frostedglass- paneled sliding wall abutting the café. Thus, the classroom can be used for multiple purposes and for gatherings of different sizes. The space has its own outside entrance, and the sliding wall can be locked so that the room can be used by outside groups while maintaining security for the residents. Common areas are precious space in a university residence, and the more flexible they are, the better. Many lounges, study spaces, and snack bars are equipped with comfortable furniture that can be easily reconfigured or moved to accommodate different types of events. Another increasingly common amenity in university housing is the high-tech media room. While most students have laptops, many need to occasionally use expensive, sophisticated software. “There may be areas set aside for practicing on tools like Power- Point,” says Joseph Stramberg, AIA, principal with Treanor Architects, Lawrence, Kan.“You might have a video room with a green screen. If a student is going to graduate school, the essay they need to submit with their application might be a video essay, and they can create it in this space.” Green screens, video conferencing, wi fi , HDTV, reconfigurable lounges—these elements indicate that today’s college housing differs drastically from the mid-twentiethcentury residences that many schools now have to replace. Colleges and universities are demanding innovative designs to address these requirements. SUSTAINABILITY AS LEARNING TOOL Many universities are routinely designing new residence halls to a minimum LEED Silver status. The new thing is to turn them into sustainability learning centers. Duke University’s Smart Home, a 6,000-sf LEED Platinum student residence hall, serves as a live-in laboratory, where Duke students perform research studies on the building’s green technologies (see “Living in a Green Laboratory,” http:// www.bdcnetwork.com/livinggreen). Two years ago, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., completed Cedarwood, a 35,000-sf residence hall that is expected to achieve LEED Silver certification. Its green features include extensive natural daylighting, low-fl ow water fixtures, a bioretention filtration system to manage stormwater runoff, reflective roofing, and a solar hot water system. Eastern Mennonite went a step further with the installation of A video dashboard in the Cedarwood lobby that delivers real-time data on the building’s energy and water usage as well as background information on its environmental characteristics. The Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard (from QA Graphics, Ankeny, Iowa) graphs current usage to historical usage, computes savings, and provides environmental tips and quizzes.“The dashboard provides a way for visitors and students to learn about the building and to be aware of how their lifestyles impact the environment,” says EMU’s communications director, Andrea Wenger. “This is a living and learning community, and telling the story of Cedarwood’s construction and building use fits in with our mission as a university committed to sustainability.” St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has renovated much of its student housing with low-fl ow showers, toilets, and faucets, and automated lighting controls, but there’s still room for improving efficiency, says Shelley Price Finn, the university’s sustainability program coordinator. St. Mary’s has adapted the QA Graphics’ software as the front end of a centralized energy management system that allows students, faculty, and staff to access environmental data over the Web.The university sponsors energy-conservation contests in which its residence halls vie against others in the Canadian Atlantic provinces.The winner is determined by the highest percentage reduction Compared to its baseline week usage. “We try to get students to turn off lights and computers and unplug things when not in use,” Finn says. “The last step is to impact human behavior,” Finn says. “We don’t have systems to turn off every light and every computer.” That’s where tools like the dashboard and what she terms “social marketing,” such as the energy challenge contest, come in. New university housing feeds students’ environmental awareness and makes it easier for them to follow through with good ecological practices. Smart Building Teams can be equally motivated to use their skills and experience toward creating efficient, affordable residence facilities for today’s university scholars. Arizona State’s Public/Private Housing Partnership Five years ago, Arizona State University opened a major new campus in downtown Phoenix, a 20-minute drive from its main campus in Tempe. ASU, now at 77,000 students, is projected to grow to 100,000 by 2020. With a pressing need to construct new classroom and lab space downtown and at three other campuses, money for new housing was scarce. After a few successful public/private housing partnerships on the Tempe campus, the university turned to Capstone Management to help the school build its first downtown campus housing project, the 366,000-sf Taylor Place residence hall. “During a period of incredible growth, our bond capacity has to be used for academic and research facilities,” says Michael Coakley, associate vice president of educational outreach and student services. Private financing will be used whenever possible for housing and auxiliary services. “We have aggressively looked for third-party partnerships in a variety of configurations,” he says. In earlier partnerships, private LLCs were established to own the properties. These corporations issued bonds, assumed financial responsibility, and collected the rent, while the university managed the buildings. In more recent projects, the developer put in all of the equity without issuing bonds. For Taylor Place, the university has leased the land to Capstone for 65 years. “The developers are responsible for maintaining the property in Class A condition, but if they fail to do so, we have the right to buy it out if we want to,” says Coakley. So far, that has not been a consideration. ‘Greening the Campus’ Webcast Register now for our one-hour webcast “Greening the Campus: Sustainability Beyond Single Buildings,” at www.BDCnetwork.com/ GreeningTheCampus, and take the opportunity to earn 1.0 AIA CES Discovery HSW/SD learning units. Our expert faculty—Angela Halfacre, PhD, Furman University; Richard R. Johnson, Rice University; Robert J. Koester, PhD, AIA, LEED AP, Ball State University; and Christopher C. Ramey, AIA, University of Oregon—will guide you on new ways to implement sustainability across the entire campus. Wait, there’s more! Three more university housing trends to look for Three more concepts that could influence the university housing market in coming years: 1. Prefab bathrooms on the radar With designs producing more bathrooms so fewer students have to share them, the market seems ripe for adoption of prefabricated bathroom units. Treanor Architects used prefab bathrooms extensively for Education City, a 2,500-acre development in Qatar that hosts branch campuses of Virginia Commonwealth, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, Cornell, Texas A&M, and Northwestern. Prefab bathrooms are constructed offsite by a vendor in a manufacturing plant and lifted into place by crane. “Construction is in a qualitycontrolled environment,” says Joseph Stramberg, AIA, a principal with Treanor Architects, Lawrence, Kan. “You have faster construction with less error and a lot less waste. You don’t have several trades working on top of each other on site. It’s amazing that this hasn’t taken off more in the student housing community.” While prefabrication is suitable for large projects (200 or more bathrooms), it may not work on wood frame or light metal frame structures, Stramberg cautions. Prefab units are placed into depressed areas of the floor, so cast-in-place construction suits this technique best. Prefab can also aid sustainability: VOC-emitting paints or sealants have time to off-gas in the manufacturing plant before being delivered to the residence hall. 2. Greek villages on the comeback Historically, fraternity and sorority chapters owned and managed their housing—often on the edge of campus or off campus. Some universities have begun to buck tradition by constructing entire “Greek villages.” Grouped in their own neighborhood, Greek village homes are linked by a common design vocabulary. Individual chapters may be allowed to personalize their building’s exterior with the choice of pediments, shutters, columns, landscaping, and interior finishes. Greek village projects experienced a boomlet in the early 2000s, but it went bust with the economic downturn. “Anecdotally, it seems they are coming back,” says Stramberg. “Universities want to provide as diverse a mix of housing for their students as possible.” Financing for these projects can be through a private developer, the Greek chapter, the university, or a combination thereof. In some cases the university owns and manages the building and the chapter leases it. 3. Residential college system gaining more adherents In recent years, several U.S. universities have emulated the residential college system made famous at Oxford and Cambridge in England and at some of the Ivy League universities. Some of these new adopter schools group students by field of study, others by class year; in any case, students reside in the same college hall for their full undergraduate experience. One unusual design consideration with this system is that members are expected to dine enmasse at least once a week in the residence hall. “A residential college is a very formalized structure,” Stramberg says. “You could have 200 to 400 students breaking bread at the same time.” The university has to make sure that its food services department has the kitchen and dining room capacity to feed and to serve such large gatherings, or it could be a long wait for that on the buffet line for those buffalo wings.
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