Mass Appeal

Sept. 1, 1997
Flexibility and durability are two assets required of residence-hall furniture to satisfy students' needs and their desire for personal expression.Today's

Flexibility and durability are two assets required of residence-hall furniture to satisfy students' needs and their desire for personal expression.

Today's tidal wave of college freshmen, sons and daughters of the baby boomers, has spawned a growth in new construction of on-campus housing at many colleges and universities. In addition to meeting the basic need of providing shelter, this phenomenon presents administrators with the opportunity to make strategic facilities choices that will impact their students and their schools' places in the market for decades to come.

There is little question that residence halls, today more than ever, play critical roles both in campus life and recruitment efforts. While the strength and reputation of a school's academic programs has and will continue to be the primary consideration of most students shopping for a higher education, administrators are recognizing the role that secondary factors such as housing variety, quality and amenities can play in recruitment.

In years past, it was often difficult enough to find the resources to simply maintain aging residence halls designed for a less particular and demanding student population, never mind make them marketing tools. Now that market forces virtually have demanded new construction, administrators are jumping on this previously unavailable opportunity to distinguish their schools from the competition.

Attracting students Amenities abound in new college residence facilities across the country. Features such as air conditioning; carpeting; electronic security systems; voice, data and television connections; and individual room lavatories, for example, are becoming the norm, rather than the exception. Each of these features and others represents an effort by administrators to not only set their schools apart (or at least keep pace with the competition), but also to recognize the importance of a student's living environment in the overall learning experience.

More so than ever before, proper selection of residence-hall furniture and sensitive integration into the student housing environment are critical components of the campus-life experience. Today, residence-hall furniture selection has the opportunity to positively affect three trends that are impacting campuses:

-Overcrowded residential facilities. -Integration of state-of-the-art communication and computer technology into student living spaces. -The need for administrators to maximize the attractiveness and amenities of their facilities for recruitment purposes.

When carefully selected and distributed within rooms, furniture also can respond to some of the softer but essential philosophical and social issues important to both students and universities. Administrators view housing as a part of and support to the overall educational mission of the university; it is critical to first meet the basic human needs of housing for a student to be academically successful. Students, on the other hand, desire and expect to individualize their own living environments.

Time to design Decisions regarding furniture need to be made early in the design process, when programming information is being gathered by the design team. During this phase, administrators must develop a vision about how furniture may be used in the proposed rooms. As the construction cost of residence halls is significant, thinking about furniture early is important in order to maximize efficiency and economy.

If floor space is at a premium, consider units that serve multiple functions. Often, policies restrict students from constructing makeshift lofts and storage areas. In response to this particularly strong student urge to customize their environment, selecting single beds that optionally can be bunked, as well as modular wardrobe units that support one end of a bed, for example, creates layout flexibility within standard furniture components.

With furniture programming information in hand, the project designer can produce test fits using the required furniture quantities and sizes in a variety of configurations to simulate and confirm the proposed room's ability to support multiple furniture layouts.

The best process is one of give and take, examination and re-examination, consideration and adjustment. The worst scenario is to predetermine a building design and then be left with inappropriate or restrictive room dimensions, thereby limiting the ability to properly specify furniture.

Meeting needs and desires Twenty and 30 years ago, many colleges and universities took a somewhat utilitarian approach to design, equipping rooms with built-in furniture, including closets, dressing stations and desks. It was assumed that doing so would result in cost savings over time.

This approach, unfortunately, failed to recognize most students' overwhelming desire to create personalized spaces. Administrators discovered that students, despite the inhibitive built-in environment, would endeavor to personalize their rooms in whatever manner possible, resulting in unbolted, ripped apart or otherwise damaged units. The upshot often turned out to be costly maintenance and replacement.

Today's residence facilities are much more sympathetic to students. Spaces are being created that allow for personal expression and comfort. Administrators want to do what they can to ease this transition and, in turn, enhance prospects for academic success.

It pays to acknowledge the desire of many students to express their own personalities and meet individual needs through the selection of furniture that is flexible. As indicated earlier, not only do stand-alone beds (which may be bunked or not), desks, wardrobes and closets provide flexibility in design, they also offer students the ability to suit their needs more freely.

While it may be naive to believe that newly installed furniture will last for generations, it is equally presumptuous to assume that any and all residence-hall furniture is doomed to a life of constant abuse. Many university officials have learned that attractive, quality, solid-wood furniture-unlike the metal desks and beds of years ago-actually can inspire greater respect from students.

The impact of technology As in all educational environments, the Internet is becoming an increasingly important part of everyday life for the college student. Today's technology extends from the classroom to the library to the residence-hall room. Years ago, when coursework required research, that automatically meant a trek to the campus library. Today, college students are taking advantage of direct links via residence-hall computer to library resources, and are relying on Internet access during all hours of the day and night for much of their studies.

This phenomenon equates to increasing amounts of time spent in residence-hall rooms, at desks and personal workstations. Residence halls should be designed incorporating multiple data outlets to accommodate varying room configurations.

Though many students use laptop computers, desk selections that include pull-out trays for computer keyboards and shelf space for printers might be worth considering, as are ergonomically designed chairs that are made to accommodate hours of netsurfing in comfort.

When it comes to residence-hall furniture selection, think about it early in the planning process and specify material that can withstand constant rearrangement and still look great. In doing so, you will be sure to address both the institution's fiscal requirements and students' need to express themselves.

Beaudin is vice president, educational design services, and Halpern is project manager with Fletcher Thompson, Bridgeport, Conn. The firm, which offers full-service architecture, engineering and interior design services in the K-12 and higher-education markets, is architect for the University of New Haven project. en program

Hoping to distinguish itself in a highly competitive marketplace and to diversify its image as a commuter school, the University of New Haven (UNH) has added two new residence halls on its West Haven, Conn., campus.

The collegiate Georgian-style buildings, which opened for the 1997-98 school year, mirror each other in style but are of different height and length to add interest and variety. The four-story structure houses 196 freshmen in double-occupancy rooms, and the five-story building is home to 174 upperclassmen.

Each building incorporates modern amenities, including a ground-level recreation room, fitness center, convenience store and mailroom, common lounge areas, study and meeting rooms, and laundry rooms. The philosophical approach in designing the student rooms was to consider each unit a learning center, with thoughtfully spaced data outlets providing computer network access to the university's resources and the Internet.

Furniture needs were a consideration throughout the process. Minimum requirements for beds, desks, wardrobes, closets and room circulation were factored into the design. University administrators worked closely with the architects to ensure the furniture it considered specifying meshed appropriately with the architectural design. Upon determination that precast concrete shear walls and floor planks would constitute the construction system, a structural module of 32 feet by 20 feet was arrived at. Various furniture scenarios and room configurations were then considered and evaluated.

The university's primary considerations in selecting furniture were flexibility, durability, attractiveness and ease of care, all within a specified budget, according to Rebecca Johnson, associate dean of students. "Everything we ordered is oak," she says. "It holds up well, is contemporary and attractive, and is all stand-alone, offering our students some flexibility."

Johnson says that providing furniture that can be moved easily and interfaced with other units was important. The school does not allow students to engage in amateur carpentry to create makeshift lofts for liability purposes. "UNH students are no different than most-they want to express themselves and can be very creative. We think the selections we made go a long way toward affording our students the opportunity to personalize."

The university specified beds that can be bunked or arranged separately, desks with computer drawers, and wardrobe units that incorporate drawers, providing for substantial space savings to allow students greater opportunity to customize and decorate with their own personal effects. Desks and stand-alone drawer chests have laminate tops for ease of care.

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