Evolving Design

Feb. 1, 2005
A more selective student body, economic conditions and safety awareness are affecting building patterns on college campuses.

Although prospective students often choose a school based on its academic standing, residence halls also can influence a student's decision. In an effort to attract undergraduate students, schools are upgrading outdated housing stock to meet higher quality-of-life standards. Also, because residence halls can communicate a distinctive image for an institution and encapsulate its unique strengths and character, many administrators are investing in residence-hall upgrades to set their schools apart and stay competitive.

Economic conditions and safety concerns also are playing a role in residence-hall construction. Schools are constructing residence halls with more efficient construction methods such as design-build. Also, schools have been improving life-safety systems in older residence halls.

Home sweet home

Campus housing no longer can be viewed as simple residence halls built merely to put a roof over students' heads. Colleges and universities are eliminating 1960s-era housing with long corridors and shared rooms, and replacing those living spaces with more intimate settings.

Schools are luring top prospective students with a plethora of amenities. Colleges and universities also are creating independent living environments and adding apartment-like conveniences to retain older students tempted by off-campus housing. As a result, many new residence halls feature large suites, kitchenettes with stoves and refrigerators, common areas with additional windows for more natural light and views, and lounge areas with cozy furniture, computer connections and links to outdoor gathering spaces.

Pennsylvania State University's new Eastview Terrace residence hall embodies many of these trends. The individual buildings envelop outdoor courtyards and large terraces that intersect with public open spaces. In addition, Eastview Terrace — with its white trim, tall vertical elements and eyebrow arches — creates a specific image for the school.

Inside the hall, bedrooms are organized into open suites with private baths and shared common spaces — living rooms, lounges and kitchenettes. These large, shared lounges encourage group interaction, especially important for freshmen seeking a sense of community.

Some schools also are providing students with laptop computers and as many as five data ports in every room for Internet hookups, as well as a cable TV port. Another upgrade that points to schools' desire to increase quality-of-life standards is on-campus dining facilities, which have become more like restaurants in terms of food choice and atmosphere.

Saving time and the environment

Many colleges and universities have not added new housing since the mid-20th century. With the economy showing signs of recovery and more fund-raising dollars becoming available, many schools are moving forward on much-needed student-housing projects. To complete these projects quickly, schools are using the design-build method of project management.

Schools also are focused on sustainable-design strategies. Because of the high cost of attaining LEED certification for a residence hall, however, many colleges and universities opt to achieve more of a “practical green” status, which involves cost-efficient environmental practices without pursuing formal LEED certification. Such efforts include construction recycling, reusing materials, indoor air quality and adding windows to provide natural light.

Safety first

To create a safe environment for students and build trust among parents, colleges and universities need to bring their fire-safety systems and emergency-egress procedures up to code. Many older residence halls require upgrades.

Some schools still may not have the financial freedom to carry out all the building and construction upgrades needed on campus. When forced to set priorities, these colleges and universities target life-safety-system improvements in residence halls first. Some colleges and universities have sacrificed aesthetics to enhance safety, opting to run piping and wires at ceiling level rather than place them behind walls, which are costly to demolish and rebuild.

Dellicker is vice president of the Institutional Group at Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston, a construction-management company with expertise in campus construction for independent schools, colleges and universities. Hill, AIA, is a principal with CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., Boston, an architecture, interior design and urban design firm.


  • $5.7

    Median cost, in millions, of a residence hall constructed in 2003.

  • 57,000

    Median size, in square feet, of a residence hall constructed in 2003.

  • 198

    Median number of residents in a residence hall constructed in 2003.

  • 140

    Median square feet per resident of a residence hall constructed in 2003.

Source: 15th Annual Residence Hall Construction Report, American School & University, June 2004

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