In my experience as an architect primarily designing for higher education spaces, I believe that the success of students in higher education today is based on the ability of students to engage with each other in their living environment. Increased student engagement also leads to improved student recruitment and retention. To increase engagement, colleges and universities have started to focus more and more on community-building spaces, particularly in student housing. Between studying, building relationships, relaxing, and sleeping, students spend a significant amount of time in their residence halls. That’s why investing in community-building spaces in residence halls is a great strategy for increasing engagement.
There are two types of community spaces within a residence hall: macro- and micro-community space. Examples of macro-community space are dining halls, classrooms, and large lobbies for meetings and studying. Examples of micro-community space are study lounges, TV/game rooms, bistros, kitchens, group study spaces, fitness rooms, laundry rooms, and floor lounges. Many designers forgot about the potential of micro spaces for community-building. It’s important to think of every component of a residence hall as a potential venue for community and, in turn, engagement.
Balancing Personal and Community Spaces
One of the biggest concerns for both students and higher education institutions today is cost. So, how can you create community-building spaces without adding expense? First, carefully evaluate and design individual living spaces to create the most efficient layouts possible. Second, re-dedicate any square footage savings from individual units to community-building spaces. This gives students more to do outside of their rooms, and provides places to create relationships with fellow students. This, in turn, helps drive the university or college’s ultimate goal of student engagement. By creating highly efficient individual spaces and re-purposing those square footage savings for community-building spaces, you can keep overall square footage – and costs – flat.
Indiana Tech - Warrior Row
Indiana Tech’s Warrior Row is an example of creating community for juniors and seniors that are looking to build independence by living off campus. Because of the residential context for this project, Warrior Row is designed as a series of 3-story row houses or townhouses. The entire first floor is community space – living room, kitchen, and bathroom.
LeTourneau University - South Hall
LeTourneau University’s South Residence Hall has a strong sense of heritage through “floor unity.” Each wing and each floor of this 3-story, 200-bed hall has a unique identity. A large lobby on the first floor at the center of the hall acts as the macro-community space that allows each floor unit to come together in one space.
Grace College - The Lodge
The Lodge at Grace College is a 2-story residence hall designed around a pod-concept. The pod-concept features a unit of 4-6 individual rooms that share bathroom and community spaces. This helps create relationships between students that share the unit and strikes a good balance between personal and community space. Macro-community spaces located at the center of the building on the first and second floors allow the entire group of students to connect with one another.
Build Community, Build Engagement
A successful college career is driven by student engagement. Student engagement must be supported with community-building spaces - particularly in residence halls where students may spend so much of their time. If you focus on highly efficient personal spaces, you can free up square footage for community-building spaces without increasing cost. In the end, you will support student engagement, build stronger campus communities, and create more connected alumni.
Kevin Scully AIA, NCARB
Principal and Architect
Kevin leads the Higher Education studio at Design Collaborative (DC). Over the past 25 years, DC has designed over 6,000 beds of higher education housing that cover nearly 2,000,000-sf in states across the country. For more information on housing design or student engagement, please email Kevin Scully or call 260-422-4241.