Student housing gets a 'holy' makeover

July 01, 2004 |

Student housing complexes at universities across the country are being designed to include changing trends in students' lifestyles, incorporating coffee shops, restaurants, and other components to create a mixed-use version of a traditional dormitory.

One of the most unique combinations can be found on the campus of the University of Minnesota, where the student apartments are located atop a church at the $6.6 million University Episcopal Center/Keeler Apartments.

Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group Architects was enlisted to design the five-story, 108,000-sf facility, with 47 apartment units, for University Episcopal Center (UEC) in 2000.

The UEC, a non-profit that provides worship-related services to the university, decided that it needed a new facility. Student demand for UEC services was rising, while the UEC's 1907-era building was in desperate need of repair.

To maximize scarcely available land adjacent to campus, the building combines church and administrative space on the ground floor with apartments on the four floors above.

Because tax-exempt bonds were used to fund the majority of the project (UEC footed the bill for the 10,000-sf church), religious symbols were restricted from use on the church's exterior design.

In response, the design team incorporated subtle religious influences into the building's traditional scheme. These include a steel sculpture atop a six-story tower that symbolizes a Biblical "crown of thorns" and fenestration designed to form the image of a cross, according to Noah Bly, Cuningham's project manager.

"We worked closely [with the owner] to provide an identity for the church, which also would not hurt marketability of student housing," says Bly. "Students needed to know that they were going to somewhere different than the church facility."

Dunbar Development Corp. handled financing and leasing aspects of the project. Wedum Foundation, a non-profit that owns the building, provided student housing development services.

The project was completed in time for the 2003 fall semester, and Bly said students have responded well to the apartment building, which is fully occupied.

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