Three more concepts that could influence the university housing market in coming years

May 18, 2011 |

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 quality-controlled 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 en masse 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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