Architects Design Spaces That Bring Students Together, While Also Giving Them Room to Breathe

by Katie Sloan

As the true artists of the industry today, architectural firms are not only designing luxurious, sophisticated buildings, but are also more reactive and ambidextrous than ever, responding in real time to the evolution of social behaviors and the rapidly fluctuating costs of materials. Amenities and designs continue to push the envelope. Across the board, architects are confident demand will remain post-pandemic as students return to campus following vaccine rollouts. At the same time, their creativity is broadening as they envision and design spaces where students can connect and distance at the same time. Increasing the use of outdoor space, breakout study spaces as opposed to one large area, increased air flow throughout, and rooms that can be cordoned off with decorative barn doors are just a few ways tomorrow’s properties will evolve from how students live today. Here is a brief walkthrough of what some leading firms are doing.

BKV Group

A good example of the holistic designs on the boards at Minneapolis-based BKV Group is CAV Dinkytown in Minneapolis. BKV partnered with CA Ventures on this new student development that will rezone a former McDonald’s property into a seven-story building with more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space. The project site abuts the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus and is surrounded by commercial and residential properties. 

“Despite the unique context we’re working in, many developers are still seeing a strong demand for student housing, and this is exemplified with a flagship, multifaceted development like our Dinkytown project that’s moving toward a 2021 construction start date,” says Rob Muller, partner with BKV Group. The targeted opening date for the project is August 2023. It will contain 910 beds and 300 units.

Niles Bolton Associates

Niles Bolton Associates (NBA), based in Atlanta, has recently opened and is currently creating several next-level communities. One such project is a sleek and futuristic development called The Henry, currently under construction in Tampa, Florida, for DEVEN (Development Ventures Group) and Intown Group. Scheduled to open this fall, The Henry, named after 19th century transportation pioneer Henry B. Plant, is a 23-story, 537-bed apartment building constructed with post-tensioned concrete. The interior is modern and sophisticated, incorporating cool greys and blacks accented with pops of red and blue. 

The property is a short walk to the University of Tampa, as well as the shopping, dining and nightlife district of Hyde Park, the historic Ybor City neighborhood and the Florida Aquarium. The building has 16 floors offering one-, two- and four-bedroom apartments; seven levels of parking; study and social-gathering spaces on each floor; a double-height fitness center; and an outdoor deck and pool overlooking the campus. While the spaces are geared for students, the overall feel is decidedly mature.

“Off-campus housing is often a resident’s first step in feeling truly independent,” says Brian Ward, NBA’s director of design. “While a successful project will forge a fun, collegiate community for these young adults, the designs of their new environment acknowledge that they are upperclassmen residents. Conference and study rooms feel like real work collaborations space and not student lounges; club room spaces feel energetic but don’t look like playrooms; fitness rooms and pool courtyard spaces fit their lifestyle. These projects are the proto-apartments for the future professional, but with the safety and intimacy of living more closely with your peers, which is still one of the most important parts of college life.”

Forum Architecture

Forum Architecture & Interior Design is hard at work on a few communities in its home state of Florida, including two properties being built for 908 Group. Located near Florida State University in Tallahassee,  the 376-bed Statehouse Arena development and the 228-bed Statehouse Stadium development are both on track to open this fall. 

“Forum continues to design for the next generation of students in its latest student housing projects — Statehouse Stadium and Statehouse Arena,” says Architect Renata Lindsey. “Our clients have indicated that pre-leasing is still strong in spite of the pandemic and remote classes. With this in mind, it is imperative that these new developments have the latest technology. Projects should be forward-thinking and flexible to adapt to new trends and an ever-evolving student lifestyle. We are hopeful that the pandemic will be nearly over by fall when these new communities will welcome their first group of residents.”

Humphreys & Partners Architects

Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects (HPA) says rich amenities, high-density, walkable to campus and pet-friendly are some of the features that grab competitive rents today. City Centre in Ithaca, New York, is an example of what HPA says it does best. The eight-story, 231-bed community opened to Cornell University and Ithaca College students in summer 2019. 

The property is situated near downtown and Ithaca Commons, a popular two-block pedestrian mall with access to approximately 70 restaurants, shops and nightlife venues as well as a variety of public art installations and frequent community festivals. This walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented site achieved 99 percent occupancy in advance of the 2019-2020 academic year. 

In addition to filtered water stations on each floor and an on-site dry-cleaning service, the project also features an abundance of indoor-outdoor activity space, gated parking, an open-air roof terrace, a ground-level private patio viewing Six-Mile Creek, state-of-the-art fitness center and yoga studio, large community-function rooms with wi-fi, fireplaces, a business center, secure bike storage and access to Ithaca Car Share. 

HPA President Greg Faulkner tells SHB that students and their guarantors are still willing to pay for top-tier rents in spite of the pandemic but that projects today are on a longer completion cycle. 

“Walkable, high-density in wood, steel or concrete are still what defines demand today,” says Faulkner, adding that such properties can be labor-intensive. “We expect a four-year cycle to complete delivery, including about one year to rezone, six months for documents and permits and 18 to 24 months to build. We’re also seeing about 90 percent of today’s projects being comprised of four-bedroom, four-bath configurations, while two-twos and micro units are also gaining popularity with graduate students as well as in post-COVID designs.” 

Charlan Brock Architects

The team at Charlan Brock Architects (CBA)  has not only been busy in the University of Florida market, it has also been fulfilling the city of Gainesville’s needs. CBA is responding nimbly to fluctuating materials costs and altering amenity spaces, moving more inside space outdoors in response to the changing behavior of students. 

“Outdoor space is a premium,” says Architect Cristian Oquendo. “Outdoor spaces have always been important but COVID has pushed us and also pushed our clients to think more about how to add spaces and make them comfortable. We have found that what we are building is not enough  for the demands of outdoor space because of COVID. Even when the pandemic is controlled, this trend will remain for another year or two based on how people are going to behave.”

 One such project that spotlights outdoor interactions among many other unique designs is 12th and 4th Apartments in Gainesville. These are urban infill, eight-story mixed-use apartments with retail on the ground floor and rooftop amenities including a rooftop pool. The 232-unit, 663-bed property is about to begin construction. 

“The interesting thing that happened on this project was that we had to change the amenity space during and after COVID,” says Oquendo. “It got bigger. We used to have 30 square feet per student or per bed.” 

Oquendo says that most designs today need to feature roomier amenity space, averaging approximately 35 square feet per-bed. In addition to enlarging open areas, CBA also had to tweak designs in real time, managing rising lumber prices, which were at an all-time high.

Childs Dreyfus Group

Childs Dreyfus Group has also contributed to the modern and fun collection of off-campus apartment options for University of Florida students and worked alongside CBA on the project coordination of two recent properties -— Campus Circle Gainesville and Aero on Twenty Fourth. The 456-bed Campus Circle Gainesville, which opened in June 2020, incorporates memorable design using Florida’s school colors and other school-spirited accents in a branded, friendly way. The space was designed with powered furniture selections, study nooks and indoor-outdoor accessibility. “Building community was top-of-mind while programming and designing this space, ensuring students feel comfortable, make friends and thrive in their first home away from home,” says Rene Pabon, president and CEO of The Childs Dreyfus Group. Also in Gainesville, Aero on Twenty Fourth offers a generous amenity package that includes a pool, expansive study areas and clubhouse lounges. 

“These amenities help create a sense of home and set a new standard in student living,”  says Michael Augustine, co-founder of Homestead Development Partners. “Technology integration cultivates a friendly learning environment with amenities that promote community interaction for the ideal college lifestyle.” 

— Lynn Peisner

This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Student Housing Business magazine. To subscribe, please click here

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