Designs That Transform Dreary Dorms to Country Clubs

by Katie Sloan

Architectural trends are combining privacy with community-building in creative ways.

John Orfield, Principal, BOKA Powell Architects

Student housing design has changed dramatically over the past several decades. Gone are the days of community showers, dimly lit hallways, and small military-style bedrooms. To attract top students and encourage them to live on campus, many universities and colleges are upgrading their student housing facilities in significant ways.

At BOKA Powell, we are seeing several specific trends occurring in student housing design. We are encouraging student interaction by creating bright walkways with seating areas, providing dignity by zoning private dressing areas in shared bathrooms and emphasizing living/learning communities.

These are popular features we integrate as we design student housing for the next generation. Essentially, the new student housing design looks more like a country club and less like the traditional style of dormitories.

Shared Amenities, Sophisticated Design


While many universities have built dormitories with individual bedrooms in recent years, we have found that students socialize less with their peers when they have their own bedrooms. To foster community, many universities are realizing the value of the traditional double-occupancy rooms for freshman-focused facilities. However, to entice today’s students to live on campus, larger shared spaces with high-end amenities must be offered.

In addition, when a shared common bathroom is mandated, we are designing large bathrooms The common areas in this Texas Tech lounge reveal brighter, wider spaces with more seating.that foster socialization, but also provide private spaces, including individual dressing areas next to each shower. These bathrooms are styled with more contemporary, less institutional finishes. A residence hall’s bathroom is starting to look less and less like a prison. Similarly, dormitory hallways are no longer long, dark and narrow. Instead, they are spacious insertions of daylight and alcoves for comfortable, shared seating areas.

At the University of Texas at San Antonio campus, we designed a 350,000-square-foot Residence Hall and 9,000-square-foot Commons Buildings, which feature living/lounge areas, meeting rooms, computer rooms, a game room, office suites, kitchens and clothes-care facilities.

Our recently designed 500-bed residence hall on the Texas Tech campus provides a world-class living environment with the addition of an integrated dining hall. Configured to meet the heavy demands of lunch, the new dining facility allows a variety of spatial experiences including restaurant-style ambiance and amenities.

The Rise of Living-Learning Communities


Living-Learning Communities, once found primarily at Ivy League institutions such as Princeton and Yale, are now popular at public and private universities nationwide. These communities integrate academics and socialization by incorporating classrooms into the residence halls themselves. Often a professor lives among the students with his or her family, thereby providing a forum for students to discuss topics they are learning in class in the evenings and during meals. Themed living-learning communities also allow students to make meaningful connections and develop stronger relationships with other students studying similar subjects.

Our new living-learning facility at Texas Tech University includes a 450-bed residence hall with dining, hospitality, and classroom components, including a library, fitness center, commuter lounge, locker facility, media center, great hall and lecture rooms in one complex.

Technology Infrastructure

This dining facility at Texas Tech has a restaurant-type feel.The technological needs of higher education institutions have changed dramatically in the last decade with the rise of wireless technology and mobile devices. Colleges and universities rely less on “hard wire” phone and data connections and more on wireless networks, meaning significant cost savings and more flexibility from a design perspective.

More universities are utilizing card readers for door security, operating laundry machines, meal plans, and access to campus activities. This high tech system can significantly reduce maintenance and operations budgets by eliminating the need to re-key a room or door every time a student loses a key.

Technology is also changing the higher education environment in the classroom. The overall shape and configuration of teaching space is changing to resemble “theaters in the round” as students work on laptops and mobile devices throughout class.

Encouraging Conservation

Many universities and colleges are embracing sustainability initiatives prompting increased use of low flow plumbing fixtures, faucets and Energy Star appliances, resulting in reduced utility consumption and related costs.

To encourage students to be “green,” we are designing facilities to allow students to have greater control over their room temperatures and lighting, which helps save on energy costs. Students are less likely to keep a window open for a month if they can control the temperature inside their room. Conversely, if a window is opened, integrated switches automatically turn off the mechanical system, preserving energy and costs.

— BOKA Powell is an architectural design, planning and interior design firm with office locations in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas. BOKA Powell’s areas of focus include higher education, commercial office, health care, hospitality, multi-family and mixed-use planning and design. All photos courtesy of BOKA Powell.

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