Living and Learning

by Katie Sloan

Living and Learning

Multi-use developments provide a place for students to fully engage in college life.

In the past, living and learning were generally reserved for separate buildings at most universities. With more universities adopting the Oxbridge model of living and learning under one roof, multi-use academic and residential buildings have been making their way onto many campuses. Beyond Oxbridge, a multi-use model works well for campuses that need additional adaptable space that can be repurposed and not necessarily dedicated to one group of students. The new live-learn concepts merge multiple areas of student life, offering a way for schools to create a fully-integrated college experience for their students, building community and camaraderie. The live-learn model also offers some flexibility in development for universities that are facing increasing enrollments and smaller budgets.

Defining the Live-Learn Concept

The most basic definition of a live-learn development is the combination of learning facilities, such as classrooms and student services, Gilbane Development Company recently developed 81/2 Canal Street, a 285,000-square-foot live-learn project adjacent to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.with residential quarters. Different schools have interpreted this concept in different ways.

“The live-learn concept takes learning outside of the classroom and brings it into the residence hall,” says Luis Bernardo, principal at Design Collective in Baltimore. “First, there are living and learning programs. Each one is unique, but they always bring students and faculty together to learn, collaborate and socialize, 24/7. The other component is what I call the ‘bricks and sticks’ of living and learning communities. Essentially, it’s what you design and build to foster the programs. If you think of the program as the ‘software,’ think of the building as the ‘hardware’ that supports it.”

The aim of most of the new live-learn projects is to create a facility that fulfills a number of student needs while also enhancing the overall college experience.

“The live-learn concept provides students with the programs, services and resources to make their college experience exciting and vibrant,” says Robert Gilbane, chairman and chief executive officer with Providence, Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Company. “It considers the whole student, providing an environment that promotes academic success, personal growth and a sense of community.”

At some schools, the live-learn concept is also being interpreted as residential colleges or academic villages. These projects provide elements such as faculty apartments, faculty office space, classrooms, food service facilities, and access to resident faculty that can provide instruction, supervision and advising. “Residential colleges are generally purposed to house and educate residents in specific degree programs or colleges such as engineering, science and liberal arts,” says Randall Scott, president and chief executive officer with Dallas-based Randall Scott Architects Inc. “Their secondary, but just as important, purpose is the development of lifelong relationships between residents through more systematic interaction.”

The Growing Popularity of the Live-Learn Development

The live-learn concept is taking off at colleges and universities across the country for a number of reasons. It creates a more well-rounded experience for the students, which can help with academic achievement and can be an important tool in recruiting. In addition, with budget cuts and fewer funds available for development, the combination of multiple elements into one project holds strong appeal.

“Living-learning centers allow universities to provide convenient pedagogical spaces that serve a variety of purposes to residents,” says Scott. “Institutions of higher learning are always looking for ways to get a leg up on their competitors and this is one way they have attempted to gain an advantage. Living-learning facilities are also a means of adding much-needed classroom space under the guise of self-funded ‘residence life projects,’ which are some of the only capital projects that universities and colleges can implement in these difficult economic times.”

With increasing enrollments, the creation of multi-use projects eases some of the strain. “From 2005 to 2010, one million new students enrolled in college but less than 55,000 new beds came on line,” says Gilbane. “The fact that universities cannot keep up with the demand for student housing has created an opportunity for developers to build purpose-built student housing. As university budgets continue to be squeezed, the idea of allowing them to prioritize strained capital budgets toward their core academic priorities and outsource non-core capital budgets like dorm construction makes sense.”

Public-private partnerships (PPPs or P3s) are one way that colleges and universities can build these projects in a tough economy. Gilbane Development Company recently developed a live-learn project at George Mason University (GMU) through a PPP. “What’s unique about our GMU project is that the university procured it through a P3,” says Gilbane. “We have developed a number of projects using the P3 model, which utilizes the experience and acumen of the private sector to streamline the development process. In the case of GMU, the school entered into a long-term ground lease with the university foundation and Gilbane took responsibility to develop and finance both facilities so as to minimize capital outlay by the university.”

When complete, the project at George Mason University will include a state-of-the-art life sciences facility and 152 beds of graduate housing, along with ground-floor retail space.

New Live-Learn Projects

Live-learn projects are popping up at schools across the country, each designed with a unique combination of elements, based on the university and student needs at each location.

Randall Scott Architects recently designed live-learn complexes for Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, and Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, both of which are currently under construction. The Wiley College project is a residence hall that incorporates two 40 person classrooms and a large multipurpose room in a traditional dual-occupancy suite concept.

Randall Scott Architects designed the Angelo State Plaza Verde residential complex, a cluster of nine buildings linked by landscaped courtyards and a central commons building.The Angelo State Plaza Verde residential complex is a cluster of nine buildings linked by landscaped courtyards and a central commons building. The nine residential buildings have a teaming room on each floor, which provide space for students working on things such as group projects. In addition, each of the 34-bed residential buildings feature suites that surround a large open living area. One of the residential buildings contains a living-learning center that includes a classroom, tutoring rooms, teaming rooms, large and small meeting rooms and a model unit.

Design Collective is currently working on a large-scale project at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The project, which will open in the fall of 2012, will include 1,500 beds and more than 40,000 square feet of retail and amenity space. “Rutgers is a live-learn concept on an unprecedented scale,” says Bernardo. “It will have outdoor learning and recreation spaces, as well as two-story lounges located at strategic points to reinforce the new campus master plan. Underneath the residence will be classrooms that double as movie theaters, which is a first. The chairs were custom-designed, with a cup holder in one arm and a laptop rest in the other.”

Also in New Jersey, Design Collective is also working on a project at Montclair State University in Montclair that will house 2,000 students. “At Montclair, we employed three key design strategies,” says Bernardo. “First, we organized the residential wings around a central hub of social and academic flex space and routed circulation through the hub to increase social interaction, which is vital to the success of a live-learn community. We also made the dining hall a focal point, to draw students and faculty from around campus. And we really celebrated the study areas. We gave them pride of place next to the lobby, lots of light and great views overlooking the campus. This way, they’re highly visible, desirable, and conducive to a range of study habits.”

Off-Campus Impact

The increase in live-learn developments is also impacting off-campus student housing. It has created competition as on-campus projects are offering the same amenities, if not more of the amenities, that off-campus housing has traditionally offered. In addition, there are a number of developments that are technically off-campus, but provide learning facilities and other offerings to students.

“Most living-learning residential facilities to date have been developed as on-campus housing due to their adjacency needs for faculty,” says Scott. “However, through public/private partnerships, scenarios are plausible where universities and owners of off-campus housing jointly develop living-learning facilities that provide much needed instructional space for cash-strapped institutions at nearby off-campus residential complexes in exchange for preferential student referrals.”

Design Collective has worked on several campus-edge projects that have the same elements as on-campus projects. “Here in Baltimore,Design Collective designed Charles Commons, a large, mixed-use project next to Johns Hopkins University. we built Charles Commons, a large mixed-use project next to Johns Hopkins University,” says Bernardo. “Upperclassmen live there, but faculty and local residents use many of the amenities, including the dining commons and a university bookstore. The diversity in uses and the mixing of academic culture with the neighborhood makes for a rich exchange of ideas all day long.”

Adjacent to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, Gilbane recently developed a 285,000-square-foot live-learn project known 8 ½ Canal Street. “We have a ‘students first,’ resident life program that is an active part of the students’ social and academic lives,” says Gilbane. “We opened this 540-bed complex with 100 percent occupancy. The amenities are terrific, with private beds and baths, high-definition televisions, Internet, kitchens and in-unit washer/dryers. In public areas there is everything from art galleries to a fitness center to group study rooms and a business center.”

Gilbane is also developing The Cove, a 396-bed complex adjacent to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. When complete, the project will incorporate a full residence life program as well as a high-quality amenity package that includes a resort-style pool and professional sand volleyball court.

The Future of the Live-Learn Concept

Students and universities are both looking for high-quality, purpose-built housing. Projects that integrate separate elements of the college experience will help create a stronger university community and a better experience for students. “In many ways, the shift toward live-learn on campus is similar to the rise of mixed-use spaces in towns and cities,” says Bernardo. “Even though this generation lives so much online, they like the variety and richness that a mix of spaces brings.”

Over the years, student housing on college campuses has become more apartment-like, with better designed spaces and more amenities. With the rise of live-learn developments, this trend will only continue.

“Student housing facilities will incorporate some of the features found in boutique hotels, such as attractive lobbies, faster Internet connectivity and student common areas that are designed for multiple uses,” says Gilbane. “Some developments will be mixed-use with retail and some will incorporate a more specialized offering.”

Colleges and universities will continue to look for ways to merge multiple uses into one development. Adaptability is the key for future developments on college campuses, due to both budget restrictions and the desire for a more integrated college experience.
“Living-learning residential complexes are here to stay and will become more integrated into the instructional curriculum at each institution in the future,” says Scott. “More and more universities are looking for innovative ways to provide much-needed instructional space on their campuses.  With burgeoning enrollments and budget cutbacks, one of the only means of providing additional academic space is to dovetail it into these types of self-funded projects.  With peer pressure from competing institutions, the need to house more students from growing enrollments, and the realization that campus housing equates to better student retention, more FTE credit hours and therefore more revenue, the race is on to provide living/learning residential complexes that support both collegiate missions of pedagogy and student life.”

— Lara Fuller

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