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Accommodating the image-aware generation

Andrew Drummond, Associate, student residential sector champion, at R H Partnership Architects (rhp), offers insight into the changing priorities in student accommodation design

It’s been 25 years since I arrived in my halls of residence. I chose a course based on a printed prospectus in my school library and a love of the city. I had a choice of two halls of residence: close to campus, both operated by the University. Bathrooms were shared between three students and a kitchen between five. The day I arrived I met my housemates for the first time, everything was new, we all stepped forward into our new lives together, exploring the new city we’d soon call home.

The late 1990s saw a shift toward en-suite rooms. Typically in clusters of eight, they offered social grouping for students, and worked out-of-term for the growing and competitive conference markets. Safe, secure accommodation for students, and an important income stream for the institution.

21st-century students live in a socially and technologically connected world. Students travel further from home to study as the marketplace for courses becomes increasingly global; communities on campus are more diverse, better informed, and more visually and spatially aware.

The Instagram generation promotes itself and connects to the world through photographic moments: opportunities for selfies, stories and ‘boomerangs’.

Students no longer arrive on their first day not knowing people in their new community, they’ve met housemates and course-mates through WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, explored their new campus through Instagram and walked the streets of their new city on Google Maps.

The images and opinions students post on social media are increasingly more important in attracting new students than the old bound prospectus in the school library – they help promote a university as a desirable place to be.

This image-aware generation, together with increased competition for rooms from commercial providers, is leading universities to reconsider their offer, creating variety and placing the ‘student experience’ at the heart of their business plans.

We understand that successful student accommodation design requires a careful balance of social, economic and practical considerations.

The new generation of campus accommodation explores new typologies for housing: alternative models that offer improved levels of social interaction. Emerging typologies transform those eight-bed cluster flats into shared houses, rented by a group of friends with their own front door – their own identity.

Traditional corridor-based halls are reconfigured to create co-living communities. Barriers between social group sizes are broken down, allowing students to mix in wider groups, but also create smaller family groups through careful disposition of shared facilities, kitchens and social space. They offer opportunity for a range of rental costs and tenancies to help appeal to a more diverse student demographic.

Interior design plays an important role, creating a comfortable sanctuary for residents, whilst colour, texture, furniture and style offer welcoming opportunity for those ‘Instagram moments’.

The rhp team’s design and delivery experience (and ongoing research investigating alternative types of accommodation) provides an invaluable research base for helping to establish the detailed brief for any new project.

Our work with University of Cambridge and University of Warwick reflects increasing awareness of the role that quality accommodation and facilities can play in enriching the student experience.

We understand that successful student accommodation design requires a careful balance of social, economic and practical considerations: placing an importance on establishing an effective brief. Our work at the University of Warwick builds on the expertise and knowledge of working at the new award-winning North West Cambridge development, and explores many of these evolving issues and themes.

We’re helping to create a new community of 1,000 students at the heart of the campus incorporating a range of housing types, rental rates and contemporary interior design. Camera phones at the ready!

To learn more, visit rhpartnership.co.uk, call 01223 316309, or email brighton@rhpartnership.co.uk, cambridge@rhpartnership.co.uk, or london@rhpartnership.co.uk.

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