The evolution of student accommodation

Andrew Kitchen, Director at LK2, discusses how architects can create student communities that are profitable and meet educational objectives

The requirements of student accommodation have shifted hugely over the last few decades, both on the side of universities but importantly, also in the eyes of parents and the students themselves.


The root of this change is in the increase of tuition fees, with a higher price meaning the expectation of higher standards. The international student market continues to be strong and it’s easy to see why they too would demand more from even higher rates and essentially a full-time home while in the UK. Additionally, parents who are across the other side of the world, of course, want even greater assurances their child is secure and comfortable, as well as having the best possible environment to complete their studies.

For the architect, what the student and family wants must be aligned with the brief and importantly, the budget, of a university. As well as the accommodation being an income stream in itself, a good scheme needs to naturally integrate and work alongside the wider campus, ensuring students are encouraged to stay and spend their money on site. This also encourages closer proximity to study facilities and lectures but perhaps more crucially, creates a feeling of inclusivity and community.

Furthermore, there is an increasing drive to protect local housing stock, maintaining its use for residents and protecting locations from the negative connotations of a student favoured area. This makes it a ‘win win’ situation for any university that wants to retain students on campus, councils that need to ensure there is as much available housing as possible, and residents who want to reclaim areas of their town or city. To prevent private landlords from dominating the market, the benefits of being in bespoke accommodation need to be made clear and the design contribution from architects is an essential part of this.

Architecture in this sector is a delicate balance of many ever-moving parts. While meeting the needs of the end-user, those paying the fees, and the university itself, education establishments are often situated in challenging locations.

To achieve this success, student accommodation has to support a positive experience and quality of life. In terms of architecture, the accommodation itself is probably the main area where effective and aesthetically-pleasing design can be implemented. After all, the appeal of the bedrooms has a clear impact on students wanting to move in and parents being willing to pay for associated fees. Of course, in addition to the design being practical and attractive, it now needs to include technological elements such as Wi-Fi connectivity.

In relation to technology, safety and security always has to remain a priority. Entry systems must be incorporated into each flat, with CCTV feeding into a wider security system. As well as the presence of the physical technology, there is a wider impact on the design. For instance, is there a clear view of the entrance for the cameras? Are outside parking areas and bike sheds well-lit and again easily accessible to the front doors?

Relationships prove to be incredibly important at this stage of the design. Architects must work closely with planning authorities and the police during consultations, to ensure the best outcome for all parties.  


In terms of the accommodation itself, we’ve seen a steady change in what needs to be included in the design. Traditionally, one main bathroom would serve a large block of individual bedrooms, with separate kitchens and living area. This has now shifted to ensuites becoming the norm, as modern students want independence and privacy.

The accommodation itself is often modular with three bedrooms fitting in a ‘standard’ module, with the bathrooms included. Two of these units create six rooms in total, with a dedicated communal living space. This seems to be the optimum ratio of bedroom to social space.

Furthermore, modular units are indistinct from traditional builds once complete and it isn’t a problem that student accommodation is repetitive. In fact, it’s beneficial that each student receives exactly the same size and style of room.

By keeping to this model, the council will consider the accommodation to be one flat and therefore there is no need for high levels of sound insulation between each bedroom. This is important to maximise the budget while ensuring we keep to the required standards which provide more than adequate sound protection.  

While a new-build of this type is preferential, refurbishment projects are still prevalent. Many student accommodation blocks need modernising, especially when it comes to the standard of facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens. This not only relates to wear and tear, but again the expectations of parents and students.

Architecture in this sector is a delicate balance of many ever-moving parts. While meeting the needs of the end-user, those paying the fees, and the university itself, education establishments are often situated in challenging locations. Restraints relating to space continue to be the dominant challenge for master planning, mainly because as well as ample accommodation and living space, parking, leisure, and retail facilities, can amount to a total area that’s relative to a small town or community.

Education continues to be a growing sector and one of importance for the architectural world. Cities, like Lincoln where we are based, are continuing to grow and prosper. While the current focus is meeting demand, we expect that in five years or so the investment will begin to have an impact on the ultimate aim of both councils and local communities; drawing students from private accommodation which is crucial if we are going to improve availability and meet housing targets.

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