Third is the word

Andrew Kane from FaulknerBrowns explains the concept of the €˜’third space’€™ and the impact it can have on student living

As the 2014 intake of university students settle into their new surroundings – will the experience live up to the expectation set by its hefty price tag? With modern students now paying fees of £9,000 a year, they expect a certain quality from their accommodation. At the same time, institutions are facing increasing competition from their peers to offer a high quality of lifestyle. This places the spotlight on student living spaces and is driving innovation and change within the higher education sector. Operators believe student living should be about much more than just a room; it should be about creating a space in which a sense of community can develop.

At FaulknerBrowns we’re embracing the concept of the ‘third space’ as characterised by Ray Oldenburg in his influential book ‘The Great Good Place’ (1989, 1991). The third space is separate from the social environment of the home or workplace and provides an anchor of community life helping to foster group identity and a sense of place. Characteristics of the space ring true with the desire for improved community and richness of lifestyle in student living.

This concept has spurred us to be more inventive about the design and provision of central communal spaces. For example, the social nature of laundrettes can play an important role in community life. By pairing the laundry and café, the functional necessity of washing your clothes can be turned into a social occasion with friends.

Shared dining has always been a strong part of any community and there is now an increasing provision of communal dining rooms. These provide space for 12-15 students to meet for shared dinners, events, celebrations or small parties. Universities are seeking to provide more innovative facilities too, such as music practice rooms, craft workshops and fitness facilities to promote a wide range of activities. The provision of small group-study rooms is also becoming increasingly important to allow for group projects and study.

There is also a growing demand for intermediate spaces between the cluster flat and the central communal facilities. This has emerged to help bridge the gap between the individual living space and the site-wide hub. Adding small third spaces in each residential block can encourage interaction and promote a sense of community. That said, it is important to prevent territorial control by one group of residents, so placing these third spaces in a visible location close to shared entrances is important to stimulate maximum engagement.

As architects, we also have to consider the change in activities throughout the course of the year and how these third spaces need to adapt to varying requirements. For example, the autumn term begins with the arrival of the ‘freshers’ and tends to be more relaxed, with an emphasis on making new friends and socialising, so these spaces should provide a venue to watch films or have parties. As the summer term approaches and students gear up for exams, the third space should provide a venue to study individually or with friends. Clever furniture systems and integrated IT connectivity can play an important role in delivering this flexibility.

In conclusion, the third space, as a guiding concept, has the potential to change the landscape of student living in a way that can truly fulfil growing expectations. The concept offers a wide variety of spatial possibilities, all of which enhance the student experience.

Andrew Kane is higher education specialist at FaulknerBrowns Architects W:

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