Colleges and universities are preparing to re-open their campuses for the Fall 2020 semester, while taking into consideration the recent impacts of the global pandemic. Following the unexpected shutdowns of campuses, higher education institutions are faced with decisions that will change operational procedures regarding on-campus activities and student housing facilities.

As Architects and Designers, we recognize the rising trend with parents and students who no longer choose a school based solely on academic factors. Thoughtful designs combined with modern environmental amenities enrich a student’s quality of life outside of the classroom. In continuation of our Design: A New Way Forward series, we propose the following design ideas in response to the rise in safety expectations and standards while enhancing modern-day student housing.

Over the course of the past few weeks, we met with our design partners, Mahlum Architects, to discuss how student housing is evolving and how we might address our current renovation of a student housing project for our Higher Education Client in San Diego, California. Together, we collected over 50 ideas for each area of the project as a starting guide to examine with the higher education client. We also shared our findings with a larger audience including owners and facilities groups from around the Pacific Northwest and Western regions to gather more input and feedback. Here are the top three design solutions that emerged as the most viable and impactful for implementation at an existing student housing facility:


Circulation Areas: Corridors and Main Entries

Circulation areas, including lobbies, hallways, staircases, and other pathways are the most frequented regions of a student housing facility. Due to high traffic and constant use, the proper design responses to these areas are essential to conform to today’s immediate safe distancing norms.

Sanitation Stations at Entries
Creating a sanitation zone at each entryway provides a procedural aid to the University’s contact-tracing protocols. These stations provide hand sanitizing, mask and glove drop-off bins, and informational signage that encourages users to adhere to safe practices before entering the student housing facility.

Contact-less Door Swing Operators
Commonly utilized in healthcare facilities, touchless/automated door mechanisms will limit the amount of contact needed for users to open doors throughout a student housing facility. Many campuses have already made the investment in providing their students and faculty with key cards or fobs for door access and this technology can provide the added benefit of minimizing contact of door hardware as well. New mobile technologies also provide apps with similar functionality of a card or key fob, further removing repetitive contact of door hardware.

Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Monitoring
Modern ventilation systems feature indoor air quality monitoring functions that report high levels of VOCs, CO2, and other gases. Many manufacturers are responding to the pandemic by incorporating strategies to include the detection of possibly airborne diseases. UV filtration (utilizing ultra-violet lighting as an actual filtration layer), simply increasing filter replacement, and regular maintenance are other approaches being implemented. Air quality monitoring systems provide many benefits to a student housing facility where its residents travel frequently within and outside of their campuses.

Common Areas

Common areas such as lounges, study rooms, community kitchens, laundry rooms, and restrooms offer student residents diverse options to engage academically and socially, and are core program elements of healthy and thriving residential communities. Due to the nature of these common use spaces that support social growth and community, it is critical that we consider design enhancements that maintain support for student interaction, but additionally respond to health and wellness within the context of the current global pandemic.


Touchless Faucets & Fixtures
Following the trend of limiting user contact, touchless faucets and other plumbing fixtures (kitchen sinks, utility sinks, toilets, showers, etc) are employed as a design response within common areas. Touchless fixtures also tend to limit water waste, providing an operational and environmental benefit to colleges and universities.

Spaces for Wellness
Higher education Institutions across the county are struggling with investing resources to address mental wellness and wellbeing for today’s student population. We believe that students will need more opportunities to support their individual wellness within the residential community. Therefore, we suggest including wellness as a significant program amenity within the student living environment. This can be a dedicated room that is designed to promote individual physical fitness and wellness activities, and be flexible enough to support emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. Perhaps this is a repurposed multipurpose meeting room that once was used for large gatherings. These curated wellness rooms can be reserved through a mobile app or website that is managed by the student housing faculty.

Enhanced Access to Outdoor Spaces
As students unwind in their residences, access to enhanced outdoor spaces can provide students with a comfort that is not often correlated with student housing facilities. Courtyards, terraces, patios, and other accessible outdoor areas can be flourished with plants, fountains, and seating areas to create a peaceful aesthetic. Interconnected with this concept is access to fresh air and daylight. Studies already point to the health benefits of fresh air and access to daylighting; open windows will increase air flow (air changes) for the interior environment and daylight can have sanitizing properties when applied properly and for a long period of time.


Student Rooms

Prior to modern standards, the American student housing facility was conceived as a boarding facility for students, and historically was not considered by administrators as a contributing factor in the intellectual or even social growth of the student.  Facilities were designed to house as many students as possible without considering amenities or room offerings that might provide individual comfort or promote collective well-being. Many of these types of student housing facilities still exist today as part of the modern higher education institution’s housing inventory. Looking forward, and through the lens of a global pandemic, the following design ideas can help address today’s safety protocols while enhancing the student residential experience.

Operable Windows and Fan-Assist Exhaust
Creating fresh air flow is essential when considering virus and bacterial protection. Increasing the amount of air changes for fresh air in a smaller shared space can be difficult depending on where the room is located. Strategically placed operable windows and fan-assist exhaust systems can permit the traffic of fresh air flow throughout student rooms and the entire facility, allowing older air to be flushed.

Hand-Washing Basins
It is common in older student housing facilities for restrooms to be centralized and shared by residents of an entire floor. Providing a dedicated hand-washing basin in each student room provides significant sanitary benefits to each resident. An en-suite lavatory not only decreases circulation through corridors and shared spaces, it encourages student residents to practice healthy personal hygiene protocols and provides them with a peace-of-mind.

De-densify Bed Counts
The student unit type mix of existing student housing facilities typically consists of a high-density distribution of singles, doubles, triples, and even quadruple occupancy student rooms – in some cases housing up to four to eight students per room. Colleges and universities have been exploring the possibilities of de-densifying the number of students housed in each room by half or more, creating more single rooms to address social distancing requirements and provide opportunities for on-campus self-quarantine if needed. This strategy can reduce concerns over students living in close proximity of each other while interaction in communal areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and lounges and allowing students to stay on campus during an outbreak event.

With Our New Way Forward into this academic year, student’s living on campus will have a lot to consider. Entering a new phase of their educations and grappling with all the “traditional” anxieties that come with transitioning from their home to a post-secondary campus setting, they must also face new and unanticipated pressures of a  major public health emergency.  Colleges and Universities can utilize design to updated student housing facilities and to proactively respond to the real and perceived risks of the pandemic for students and their families. These design strategies can offer immediate responses to the pandemic and provide lasting support for on-going efforts to create health and well-being in existing campus student housing facilities.



Posted in: Design: A New Way Forward Education Housing