NAA Special Report: Designing the Student Housing Property of the Future

Experts discussed evolving connectivity trends, and what’s new in amenities and services, package delivery, health and wellness and more.

digital-student-expectationsChicago—The first breakout session at 2017’s NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition was titled “Designing the Student Housing Property of the Future, Today.” Attendees’ enormous interest in the topic was reflected in the near standing-room-only crowd that packed the Hyatt Regency Chicago’s conference room for the panel discussion.

What does it take to win with student residents across college and university communities nationwide? That issue was debated by a panel of experts comprised of Faith Nevins Hawks, AIA and principal of Marks, Thomas Architects in Baltimore; Laurie Lyons, partner at Cardinal Group Management in Denver; Sanj A. Kakar, vice president of acquisitions at The Reliant Group in San Francisco; and moderator Chris Moreno, vice president of multifamily partnerships with Luxer One in San Francisco.

Panelists tackled subjects ranging from swiftly evolving connectivity trends, to what’s new in amenities and services, package delivery, health and wellness and more.

Hawks remarked she and her colleagues are well aware they are designing for the Generation Z cohort. Born in and after 1995, and larger in number than the Millennial generation, Gen Z-ers know only the experience of having everything at their fingertips via mobile devices. “We design for 10 devices per student, and 25 mgs. per second per student,” she said. “And we have to have access in every corner of the building.”

Lyons noted because students use their phones for everything, the ability to track the phones’ movements offers another layer of security in terms of who enters residential communities. Kakar observed keyless entry is another emerging security-related technology. “If you have the keyless entry, it’s not a huge ordeal to do your turns,” he said. To which Lyons added, “There’s not a huge cost to the locks, and they allow you to eliminate some of your other [security] devices.”

Turning to spacial design, Hawks noted her firm is seeing large gathering spaces and lobbies used for studying in ways they weren’t before. “We do a lot of adaptive reuse buildings, and they can accommodate a lot of these spaces,” she said. “Students will be in those large areas, with digital access, of course, and as long as we have large desktops and smart boards in those spaces, we can make them work.”

Added Lyons, “I come from the era of cubicles, but that’s not how people are studying now; they’re studying in common spaces. Developers want every square foot to count for something. I can have my private space, but it’s a convertible space that can serve all students at different times in different ways.”

Blending privacy and socialization is an ongoing challenge, but it’s being met by reducing bedroom space and putting that reclaimed square footage into communal areas. “You’re only going to your bedroom to sleep, and you’re out socializing as much as possible,” Hawks noted. “Residential life [departments are] happy about that, because they want freshman and sophomores in particular out interacting.”

Discussion next turned to health and fitness, with Hawks noting her firm tends to include larger fitness centers in student housing that’s more distant from campus. There it will be a selling point. “In housing nearer campuses, we will do smaller fitness spaces,” she added. “That’s because students in those residences are in greater proximity to the larger fitness and recreational amenities on campus.”

The amenity package has to be tailored to the type of students attending, Lyons said. Lazy rivers, bowling alleys and tanning salons are just some of the many amenities at many colleges and universities drawing a heavy preponderance of American-born residents. “At party schools, all hell breaks loose,” she said to big laughs.

“But if it’s an engineering school with many foreign students, you’ll put more emphasis on bandwidth and learning spaces. And if it’s in Colorado, you need more spaces for skis and other outdoor fitness equipment.”

Many institutions are differentiating on the basis of cutting-edge fitness equipment, Kakar said. “I was in Minnesota a little while ago, and a woman at the university told me the rowing machine and kick-boxing machine gets used all the time,” he related. “You set yourself apart from others in the area when you have equipment others don’t.”

Noted Lyons, “In Colorado, no one will get on a stationary bike unless it simulates the ride of $6,000 mountain bike. Make your vendors do their legwork in determining what type of equipment you should purchase.”

Moreno next shifted the discussion to the increasingly important issue of package storage. Some students receive up to 15 to 20 packages a month, he noted, and this is just the leading edge of a wave that will see student housing needing to accommodate more package storage. Lyons predicted refrigerated storage spaces will be a value-add service at many student housing communities within the next five years.

A final topic, video surveillance, was hotly addressed by the panelists. “We’re installing them everywhere, they’re very visible, but we’re really not looking at who’s watching them, so it’s kind of a false sense of security,” Hawks said. “Are we creating a potential liability?”

Kakar advised student housing developers, owners and operators to “put up as many cameras as you want, but make sure they’re being monitored and recorded.”

The current approach to surveillance is “really old school,” Lyons noted. “It’s not serving its purpose. The problem with response to surveillance is it’s always after the fact.”

Asking the panelists to sum up the future of student housing, Moreno drew a concise final observation from Kakar.

“It’s amazing.” he said.

Read all our conference coverage.