Thank you to everyone who has contributed to and read our previous installments of Campus Perspectives. This week our topic shifts its focus to the future of student housing design, and our panel of architects were eager to share their perspectives. We received so much feedback on this particular question, that we have split our responses into two separate posts to thoroughly cover this engaging topic. If you have any topics you would like us to pose to our panelists, or if you would like to contribute yourself, please feel free to reach out to us at

Question: How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the physical design of student housing facilities of the future?

Ron van der Veen FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP
Principal, NAC Architecture

NAC Architecture is already seeing a change in the delivery of new projects. At least one of our large student design projects on hold indefinitely and construction has stopped on others, which could delay the opening of projects by a year or more.

Will there be a greater trend towards on-line learning from home? Is social distancing here to stay? Will first year cohorts (and their families) demand single occupancy rooms? Will a recession trigger a surge in enrollment? What will be the financial implications of temporarily shutting down our national higher education system? How long will this last? All these questions could have a tremendous impact on student housing and residential life for the short and long term.

We are optimistic that an essential and unquestionable aspect of the American higher education experience is residential life on campus. We firmly believe it is tied to the social, emotional and academic well-being of students. So, I trust that whatever disruption is occurring student housing today, will be temporary.

Lynne Deninger, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Principal, CannonDesign

While we may see things go back to normal post COVID-19, I have a feeling that student housing will feel its impact. A semester or two with empty halls will deplete residence life reserves, which could impact capital improvement and/or replacement plans. Parents will also want to know their children are safe when they head back to campus. This begs the question: What does safe look like? More single rooms? Private bathrooms? Better air quality or more intense housekeeping? It’s uncertain at the moment.

While the updates from national organizations are all over the map, some considerations we are discussing with clients to help residence halls adjust to the “new normal” include the following: (1) Developing a campus-wide single room occupancy policy and/or reduced occupancy with swing space for single room occupancy, as needed. (2) Leveraging suite or apartment style housing to reduce student interactions (in their living spaces) to four to eight people. Close contact will be limited by community bathrooms and other shared spaces. (3) Distributing fitness classes across campus or housing them outside in the open air (as density in the rec center may create concern). All while still creating spaces for student life programming focused on well-being topics including self-care, infection control, mental health, and food and housing insecurity. Other ideas include, considering alternative meal plans and food delivery options to reduce dining surge density and using local hotels to maintain a critical mass of students (housing) near/adjacent to campus in the fall with social distancing.

Overall, I do believe we will see increased interest in smaller, lower cost, single units and more privatized bathrooms, as well as modular approaches to design to improve delivery times. We may also see a shift to creating larger private and public spaces that allow for appropriate social distancing. Outdoor spaces will be prioritized for this purpose, while indoor spaces will be designed for smaller social groups. It remains a fluid situation and we will continue to listen to our clients as it evolves.

Andy Albin, LEED AP, WELL AP
Project Executive, Principal, EYP Architecture

At many colleges and universities, corridor-style double occupancy residence halls are still considered standard fare, especially for first-year students. These facilities typically offer shared, or even community bathrooms as an integral part of the communal experience. Until COVID-19, such living arrangements were widely considered to be beneficial for building community, especially among those who are new to college. This model will likely require significant adjustment in the near term, if not indefinitely, depending on how the pandemic resolves.

One benefit of the doubles model is that it is generally less expensive to build, and thus more affordable for students due to the abundance of shared spaces. Therein lies the challenge. At a time when many institutions were looking for ways to provide more affordable housing, we must now look for ways to minimize the types of shared spaces that build community and reduce costs. We must also reconsider access and egress points, circulation patterns, mechanical systems, humidity levels, material choices, and technological enhancements. If previous halls might have resembled hotels with inward access from air-conditioned corridors, future halls might resemble motels, with exterior open-air access. Highly efficient single units with private bathrooms are likely to become the norm to help maximize separation and minimize costs as much as possible.

Read responses from the rest of our panel in The Future of Student Housing Design, Part 2.

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