Thank you to everyone who has contributed to and read our previous installments of Campus Perspectives. Last week our topic focused on 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 split our responses into two separate posts to thoroughly cover this engaging topic. This week we have the second part of this series. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the physical design of student housing facilities of the future?
Tom Zeigenfuss, AIA
Considering the potential likelihood of something of this magnitude, that requires these types of behavior changes, happening again in our lifetimes, it may be considered over-kill to try to design for a pandemic similar to COVID-19. Nevertheless, there will likely be great interest in designing for mitigation strategies based on recent events, especially to make buildings more attractive and marketable to prospective students and families.
Designing for health and wellness within the context of a pandemic, would include reducing density, especially shared bedrooms; increasing bed-bath parity to avoid potential germ-spread; increasing building automation components to avoid touching of surfaces; and increasing mechanical systems to better filter air, create greater air exchanges, and possibly design units for negative pressure conditions. Another design consideration may include reducing in-building common space to prevent transmission through the air or fomites. More biophilic design elements will likely be incorporated, such as access to daylight, fresh air, greenery, water – all features currently embraced by healthcare design. It will be interesting to see if the building occupancy codes will be changed to reduce density. Currently, building codes address “life safety” but they may change to more broadly consider the health and well-being of occupants.
Many of these strategies could be utilized to renovate existing housing. De-densifying doubles into singles, adding automated building equipment, increasing housekeeping and modifying programming. Substantial HVAC renovations maybe too expensive or infeasible based on the existing building configuration. The loss of revenue of de-densifying and the cost of renovations would be substantial and there would be new challenges in creating a strong sense of community, especially among first year students.
As noted, many of these design changes will likely be expensive, which will put even more upward pressure on rents that were already considered by many, to be unsustainable. In addition to increasing costs, they will likely reduce the sense of community by limiting social interaction. This will exacerbate concerns regarding isolation and “FOMO” in the digital age, a concern the design community has been combating for many years.
Alan Schlossberg, AIA, LEED AP
Principal and Student Life Practice Leader, Perkins Eastman
Institutions are so focused on the myriad challenges of the fast-approaching fall semester and 2020-21 academic year that it is admittedly difficult to look too far ahead, but, let’s assume we’ve navigated the initial mitigation stage of the COVID virus, have available effective treatments (not unlike those commonly used for flu), and are successfully managing any localized community spread with mitigation measures. With the understanding that the lessons we are learning from this pandemic are taken seriously, the design and academic community can perhaps be even more optimistic about providing an engaged on-campus experience even when we are facing a public health emergency.
We have long understood that living on campus provides a distinctive immersive learning platform—a setting for personal growth, community awareness, and a global understanding or our intrinsic human connections. This connection to community and the compassion and empathy it engenders is exactly what is needed to help us address COVID-19 and any future pandemic.
Operational changes to make student housing more resilient and effective in a pandemic environment run the gamut. At the most basic level, the types of cleaning products and frequency of sanitizing in common and private areas will likely change dramatically. We will need to consider alternative materials for traditionally difficult-to-clean surfaces such as carpets, fabrics, or “soft” acoustic and ceiling materials. We might also think about introducing “hands-free” fixtures in bathrooms, kitchen units, and so forth, as well as addressable elevator controls to reduce contact with frequently touched surfaces. It may be necessary to incorporate larger elevator cars, or more elevators for when social distancing measures are in place. We may also consider changes to HVAC design and systems, introducing HEPA-filtration or ionized and UV disinfection as the benefits of both include improved air quality and health, while also limiting infection spread. Exploring the physical configuration and amenities in housing, we might identify certain rooms, perhaps wings, for temporary quarantine or isolation. There may also be an increased use of private rooms or unit types that can de-densify to maintain social distancing. Fewer shared bathrooms would reduce infection transmission and improve follow-up contact-tracing measures. Lounge and common areas might become larger, and hallways slightly wider to assist with social distancing.
It is not difficult to develop a long list of measures, but the real question is how practical, affordable, or perhaps even necessary are the measures? Some may become permanent policy or incorporated into housing design standards, particularly if they are supportive of more than one university objective. I’m optimistic that 2020-21 academic year institutions will be intensely collaborative in exploring a variety of operational and temporary physical accommodations for modification of current housing systems. As we gain a clearer understanding of COVID-19 and then are armed with the lessons of the 2020-21 academic year, we will be better positioned to consider long-term, practical, and effective housing design changes.
Principal and Studio Chair, Workshop Architects
At this pivotal moment in our lives, the question that is consuming our practice is: how permanent should our response be? Is this a complete shift in the landscape, or a severe bump in the road? As we consider the precise effects on our projects going forward, we are also thinking through the resiliency of our projects and their ability to adapt to future events.
The urgent concern is creating safe spaces for students on campus. Whether that is cleaning protocols or a return to living in a group situation. Understanding fears and addressing expectations will be critical to creating settings for assembly or social events. There will be two separate hurdles: adapting current facilities to meet this new reality – ensuring the infrastructure is healthy and safe, and secondly, implementing these needs into our new projects.
In our new student housing facilities, we will see more automation to mitigate contagion. Construction elements that are standard in healthcare architecture (reduce the number of horizontal surfaces and installing ventilation systems that allow for removing potentially contaminated air from any given area) will find their way into other facilities. Health and wellness will come to the forefront as a lens to evaluate user satisfaction and project success to a much higher degree. Great sustainable design will be forced into the spotlight like never before, as administrators are tasked with creating a campus environment that continues to have the trust of students, parents, faculty, and staff.
In time, student life facilities will have renewed importance on campuses across the world. More than ever, spaces for collaboration and connection are desperately needed to meet the health and wellness requirements of the broader community. Instilling these places with flexibility in order to adapt to a variety of circumstances will require a mindset of innovation from the design community, and we are so excited to be part of that.