Maybe it’s pushback from two years of pandemic isolation. Maybe it’s maximizing available spaces. Or maybe it’s simply a renewed appreciation for fresh air and natural sources of Vitamin D. Regardless, it seems that campus housing planners and architects alike are putting additional focus on the real estate that surrounds their residence halls. Outdoor spaces, and all the possibilities they hold, are getting their moment in the sun.

Of course, it’s not like these spaces were ignored in the past. Considerations about building façades and landscaping have always had to meet aesthetic, safety, and sustainability requirements. But more and more, these public spaces are moving beyond landscaping flourishes and putting the “fun” back into function. Standard metal benches are being replaced by resort-level seating and billowing umbrellas. The bike rack is supplemented with fire pits. In a number of ways, students are being made to feel like they are home long before they actually walk through the front doors. “That’s an interesting point because our last two projects have had an emphasis on the outdoor space and how the outdoor space is really creating that additional level of community and also providing an additional area for programming,” says Kim Patten, the higher education practice leader for Steinberg Hart architects, when asked if this focus has risen to the level of a trend. “Let’s be honest, they’ve been wonderful spaces during COVID and what we’ve been dealing with. But I think much of it comes out of the culture of the campus and what they wanted to provide.”

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