Designing for the Next Generation of Student Life

The third and final installation of our Student Life Series, where we discuss strategies for student housing in the COVID-19 era. Written by Mike Porritt, Scion Advisory Services; Doug Campbell, Ghafari; and Mike Durand, Ghafari.

The Air We Breathe

Another opportunity to safeguard the residence hall environment against the spread of COVID-19 is improving the indoor air quality. One way to do this is to look at mechanical engineering standards typically applied to healthcare environments. These strategies may include increasing the amount of outside air versus recirculating air, upgrading to high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, creating higher rates of air change that circulate through a given room, and even implementing positive / negative air pressure adjustments that can influence the path of travel of airborne particulates. Residents can even increase the outdoor air supply and natural ventilation of a room with carefully designed window openings, personal fans, and technology that switches off the HVAC system when a window is open. This feature has the long-term benefit of improving energy performance and tracking room occupancy as an added layer of building security.

Single Occupancy and Affordability

If single occupancy is a must, an attractive option for colleges and universities may be micro apartments. New or renovated, single occupancy, micro apartments could serve any student population in the short term (during a virus outbreak), but then be tuned specifically to upperclassmen and graduate students in the long term. There are popular examples of these in Seattle and at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver called “Nano Suites”. A very small studio apartment with a bathroom, furniture that converts from a desk to a bed, and a kitchenette that comes with a small fridge, two element stove, and sink, provides a condensed but affordable living option that can be paired with generous common space. Today, many upperclass and graduate students struggle to find affordable housing close to or on campus in part because of budget constraints, but also, because of the lack of university-owned, upperclass housing. Micro apartment units that offer the privacy and independence of single occupancy along with proximity to main campus, and the affordability of small footprints may have renewed relevance and interest in the COVID-19 era.

We acknowledge that student and staff behavior is perhaps the largest variable in residence hall virus protection. But with careful design strategies, we believe the residential environment can have a significant impact on virus resiliency in the short term and benefit students and the universities they call home in the long term. Thanks for reading!

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