What’s in a Residence Hall?

Dollarphotoclub_66151053A friend recently sent me an article – well, actually a paper written for a Florida State University class – that analyzed the success of three FSU residence halls.  Entitled “LIFE IN A BOX: The Psychological Effects of Dormitory Architecture and Layout on Residents” (Blakely Louis Beals), the paper approaches “success” in terms of how “…design elements enhance or impede human interaction and individual moods.”  Data were provided primarily via resident surveys, with limited personal interviews.

You can check out this article by clicking here. 

The breadth of the study is generally acceptable as the topic of a freshman English composition.  With that limitation, many characteristics of residence halls (and tenets of residence hall design) are excluded from the article.  The newsletter / blog is limited in space also … but I’d like to offer a few additional attributes of residence halls that should be considered during their design.

The paper mentions various aspects of dorm living – acoustic privacy and the ubiquitous double-loaded corridor – and ultimately correlates the area-per-resident in residence halls with the residents’ happiness (determined via resident surveys).  Other aspects of residence hall accommodations can enhance residents’ contentedness or their fulfillment in living in a particular dormitory.  Here are a few:

Social spaces located more conveniently to student rooms.  To me, this is one of the primary improvements in residence hall design during the past 3 decades.  Dorms built from post-war era thru 1960’s had a single common space, typically located just off of the lobby.  As residence halls became larger/taller, this central socialization space became further away from student rooms – and therefore generally used less.

Residence hall design during the past decade have included “sub-lobbies” at each level or even study nooks located adjacent to the corridor, which essentially transitions it from a place of circulation to a place where happenstance conversations, meetings, and study groups can thrive.

Social spaces located throughout the dorm.  This variety of smaller spaces is being positioned throughout the residence hall … anywhere that a convenient meeting or conversation can be imagined.

They may be characterized by a seating group, a judiciously located window that frames a serene view, or a simple bench located in a vestibule.  Alternately, a greater variety of facilities located within a residence hall can be provided, such as a snack bar or convenience store.

More “private” facilities.  The double-loaded corridor of double-occupancy rooms with a central bath on the hall has given way to a variety of “newer” student accommodations, some of which are mentioned in the paper.  Suite-style living, particularly the 4-bedroom, 2-bath model with a central “Living Room”, has greatly influenced the college campus and its living accommodations.

Additionally, there are numerous variations on the double-occupancy room with private bath, which decreases area-per-student but increases privacy.

All of these factors, including floor-area-per-student, must be coordinated with other design considerations, especially that of “cost”.  As more universities and colleges have increased their campus facilities, they also find their debt service at unsustainable levels.

Consequently, administrations have determined that no other debt can be used to create non-academic space … meaning that debt service must be fully paid from rents the students pay for their room.

But balancing that equation is a topic for another newsletter….

Wishing each of you all the best,
Bruce Herrington

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