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Dorms of Distinction

Top residence halls for today's students
University Business, Aug 2008

RESIDENCE HALLS HAVE COME A LONG WAY. THE traditional double-loaded corridors, cramped quarters, and cinderblock walls are being replaced by places nearly anyone would proudly call home. University Business sought nominations for halls that meet the needs of today's student-those that feel like home yet foster a sense of community through interior and exterior spaces. Of course, students also want to feel safe and that their belongings are secure. And while green buildings are an expectation, sustainable elements must not be too distracting to those residing in the building.

The 76 Dorms of Distinction nominations revealed several trends, including the following:

Institutions are conducting focus groups and broader surveys during design phase, putting furniture choices on display for students to vote on, and creating full mock-ups of rooms for student walk-throughs. Some institutions are getting input from parents, incoming freshmen, and even housekeeping and maintenance crews.

Private bedrooms and private, or at least semi-private, bathrooms are popular student requests that often get fulfilled. Non-institutional choices for fixtures and other interiors include comfortable furnishings, natural tone walls and furnishings, and tile floors in kitchens and bathrooms. Dishwashers in apartment kitchens are popular, as are separate shower/toilet and vanity areas in bathrooms. Laundry rooms are placed adjacent to lounges, and students of some halls can determine washer/dryer availability by hopping online.

Most halls include separate study and social lounges throughout the buildings. Main lounges typically have large flat-screen televisions, and fireplaces are common. Other popular gathering spaces include balconies and patios (often equipped with grills), stairway seating, and landscaped courtyards with benches. Lest we forget that community-building isn't just about space, many of the entries highlighted efforts to create both intimate and larger planned gatherings.


The tranquil front porches with rockers or swings, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets, quaint lampposts, and mature trees of this development exude Southern charm. Yet the 28-building, 276-bed complex is located close to the center of campus, and the team at McMillan Smith & Partners Architects, also in Spartanburg, S.C., designed it as a "new urban" kind of place. With one to four units per building, the furnished apartments include four private bedrooms, two large bathrooms, a kitchen, a dinette area, a living room, and a porch, and are equipped with cable and internet service. The 452-square-foot kitchen-dining-living areas encourage gatherings of other students, teachers, and family members. Outdoor grills and a borrow-a-bike program (which contributes to easy transportation from other parts of campus), spark social calls as well. Village residents also work together, in the upkeep of the bordering public road.

The $12.9 million project was constructed in three phases, the first completed in fall 2006. Phase three of the project, with 13 buildings, will be ready for occupancy this fall-making the complex large enough for the entire senior class. And the future will bring other neighborhood amenities, such as a convenience store, half-court basketball, student meeting areas, and additional spaces requested by students. Already, however, the community is considered a treasured rite of passage for many upperclassmen and has become a word-of-mouth recruiting tool for new students.


In planning these four-story halls, which share a commons area, administrators truly took student feedback to heart. Besides participating in The Association of College and University Housing Officers-International's 21st Century Project on designing future-focused residential facilities, residence life staff invited students to fill out surveys, participate in focus groups, and later vote on furniture options. Two students also sat on the design committee. Student suggestions led to WiFi access and separate study and social lounges, as well as a mix of apartments and suites featuring bathrooms with separate shower room, lavatory, and two sinks (so all four residents of each unit could use facilities at the same time). The use of 26 shades of paint helps avoid an institutional feel.

The 284-bed complex houses 38 students per floor and is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The central commons has a learning community advisor office, a seminar room with attached kitchen and lounge, a gas fireplace suitable for chilly days and nights, and an adjoining outdoor patio. Spiral staircases between floors encourage students to get to know more distant neighbors. As for safety and security, perimeter doors, each unit, and each bedroom can be locked, and the lower level has locked bike storage.

Open since fall 2007, the halls were designed by Opus, located in Minneapolis. The approximate $6 million cost was funded by the alumnae after whom the halls were named.


Guided by the belief that there's value in freshmen living together in roommate arrangements, Emory officials sought a modern iteration of the traditional double-loaded corridor arrangement with more services and varied spaces. Architects from Ayers Saint Gross in Baltimore, aiming to create a community rather than a cocoon for individuals, designed two clusters of doubles (and a few single units) on each floor of the 130-bed building. Each cluster has its own study lounge at the end of the corridor, and a shared social lounge is located in the center. Students assisted in the choice of lounge and study room furniture and other features. Finishes such as bamboo and terrazzo, as well as the use of natural light, help provide a homey environment. In student rooms, furniture is moveable and interchangeable.

One green feature students have reacted favorably to is the use of occupancy sensors that light each student room, lounge, and study room upon arrival. In addition, a computer touchscreen in the entry area allows students to view the hall's energy and water consumption by the hour. The display will even take the cost of energy used and convert it to, for example, the number of iTunes one could buy at 99 cents each. More than three-quarters of students recently surveyed said they had checked the energy display monitor.

The $14.84 million, LEED Silver building opened in fall 2007 and is the first of eight in a new freshmen village at the Atlanta university. The village will contain learning communities and be completed within the next seven years.


The variety of strategically placed community areas stands out most in this five-building, 460-bed freshmen residence. The aim was to draw students out of their rooms and into shared spaces, and one way the project team made it happen was to place these areas adjacent to central walkways to the village. And rather than just traditional study and social lounges with comfy seating, students can also find areas dedicated to hobbies such as fine arts, music, dance, and billiards.

The suites-composed of two double-occupancy bedrooms, a shared bathroom, and a small food storage and preparation area-are designed for homelike comfort. Rooms contain all wood furniture and a personal closet for each resident.

Thanks to red tile roofing and white stucco, which mitigate heat, natural ventilation is enough for students to keep residential spaces cool (in other words, there's no air conditioning).

The $38 million project opened in fall 2007, and designers from Botich Corcoran and Associates of Newport Beach, Calif., heeded student focus group feedback as well as student development theory and generational research. After sophomores were allowed to request the village again for this coming school year, 45 percent of eligible students passed up an opportunity to live in single-occupancy apartments to stay put-in a place where it's clear they feel at home.


Highlights: Dutch doors on student rooms and benches in hallways to foster conversation; gardens with sitting areas, including an organic garden where Fridays are community workdays; gathering area by the swimming pool; 300-seat amphitheater; green garden roof and bike program; drought-tolerant landscaping. Designed by Carrier Johnson, San Diego


Highlights: Garden-style apartments with large windows and balconies overlooking outdoor spaces with benches, picnic tables, grills, and large trees (preserved thanks to a project redesign); kitchen and fi replace in community room; student-planted herb garden; living/learning center. Designed by Group Two Architecture, Austin, Texas


Highlights: Separate social and study lounges; bathrooms with separate shower and sink/toilet areas; VoIP phone in each bedroom that can receive emergency announcements targeted to that room, the suite, or the entire building; fireplace, eatery, and flatscreen TV in main lounge (serving neighboring halls too); basketball and beach volleyball courts outside. Building designed by ADD Inc., Cambridge, Mass.; landscaping designed by Sasaki Associates, Boston


Highlights: 2007 renovation of a 1970 building featuring a new design to maximize a picturesque environment, including a panoramic lake view from a common area and second-floor patio deck; living/learning communities with a faculty apartment (where a family currently resides); Oriental-style rugs, floral arrangements, modern art, and leather couches in common areas; solid oak bedroom furniture; free washers and dryers. Designed by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas & Co., Tampa, Fla.


Highlights: Community kitchen with stainless steel appliances; outdoor patios and grills; main stairwell with floor-to-ceiling windows for natural light and visibility to enhance safety, plus a window seat at each landing for conversation; art from students, a professor, and an alumna on display for viewing; LEED Silver certified, with a real-time energy use kiosk for residents and visitors, individual temperature controls for each room and public space, and a forced-air system that helps decrease student illness and allergies. Designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Pittsburgh


Highlights: Renovation and rehab project that brought new life to a Boston neighborhood; mix of apartments and suites; weekly student focus groups during design phase; fitness center; secure bike storage; local furniture materials and assembly; high ceilings; kitchens with full-size appliances, European-style cabinetry, and granite countertops; private bathrooms in suites, with tubs and Italian tile floors; 24/7 police and security presence, with a main lobby security station. Designed by CBT Architects, Boston

Highlights: Strong demand for private bedrooms met; gives underclassmen a chance to reside in apartments; 9-foot ceilings; eight apartments clustered into mini-communities on each of two main building corridors; door-prop alarms, building access via card key, bedroom access via mechanical key, and lockable storage unit in bedrooms; community building in complex, with a large gathering space featuring soft seating, a large-screen TV, and a fireplace, as well as an exercise room, a laundry room, study rooms, and mailboxes; half-mile pedestrian trail along river. Designed by Troyer Group, Mishawaka, Ind.

Highlights: Freshmen suites including a private bath (with bathtub and shower) in each shared bedroom and a snack prep area (with sink, granite countertops, mahogany-stained cabinets, and a full-sized refrigerator); single entrance for all 753 students, for security and community-building; movie room featuring reclining seats, open 24 hours a day, with special events also planned; TV in laundry room. Designed by The Garrison Barrett Group, Birmingham, Ala. (architect), and Cooper Carry Architects, Atlanta (associated architect)

Highlights: Townhouse style with private bedrooms, two full baths with separate toilet/shower rooms and double-sinks/vanities, and shared living space, full-size kitchen appliances; wireless internet, cable TV, landline telephones; separate housing for students studying foreign languages; students researched and prioritized LEED elements to achieve Silver certification (pending); green features, including ground-source heating and cooling, individual temperature controls, recycled rubber roofing, rainwater drainage in the parking lot, recycled material floor coverings, wheatboard cabinetry, low-VOC-emitting paints, and large windows for natural light. Designed by Cannon Design, Buffalo, N.Y.

Highlights: Student committee and student body vote determined furniture style in suites; different paint color scheme and carpeting for each floor; late-night Jazzman Café with comfortable seating, plasma television, and snacks; kitchenettes in some suites; full community kitchen so international students can prepare familiar cuisines; accommodations for disabled students, including roll-in showers, larger doorways, and ADA-approved washers and dryers. Designed by Nadaskay/Kopelson Architects, Morristown, N.J.

Highlights: Suites with four private bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchenette and living room; air conditioning; focus groups, room mock-ups and furniture samples used to gather student input; cable TV, wireless internet, laundry on each floor; fireplaces in the "Club Room"; convenience store, fitness center, and computer lab amenities; outdoor fountains with benches; security cameras placed to cover open spaces and elevators; locking bedroom doors; fire sprinklers; peepholes on the main room door for security; individual thermostats. Designed by Design Plus Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich.

Highlights: Mixture of semi-suites and apartments to accommodate students varying from undergrad to international, to graduate, to young married couples with or without children; housing options for disabled students; classroom/academic space; conference center with separately controlled-access; health club; retail facilities; parking for 300 cars; 24-hour security at front desk; bicycle storage room on lobby level with access electronically via ID card; green roof doubles as private roof garden; use of low-VOC furnishings and finishes to reduce off-gassing. Designed by VOA Associates Incorporated, Chicago

Highlights: Four two-story houses with 145 beds in single and double rooms; kitchenettes in two buildings, laundry facilities in other two to promote interaction; three houses with Tokonomas (small, alcove-like meditative and contemplative spaces); individual room lighting and temperature controls; residential-style wooden entry door to each room; large-screen TVs, comfortable furniture, air hockey, pool tables, and video games in lounges; house lounges open onto expansive porches, with the building site itself terraced to ground level; door prop alarms; resident-only swipe card access after 10 p.m.; covered bicycle racks and access to Yellow Community Bikes Program; energy consumption monitors in building lobbies; fresh air ventilation rates above code-required minimums. Designed by Canerday, Belfsky & Arroyo, St. Petersburg (lead architects, architect of record), Ayers Saint Gross, Baltimore (architectural design team), Melanie Taylor Architecture and Gardens, New Haven, Conn. (design consultant)

Highlights: Apartments with three bedrooms, two bathrooms (with two sinks outside the bath area), kitchen and dining area; nine-foot ceilings, double-hung windows, drywall, and carpets; laundry on each floor, mailroom in building; lobbies on each floor and a main lobby by the entrance for community gatherings; apartment doors look like wood but are metal, advanced sprinkler system, and large basement for use during tornado warnings; man-made pond with koi fish, ducks, and a fountain captures storm runoff and provides a calming study area; focus groups included current students, incoming freshmen, and parents. Designed by Gossen Livingston Architects, Wichita (construction by Conco Construction, Wichita)

Highlights: Rooms range from doubles with community baths, to four-person suites; suites and apartments in close proximity to encourage mingling; students can be grouped by major in the traditional wing; student focus groups conducted; rich color pallet is non-institutional, combined with wood furniture for a homey feel; swipe cards, security cameras, a manned guard station, and large windows on the stair towers for security; green features, including low-e insulated glass, carpets of recycled material, and occupancy sensor lighting. Designed by H2L2, Philadelphia

Highlights: Two- and four-bedroom apartment units for freshmen with fully equipped kitchens, furnished bedrooms (including adaptable furniture and wired with high-speed Ethernet, phone, and cable connections), and comfortable living areas; housing staff and student representatives reviewed several furniture options; mock-up units provided early in construction process for feedback; each of four buildings has its own interior finish and color scheme (for walls and furniture); "living clusters" on each floor promote sense of community; GSU police substation at the main entrance to gated facility; 24-hour service desk in main lobby; intrusion detection system to report any perimeter door that is forced or propped open; 100+ digital camera surveillance of all entry points and common areas; public address system for emergency announcements; 75 percent of occupied spaces have daylight and access to city views. Designed by Niles Bolton Associates, Atlanta, for developer Ambling University Development Group

Highlights: Four bedrooms with two bathrooms and four sinks, full kitchen with dishwasher and breakfast bar, free long-distance phone service, and wired/wireless internet; use of daylight, operable windows, synthetic wood flooring; current college students and high school seniors surveyed on design; suite mock-up provided for students to view; central community room; common and study areas on each floor; roof deck on the third floor; laundry room near a lounge and study room to encourage mingling; convenience store and vending machines; keycard access for building, apartment wing, apartments, and bedrooms; surveillance cameras on entrance/exit points; ample pedestrian lighting; new student housing tied to revitalizing intercollegiate athletics programs. Designed by SHW Group, Detroit, Mich.

Highlights: Double-occupancy suites with bathrooms and 400-square-feet of living space; microfridge units; classrooms and academic support offices on-site for living/learning for honor's college and freshmen Quest learning community members; bridge lounge between two buildings with working fireplace, peaked ceilings, and banks of windows with grassy courtyard views in front and "Blanket Hill" views in back; additional lounges with fireplaces and comfortable chairs and couches; olive, plum, and eggplant walls (in stairwells, too); community kitchen facilities. Designed by The Collaborative, Inc., Toledo, Ohio

Highlights: Lodge-style units with apartments and suites; living rooms with fireplaces, exposed beams, warm furnishings, and custom light fixtures; the two buildings are clustered around large stairway foyers, with large windows and window seats, that double as community spaces; seminar rooms and study spaces; roof/attic area used as additional space; and designed with regional stone and regional primary building materials. Designed by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company, Norfolk, Va.

Highlights: Johnson Hall, for upperclassmen, will have private suites with two-person shared bathrooms with a community kitchen and dining room; other halls, for freshmen, will be double-room suites with four-person shared bathrooms with a community kitchen, dining tables, and a recreation room; computer labs with docking stations; coffee shop, convenience store, dining hall, health center, and counseling and consultation center on premises; president participated in The 21st Century Project of the Association of College and University House Officers-International to help inform design ideas; multicolored glass wall provides light and visibility; security cameras monitor entrances and the card readers also have cameras.Designed by Alejandro Aravena, Santiago, Chile (architect of design), Cotera+Reed Architects of Austin, Texas (architect of record)

Highlights: Suite-style housing with individual units consisting of four or five bedrooms, designed in mind for juniors and seniors; breakfast bars in kitchens with Energy Star-rated appliances; bathrooms with ample shelf space; a lounge area, on second floor of each of the two buildings, with common area for social gatherings and a study room; lounge and common-area furniture covered in antibacterial material; security measures include swipe card access for building, suite, and bedroom entry, and security cameras at front and rear doors of each building; suites with automatic closing doors. Designed by JCJ Architecture, Hartford, Conn.

Highlights: Hall includes 21 student staff (resident assistant) rooms, two graduate assistant suites, one clergy suite, and one professional staff apartment; student rooms arranged in small "neighborhoods" to foster community and interpersonal relationships, with a central lounge area, game room, kitchenette, and computer room in each one; loft-style beds; desks with ergonomic keyboard trays; large wardrobes and dressers; recycling bins; insulated windows. Designed by Massaro Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Highlights: Focus groups with students, faculty, and housing office staff determined amenities such as single bedrooms with closets, cooking facilities, furnished living room spaces, stacked washer/dryer appliances, bathrooms shared by two students, high-speed Ethernet, cable TV connections, voice ports, and ample parking (a 1,000-car parking deck is being built); different design for each of the three neighborhoods, with small buildings so students know their neighbors; swimming pool and bath house; covered bicycle parking for 15 percent of residents and 3 percent of parking spaces set aside for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles; Seahawk Village complex slots sold out in four hours (with students standing in line overnight). Designed by Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering, Charlotte, N.C.

Highlights: Houses living/learning programs such as the Sophomore Scholars in Residence Program, which will be complimented by a classroom with adjoining kitchen, a group study room, and lounges on each floor; laundry rooms on each floor equipped with E-suds software so students can log on to monitor machine availability and status; five handicapped-accessible double rooms with private baths; green housekeeping methods and integrated pest management; shunt trip switches on electric ranges in kitchens to prevent overheating; lobby area offering scenic lake view. Designed by Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas Company, Norfolk, Va.

Highlights: Student Health Services part of building; 11 different suite options to meet varying student needs with each suite having full kitchens and living rooms with large windows; special interest student groups involved in programming; access only by valid student ID; continuously monitored by security cameras; located within view of the main office of Campus safety; Campus Safety booth located across the street from hall's entrance; heated by geothermal exchange technology. Designed by CuetoKEARNEY Design LLC, Swarthmore, Pa.

EVALUATION PROCESS: Each of our 76 entries was evaluated, using a points system for each question response, by at least three University Business staff members, a college student/recent graduate, and a college parent. Twelve top entries were determined, three in each of the following categories: small private institution, medium private institution, large private institution, and public institution. Finally, those entries were evaluated again to determine the main winner in each category.

Jean Marie Angelo, former senior editor and online news editor, University Business, Frank Auer, 1997 college graduate and current grad student, Deb Bennetts, parent of a high school junior currently touring colleges, Alexandra Corbett, college junior, Michele Dearborn, college parent, Melissa Ezarik, managing editor, University Business, Michele Herrmann, associate editor, University Business, Sam Jackson, college sophomore and blogger of The Sam Jackson College Experience,, Elizabeth Matias, 2007 college graduate, Ann McClure, associate editor, University Business, Susan Rohal-Corbett, art director, University Business, and college parent, Kevin Sermersheim, college sophomore