A Tale of Student Housing on Two Campuses

What are the chances?
Two new residence halls on two campuses nearly 400 miles apart – both awarded to the same construction firm. Both campuses modeled on a historic campus design theory, which is enjoying a resurgence as campuses across the county seek to build deeper engagement with their students.

Here’s a look at the parallels – and the differences – between the new residence hall at Purchase College/SUNY in Purchase, NY and the new Brandon Avenue Upper Class Housing project at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA. KBE Building Corporation is the Design Builder, alongside Newman Architects, for the Purchase College project. At UVA, KBE is General Contractor for the Brandon Avenue project, working with architect Goody Clancy.

These two projects can, in many ways, be seen as a microcosm of current trends in residence hall design and construction. “Colleges and universities are looking at design and construction to influence the first impressions of their prospective students and as a marketing tool,” explains KBE Executive Vice President Jim Culkin, DBIA. “This is being achieved through a strong focus on the overall design as well as on student comforts such as single rooms and suites, study rooms for collaboration, technology access and infrastructure, and integration of academic functions and food and retail services. At UVA and Purchase College, another major element is also being integrated into the mix: the landscape.”

Creating Living, Learning Communities
Both campuses are focused on maintaining their campus vision of an academical village – a living, learning community. This idea, first proposed and brought to life by Thomas Jefferson at none other than University of Virginia in the mid-1800s, has come again to permeate the American university landscape. Jefferson’s Academical Village was designed to provide students with an all-encompassing learning experience that integrates personal, academic, and community life in a single setting.

At UVA, this concept is embodied in the campus’s historic Grounds, which features a rectangular, terraced green space known as “the Lawn”, two parallel rows of buildings called the Pavilions, which are connected by colonnaded walkways and student rooms, and the Rotunda building, which anchors the north end of the Lawn.

Purchase College’s original campus design, still largely intact, was the work of the distinguished late-modernist American architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes. Barnes conceived the campus in the late 1960’s as a “city in the country,” modeled on UVA’s ‘academical village’. Like UVA’s village concept, Purchase College features a central campus space flanked by arcades; behind the arcades, individual buildings are placed like ribs off a spine, each housing a college department.

How Design Fosters Inclusion
Integrating the new halls into the existing campuses was, of course, a significant design challenge at both locations.

At UVA, architect Jean Carroon, FAIA, LEED Fellow and principal at Goody Clancy, describes the design of the Brandon Avenue hall as the interaction of the built and natural environment, a key part of UVA’s master plan for the area, which calls for creating a “student-oriented, mixed-use academic, housing, and student services community connected by green space called the Green Street.” Carroon says the new residence hall achieves this through “three grand design gestures that readily invite people to move from the Green Street through the portal, then into the courtyard, which is in itself a celebratory space, and finally into the building.”

For architect Richard Munday, AIA, principal of Newman Architects, the new residence hall at Purchase College requires a similar vision.

“This is very much about designing an environment that encourages people to come together and to make connections with the landscape around them,” Munday explains. “Students can often feel isolated and lonely. We are creating a space that connects them to the campus community just outside their front door.” Munday credits the extensive use of glass that provides a two-way view from and into the building, and a circulation pattern that connects students to the campus’ central green space, which is much like UVA’s formal Grounds.

Challenging Location, Unique Procurement Process
For KBE, each residence hall offers its own set of opportunities and constraints. At UVA, KBE project manager David Heavener is managing the Brandon Avenue construction within the midst of several other concurrent projects adjacent to the residence hall site. “We’re mobilizing now on a site that will include, over the next several months, demolition of five+ buildings and start of construction on the Green Street project and new health center, in addition to the Upper Class Housing. It will make for a very tight site,” Heavener says.

“This has been an extraordinarily fast tracked project,” adds UVA Project Manager Steve Ratliff. “The Green Street Master Plan was issued in fall 2016 and within one week, was approved by our governing body and the Architect/Engineer RFQ issued. Goody Clancy completed a fully permitted, 100% construction documents for the Upper Class resident hall in just 9 months, and we selected our builder, KBE Building Corporation in August 2017 through a
competitive bid and interview process.”

“At Purchase, our original procurement process resulted in an over-budget project,” explains Purchase Project Manager Wayne Rush. “So we opted to re-issue the project as a design-build.” Rush took the typical design-build procurement process to a much higher level, engaging the competing teams in a collaborative process that is typically only seen after team selection – not before. Once he had three shortlisted design-build teams, he set up individual information sessions between each of the teams, the College’s facilities team and end-users prior to the submission of proposals. This enabled each team to thoroughly investigate and explore the project as they developed the conceptual design and budget. The unsuccessful teams were provided a stipend to offset the cost of preparing their submission.

“The benefits to the College are huge,” says Rush. “We got the benefit of three fully engaged design-build teams and got to see each team in action together prior to selection. The KBE-Newman team clearly listened to us and was able to present us with some great ideas we hadn’t considered.” One of those was the use of a masonry-bearing wall structural system that creates structural bays one room suite wide. “It’s not a new system, but it’s one I haven’t seen in a very long time,” Rush said. “And I thought, why not? It’s simple, cost-efficient, and highly durable construction.”