Nicola Ball of architects KKA says that as universities face greater competition to attract students from both home and abroad, accommodation has become an important differentiator, which has led to standards rising across the country
Student accommodation is not what it used to be. The consequences of young people being bundled together in cramped, unhygienic homes has become a thing of the past. While it would be wrong to say the sector has evolved to a universally high standard, today the range of buildings produced now comprises an increased number of high quality co-living spaces.
High-quality living spaces with flexible-living contracts are being offered to students, making them more appealing to UK students as well as the all-important international arrivals.
The interiors team of Liverpool-based architecture practice KKA (KKAI) is currently delivering four student developments across the UK, all set to be opened for this year’s student intake.
High-quality student accommodation has an ever-growing list of considerations when designing interiors of its spaces: Specialist facilities, cleanliness, technology, futureproofing, and inspiration, to name but a few. Developers are creating spaces where tenants can both work and play – in a post-pandemic world, creating a one-stop-shop of activity has become paramount, with mental health and wellbeing at the heart of it.
Mental health and wellbeing
The impact of physical space on improving mental and physical wellness has become more important than ever. This is something that – even before the pandemic – was a pivotal element of student accommodation designs. For many students, their time at university will be their first proper experiences away from their home, and how we use design can play an important role in making this important stage feel as safe and welcoming as possible.
For example the last year has taught so many to appreciate the green spaces that are near them, whether that is back gardens or local parks.
Such considerations have already been factored into designs, with architects and designers incorporating biophilic design into their plans for student accommodation – like at the Bricks Development at Salford Quays. Such design is proven to improve mental health, relieve stress plus encourage creativity and connectivity, all of which are key factors in the life of a happy and healthy student.
Designers of student accommodation have always factored in the importance of cleanliness and hygiene, but the impact of the pandemic means we’re now seeing more and more students talking about it too. The fact that student living quarters can be a hotbed of passing on germs is not new. Yet, while there are jokes about ‘Fresher’s Flu’, the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of maintaining rigorous hygiene standards within student populations. It is therefore crucial that accommodation facilities are taking the necessary steps to mitigate the risks.
With this consideration in mind, designers must select materials and furnishings that are durable, robust and can withstand repetitive cleaning. However, creating a considered balance to ensure the overall aesthetic of the development, and students’ comfort are not lost, is of paramount importance.
With the continued supply chain shortages resulting from Brexit, interior design teams have continued to prioritise UK suppliers of materials. Not only does this minimise transit times, but also lowers the carbon footprint of the material, making it more sustainable.
At a number of KKAI-designed interiors, local artists have been commissioned to create a statement piece – using only recycled materials – bringing sustainability to the heart of the accommodation. Also, for example at developments by True Student, pop-up events are hosted, inviting local restaurants and artists to educate and inspire students, also encouraging them to buy local and engage with local communities.
Designing communal spaces that are open-plan can encourage peers to collaborate through their studies, socialise more with one another, and even foster creative thinking. It is equally important to have pockets of space for reflection or private study. This evolution of communal areas has created environments that have a scalable interactivity, making it a versatile experience with a strong sense
Each development’s interior also draws inspiration from its surroundings, whether it is a biophilic design embracing its environmental roots, ‘earthbound’ textures, or drawing on
cultural inspiration. An example is how the River Street Tower development in Manchester draws from that city’s great musical and media heritage.
For many, the student experience is one that shapes the rest of their life, personally and in their studies, and helps form their outlook on the world. It’s also increasingly the case that the higher standard of accommodation they’re now exposed to during this period will mean they won’t want to settle for less in future years. Many will expect similar standards in post-graduation accommodation.
As these tenant expectations continue to rise, more co-living projects are expected to become increasingly common, and we will see the care given to improving student experience transferred into more environments and influencing accommodation types for residential projects for people from all walks of life. With a boom in quality currently visible across student accommodation, this can only be a good thing.
Nicola Ball is associate interior designer at KKAI