For decades, dismal living conditions have been almost a rite of passage for university students in New Zealand.
But why is this acceptable? Wouldn’t it make more sense to create affordable spaces that allow student minds to focus fully on their studies? A new generation of thinking about student accommodation is hitting New Zealand shores, along with a new rationale for investing in these spaces.
Shannon Joe, educational architecture expert and design architect of the new Carlaw Park Student Accommodation for the University of Auckland, explains.
What’s been happening to our campuses?
Typically speaking, for years multi-unit student accommodation has been linked to an intensive, “prison-like” aesthetic. There are so many cases of a mass capacity mind set taking over - simply trying to squeeze as many people into the space as possible - and aesthetics and quality of life for inhabitants has been more often an afterthought.
But we’re seeing the start of an international backlash – people are asking why cheap and undesirable buildings have been allowed to blight our beautiful, and often heritage, campus environments. Student accommodation buildings, especially those on campus, need to be compatible with student life - working with today’s teaching techniques, and allowing students to socialise and to live comfortably.
What are the key considerations for student buildings?
The space to study is crucial. Learning doesn’t just happen in lecture theatres and classrooms, it also happens where students sleep, eat and socialise. Student living spaces must encourage academic endeavour. The best places to learn are in the vicinity of other students, reflecting the discussion and critique based learning that’s entering our educational institutes. To achieve this at Carlaw Park, we created a range of different communal study and social spaces to suit different needs – for independent study, group work, and casual interactions.
Considering sound levels is also important. Particularly in urban settings – for Carlaw Park, the campus is located along the edge of a rail corridor. So we’ve worked to mitigate as much noise as possible from entering into the rooms – affected areas are double-glazed, the exterior cladding is predominantly pre-cast concrete. The apartments are equipped with mechanically assisted natural ventilation and flexible air conditioning; meaning that students can close windows if they choose to, so there’s a real sense of quietness in every room and study space.
Obviously safety and security is important. How is this being addressed?
The ‘safety in numbers’ maxim rings true here. Living in apartment style blocks has the advantage of passive surveillance – there are always people around. A well-lit and maintained cluster of buildings also acts as a deterrent too. With Carlaw Park, we extended Nicholls Lane as a public pedestrian link to the proposed Parnell train station, which will be located next to the Carlaw campus. It means students can feel comfortable walking to and from the campus, and also increases safety for the transit public.
Students are a temporary population. Why is it worth investing in quality student accommodation?
To encourage local and international students to study here, we need an international standard of accommodation. We need dwellings that parents feel comfortable sending their children to live in; that are secure, insulated and warm, and will enable them to get the most out of their education. With student accommodation in high demand, quality is paramount.
Attracting local and international students to the city has significant economic impact. Students may not have high incomes, but what they have is often disposable – they buy coffee and food, hang out in cafes and bars, join gyms and go shopping, and of course pay tuition fees. They bring all these retail transactions into the city and make up a significant quantity of the city’s population. We see the Carlaw Park Campus as part of a larger movement to change people’s perception of city living. More commonly, students are staying and seeking employment, becoming permanent and rate-paying residents. So creating a positive experience of living in Auckland for them is a worthwhile long-term investment.
'Masterchef' style communal facilities
Full height glazing to all student bedrooms
Central outdoor courtyard space
Common lounge, study and amenities spaces
Indoor and outdoor common spaces
A community/campus environment for students
It’s been said that it's an expensive use of central city land. Why do you think it's beneficial for city planners to factor in student accommodation to their designs?
Cities need students. They fuel the energy of the city: the nightlife, the public spaces, the public and retail amenities. A university is a key component in making a city function. There are currently about 80,000 students who study in Auckland’s city centre, and they all need somewhere to live. If you lose those students, if they go out to the suburbs because they’re desperate for accommodation, you start to lose that movement and heart within the city centre. And, correspondingly, it puts pressure on rental housing in the suburbs – a scenario that Auckland in particular is experiencing.
The facilities also have the potential, often not fully realised, of adding urban design value to the city, more so than purely commercial structures. For Carlaw Park, we have created an arterial pedestrian connection from the University of Auckland Campus and city, down to the edge of Parnell and the Domain. We’ve tied it in with existing and future infrastructure – the Parnell train station, for example – and transformed our section of the passageway into a public connection from the city to the station. It’s essentially rebuilt the passage to Parnell, which will hopefully revitalise this underused corner of the city.
Necessarily, these buildings play a part in a city’s urban skyline. Instead of monolithic structures intended purely as a place to house people, the buildings should “talk” to the surrounding built and natural environment. For Carlaw Park, one side faces along the edge of railway corridor and the other faces onto the largest natural park in the city. So it’s an integration of open spaces, natural light and landscape, with an urban-inspired textured façade. The external “pop out” pattern speaks to surrounding buildings and creates depth and shadow to break up the solid structure. It’s open, modern yet unimposing – a home for students and a passageway for the public to make their own.
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