A vision for residence halls of the future (Part 1)

April 6, 2017 Sean Studzinski

By Sean J. Studzinski, AIA, Plano, Texas with William J. Zeller, Ph.D. of Scion Group 

Today, we intend to upend the model of heads-on-beds planning and think about the college/university experience more holistically. Taking into consideration recent changes in technology and pedagogy (active learning centers, adaptive learning, online courses), we believe that the traditional residence hall model is outmoded. Planners and administrators entrusted with the responsibility of developing a new building that will serve students in the future while maximizing resources, must look beyond traditional examples. They will need to embrace solutions that can meet a surging demand. Undergraduate enrollment in the US is projected to increase 14 percent, from 17.3 million to 19.8 million students between 2014 and 2025 (per the Department of Education). This post is intended to be read by the planning teams for new residence halls, to expand their vision about what a new or renovated facility could be.

Campus microcosms

We envision a campus where the residential facilities are essentially self-contained academic enterprises that are microcosms of the larger campus community. Teaching, learning, group and individual study, group interaction, library utilization, recreation, socialization and dining will comprise these new environments. These enhanced living-learning communities will provide the type of learning experiences students will expect from a residential campus and will ultimately shape new high-impact learning environments within the host campus communities and beyond. Students will come to our campuses to obtain enhanced learning experiences beyond what they can obtain online. They will seek personalized instruction from faculty designed to meet their own specific learning styles and capabilities. They will experience opportunities for developing interpersonal skills required for success in their chosen work environments after graduation. They will actively engage with experiential learning opportunities—not traditional, passive classroom instruction. 

Horizon Village, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh



Technology has changed the way we live, how we socialize, the way we teach and how we learn. Naturally, it’s going to transform the spaces in which students live. The transformation of higher education is already reshaping the residence hall as we know it. Rather than see these changes as a threat to the traditional campus residence hall, we see these changes as enhancing its role in education, ultimately resulting in the need for a residence hall of the future. Indeed, the residence hall is poised to become a new focal point for education in a world in which living and learning are closely intertwined and where technology is a tool for collaborative and personalized learning.

UMASS Leitch & Bourgeois Hall


Today, we intend to assess current trends in higher education pedagogy, technology and funding in order to describe essential elements of this residence hall of the future. Here are the first three of seven trends we foresee influencing this residence hall of the future. Check back for part two for more trends.


1. Technological pressures 

There are two forces applying pressure on the campus today. First, there’s technology. The attitude of students toward technology and the incorporation of technology in pedagogy is changing our campuses. A generation of students that have been brought up in a wired (more accurately, wireless) culture is already in college. On average, students own two to three Internet-connected devices each. While colleges are designing classrooms that integrate this technology, we are also seeing a blurring between on-campus and distance learning. One-third of students residing on campus use distance and online learning.

Meanwhile, the classroom itself is changing. The transformation is driven by changing teaching methods, augmented by technology. Active Learning Centers (ALCs) or “the flipped classroom” put hands-on, group-oriented workshops at center stage in the class—replacing the lecture and quiz format of yesteryear. “Learning research indicates that competence is developed in active, exploratory and social settings. When participants are asked to think conceptually and critically, involving both peers and experts, learning is enriched,” writes Diana Oblinger, President Emeritus of EDUCAUSE.

While we’ve seen ALCs become popular in introductory science courses at major universities, we now see them as a pervasive model across the university. We are seeing them in high school and elementary school curricula—signaling a sea change in how we educate and how students expect to learn when they reach college. Campus and residence hall design must account for the next generation of students who have been educated in active learning STEM/STEAM environments.

Likewise, an increasing refinement of adaptive learning (which guides students through online learning based on performance) is making the integration of technology for the individual student a priority. Classrooms are being designed to integrate this adaptive technology.

Bearing in mind the preference for on-campus distance learning, the residence hall is just as likely to be a site for online adaptive learning. Similarly, bringing students together in flexible, tech-enabled spaces—ALCS—can happen at the residence hall level, integrating a diversity of disciplines, cultures and lifestyles. Hybrid courses which combine face-to-face classroom instruction with computer-based learning.


2. Economic pressures

Secondly, there is increasing pressure on schools to do more with less. With a significant rise in college tuition and fees over the past decade, universities are under pressure to better utilize space and to justify expenditures on space in an environment of diminished resources. Analysis of utilization rates for lecture halls have sometimes shown they have as little as 50% utilization, or even less. If universities are to augment and replace these facilities, they need to create spaces that are suited to professors’ and students’ needs, and more likely to be utilized. The more traditional classrooms and lecture halls are not designed or particularly adaptable to active learning or adaptive learning methods.

With academia moving toward distance learning, an integration of technology in day-to-day learning and flipped classroom (ALCs), it’s obvious that the traditional classroom setting is suited to neither. The residence hall could be the ideal setting, providing these types of learning spaces on campus, in spaces that are flexible enough for both trends. These types of spaces will be informed by our work in modern urban planning. They will be campuses in which live/teach/learn/study/socialize/dining residence is in high demand. What does a residence hall look like that can provide these opportunities for students? That’s the big question.


3. New funding models for spaces

Many universities have seen their state and federal funding slashed to the bone during the previous decade. Yet the application of technology in the real world has put new demands on these institutions. Enter the maker space: a physical location where (often self-directed) students and researchers share resources and knowledge, working on projects, designing and creating together.

Maker spaces, incubator spaces and technology labs are a new model—both in terms of funding and function. Resource conscious universities are looking for alternative delivery and see P3 partnerships on maker spaces from corporate partners as a solution. We already see them in research parks at major universities. Dell and Microsoft are among the major corporations currently sponsoring spaces at major universities. There are also significant, smaller entrepreneurial “start-ups” participating on campuses in project based learning, through integrated, rent free, university provided space. Universities such as Florida Polytechnic, University of North Texas, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston are among the participants providing variations in this type of learning. Eventually, we predict, maker spaces will link to one another—connecting school to school.

These spaces are not just in science and engineering departments. Increasingly, we will see them attached to residence halls—like a convenience store run by Restaurant & Hotel Management (R&HM) students, or a retail storefront which sells a widget designed by entrepreneurial or business majors: produced and marketed.

For corporations, this is an inexpensive way to access new ideas and innovations, assess the talent and skill coming from the universities, and possibly recruit that talent. For universities, it provides cutting-edge practical learning environment. For students, it’s a leg up in applying what they are learning in real-world environment.

In part two, four more trends shaping residence halls and a paradigm shift for planners.

About the Author

Sean Studzinski

Student housing life is shifting, and Sean Studzinski has been at the forefront of these changes, having designed residence halls for private developers and higher education clients for nearly two decades.

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