Residence Hall Designs Expected to Shift in Response to COVID-19

Emphasis on single sleeping unit spaces will probably dominate in residence hall design in coming months and years, along with common areas that encourage physical distancing, wider entrances and kitchens that allow for one-way traffic patterns. Those are the predictions of student housing design experts at KWK Architects, a company that designs facilities for higher education.

"Safety and security" will dominate for future students and their families, according to KWK Principal Sara Koester. That could result "in a desire for single-occupancy bedrooms in residence halls" or a double bedroom designed with "paired single" units, she said. In the latter approach each person would have furniture, a closet and operable window on his or her side, and there would be just a few shared elements, such as a corridor door and a thermostat. Koester noted that the bedroom shape would be wide and shallow, enabling beds, desks and closets to be located farther apart.

"The two sides [could] be marked with floor patterns and paint finishes to distinguish the two zones within the room," she suggested. "The two roommates will function as a 'family unit' since they are, indeed, sharing a room."

Bathroom design might provide for multiple private bathrooms, each with a toilet, sink and shower. The common bathroom area would include two entrance/exit points to allow for a one-way traffic pattern. And a common lavatory area would put "ample space" between the fixtures, to encourage hand washing and socializing while still maintaining distance.

Physical distancing would also be emphasized in social spaces, such as floor lounges and study rooms. Kitchens would be arranged for one-way circulation and appliances spaced to permit multiple work areas with adequate buffers between them.

Koester said that hand washing stations would "be ample and sufficiently spaced with accessories at each station."

She predicted that entrances to buildings will be designed to be wider, to accommodate multiple single entrance doors, to prevent residents from having to get close together as they enter and leave. Lobbies will need to be large enough to allow for pedestrian flow to the elevators or stairs while distancing, and elevators would be sized to accommodate people standing at opposite corners. Corridors will widen and feature small alcoves at regular intervals, with views to the exterior and possibly a bench, to serve as places to "step out" of the way of traffic flow. Doors to bedrooms would also be placed in recessed pockets off the corridor, to allow for safe distancing from the corridor as people enter and leave their rooms.

Koester said she would also expect to see space outdoors for individual activities, such as hammocking and swinging, with terraces and patios offering places for small groups to safely meet.

With careful and thoughtful planning, Koester suggested, residence hall design can balance environmental health concerns and living preferences of students while still encouraging community and providing a nurturing environment.

Koester's ideas are available in an article on the KWK Architects website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.