Designing Beds for More Sophisticated Heads: A Modern Campus Success Story

In 1998, Chancellor Michael J. Hooker informally — but dramatically — announced that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) would provide“a bed for every new undergraduate head.” He listened to the University Task Force on Enrollment identify plans for the next decade that called for significant undergraduate growth, and then set about to create new housing to accommodate that growth. In collaboration with the Campus Master Plan, the Chapel Hill campus initiated an aggressive and unprecedented housing expansion program in 2000. The predicted increase in undergraduate growth nurtured a student population with an interest in a broader spectrum of housing options. To address the needs of these more sophisticated residents, UNC Chapel Hill developed a broad spectrum of quality housing options not previously available on this campus.

The first changes were designed to make new housing as desirous as older housing on the north campus. The Campus Master Plan noted the limited residential and academic growth opportunities on the north campus, and identified far more opportunities for residence halls on the south campus — especially with its planned expansion. In 1998, residential housing on the north campus consisted of historic buildings with traditional multi-room occupancy and one bathroom per floor. These buildings have long been coveted for their location on the oldest part of the main campus and their proximity to classes. On south campus, the housing in 1998 consisted of two six-story and two ten-story high-rise residence halls built in the late 1960s and early 1970s — and not nearly as popular as north campus housing.

Starting With the Freshmen

In 2000, the Housing and Residential Education program began the expansion with a Phase I residential initiative for 1,000 students on the south campus. This expansion consisted of four buildings located at the corners of the intersection of the main roads into the south campus. Each of the four new residence halls is designed in close proximity to the four existing high-rise halls to create open community spaces among the residences. The Phase I buildings are four and five stories, red brick, and single-corridor, with suites on each side of two bedrooms and one bath. Handicapped-accessible suites are incorporated into the design along with air conditioning, Internet access, cable television, student lounges and community kitchens, and vending and laundry facilities. On the first floor of each hall are small seminar rooms and spaces for interim offices and workrooms that allow faculty to teach on the south campus and give freshmen proximity to first-year seminar programs. This expansion of the program on the south campus was the first effort to tie the historic north campus architecturally to the expanding south campus.

Housing Students with Families

The next step in meeting Chancellor Hooker’s goal was new housing for students with families. Completed in 2005, this project — known as Baity Hill at Mason Farm Road — defines the southernmost edge of the current campus. These apartments replace Odum Village, a family-housing complex built after World War II to provide accommodations to the burgeoning influx of G.I.s and their families to the campus. Odum Village contained very small, two-bedroom apartments with minimal storage and no central cooling system. The new student family housing has 398 units, with the majority having two bedrooms with kitchen, laundry, living room, and two bathrooms. Handicapped-accessible apartments are provided in the complex. The new apartments are three and four stories high, with parking under the buildings and limited additional parking on site. A private home on the acreage has been converted into a community center, and a playground is provided on the property.

The successful design/build delivery system of this complex is the first of this type for the Chapel Hill campus. The challenge for the site and the architectural design is the project’s location: across the street from a long-established residential neighborhood. The design process included several meetings with the neighbors. The final complex respects the adjacent residential neighborhood through the use of a warm palette of materials and a limiting of the height of the project. Since the main campus has streetscape tree-planting strips adjacent to brick sidewalks as a part of its design guidelines, it was only natural that a similar appearance be created for this new residential environment on the southern edge of the campus. It includes plantings with trees of a scale that replace existing scattered woodlands, and has a landscaped, shaded boulevard and expanded pedestrian circulation that complement the adjacent residential neighborhood.

Keeping Juniors and Seniors on Campus

Prior to designing Phase II — now named Ram Village — a consultant conducted an online survey and talked to student focus groups to determine housing types and amenities that would attract increasingly sophisticated students to remain in campus housing after their freshman and sophomore years.

Directly competing with the housing types and amenities offered in the Town of Chapel Hill, Ram Village offers yet another new housing type on campus: apartments with private bedrooms and baths for juniors and seniors. The complex is constructed on two sites in close proximity with one another. One site with three buildings is designed with a pavilion adjacent to the major pedestrian route, connecting the north and south campuses and to a grass quad connecting the internal community. The other site contains two buildings with a multi-purpose space and a connecting breezeway opening to another grass quad that evokes the scale of the open space on the north campus. Four of the five buildings have units with four bedrooms and a kitchen, living/dining area, and two bathrooms per apartment. The fifth building has two-bedroom apartments as another option. There are student lounges and community kitchens on each floor. The total complex provides 472 sq. ft. per bed and accommodates 957 students. Ram Village opened in the fall of 2006.

Shifting from North to South

Phase I and Phase II, combined with the four old high-rise buildings, now house over 5,600 students on the south campus. With the 2005 completion of the Rams Head project (Rams Head Center, a multi-purpose facility adjacent to Kenan Stadium that offers a student recreation facility, dining opportunities, and a parking deck; an important step in transforming the southern region into an integral part of campus that provides multiple dining venues and recreation) and the 2007 completion of the Student and Academic Services buildings, which will consolidate student services currently dispersed throughout campus, there is a not-so-subtle shifting of axis occurring on the campus from north to south. This shift is mainly driven by the expansion of Housing and Residential Life to accommodate the enrollment growth initiative identified in 1998 — as well as by Chancellor Hooker’s promise. As the campus continues to fulfill the Campus Master Plan approved by the university and the Town of Chapel Hill in 2001, the final tilt of the axis remains to be seen.

As the university moves forward in the 21st century and the expansion opportunities on south campus are completed as they are on the north campus, perhaps the axis shift becomes a vector pointing to new opportunities yet to be explored on the Carolina North Campus. Only time will tell.

Dianne L. Bachman is assistant director for the Department of Facilities Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be reached at 919/962-9048 or via e-mail at [email protected]