Tag Archives: Permitted Development

Student Living Design in 2015

Next week I will be speaking again at a national student housing conference in London, hosted by LD Events. My talk is focused on Student Living Design and I’ll be exploring the changing learning and living dynamics for ‘Generation Y’ in University life.

There is no doubt that technology has a huge influence today, in a social context and also in how people learn/ study/ work. The formality of how we use physical spaces has changed significantly as the boundaries between our day-to-day activities have blurred. One of my most productive workplaces is actually on the train to London.

So what’s new in Student Living? The sector has continued to evolve as the competition has increased between existing and lots of new operators in the market place. I suspect a lot of people will still associate student living with basic halls which lacked any real design or identity. The reality is very different now.

Modern student living developments are seeing more architectural quality externally, and much better quality and design focus internally. Generally most new developments seek to align with student aspirations and expectations in their look and operation. The major focus is now on creating an outstanding ‘student experience’.

Living formats range from premium studios, twodios (2 beds with a shared compact kitchen), twin rooms, townhouses and of course the traditional cluster apartment/ bedrooms. The latter is where the demand remains, as this makes up more than 80% of the market, and is generally the most affordable.

A standard bedroom will now typically include; a larger bathroom pod with a defined shower enclosure (no more wet rooms or shower curtains), more storage space, linear desks, a 3/4 sized bed and larger windows. The finishes and colours are much more modern too. Whilst there has been a push for smaller compact room formats, we are also seeing larger rooms emerge as well.

Student Room conceptResistance is growing to address the visual impact of the long institutional corridors which enviably exist in these buildings. They can often be a monotony of identical doors! The use of feature finishes/ colours, recessed doorways, daylighting (where possible), signage and lighting all improve these spaces dramatically. There is also a growing trend towards forming small break-out spaces within the general circulation areas to allow residents to meet, relax and dwell.

Two big areas of operational progress in the sector, which directly impact upon design, is branding and a more hospitality led approach to student living.

Operational reputation is so critical now. It heavily influences investment for new development and is a big decision factor for universities and students alike in the hugely competitive marketplace. Reputation is measured by performance, satisfaction and occupation/ retention levels. All are equally important. If a student takes to Twitter to vent their frustrations about something, the operators have to respond instantly.

Operators now (finally) recognise how important brands are to young people. A number of existing operators have dropped their corporate look to promote a fresher impression which is focussed around lifestyle. Within the buildings, the operational focus is much more aligned to hotels now. The intention is for residents to be treated as customers and communal facilities to promote social interaction and a range of activities.

In some early student living developments I have designed, we would provide common rooms. These would typically include pool tables, vending facilities and seating, but they were rarely used. Why? Because there wasn’t a desire or need to be in that space.

Student HubVITA Student leading by example : Hub space

Now common rooms (now referred to as ‘Hubs’) have large reception spaces, coffee lounges, games/ media rooms, TV/ Cinema lounges, Group study spaces/ private rooms, Private Dining facilities, gym facilities and more. These spaces are aspirational and lifestyle focused. They are there to promote and create a social community.

receptionVITA Student leading by example : Reception

So what else is affecting student living? The boundaries between private residential apartments and purpose built student living continue to blur, especially with the surge in Permitted Development rights for Office to Residential conversions, and also the rapid rise in the Private Rented Sector/ Built to Rent. The latter also focussing heavily on well branded, aspirational, lifestyle managed living for young people. In part PRS is very much about continuing that standard set by Student Living for the next step in life; ‘Graduate Living’. I can see the potential for this emerging as a specific branded offer.

Another influence which is growing is sustainable design. This is led by statutory legislation in the main, but the bar keeps rising and therefore the need for the sector to embrace sustainability is becoming critical and increasingly expensive for developers. It surprises me that nobody seems to have seen the opportunity to create a point of difference here, a bit like M&S and their PlanA initiative.

So the conclusion here is that student living is very much about excellent quality design in 2015 and beyond, both in terms of the architecture and the internal environments. The skill however is in being able to balance design with commercial reality in terms of development/ financial viability. This is where sector experience, in both the design and delivery of student living, becomes so important when selecting an architect.

We  have a dedicated Student Living team at WCEC, with years of experience and thousands of beds delivered. We are currently working on over 2500 beds across numerous projects, both on and off-campus, all over the UK.

If you want balanced, pragmatic and informed advice on the very latest Student Living design concepts, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We love talking about Student Living!



What makes MIPIM unique?

It’s hard to believe that another year has passed by since I was last in Cannes for MIPIM; The international property conference. It’s a big event attracting around 25,000 delegates from around the world. The theme of course is Property Development and people from every area of the sector come along to network and seek deals and opportunities. High profile attendees this year include; Boris Johnson, The Candy brothers and ex-Manchester United player Gary Neville, who will be talking about his development company.

mipim25Two very common questions I often get asked…

What is so special about MIPIM?
Why go to Cannes to meet people from the UK?

If you’ve not been, it’s perhaps easy to imagine that this is a jolly. It’s certainly set in a stunning location where the sun is shining and there is a lot of money floating around; expensive hotels and restaurants, big boats and fast cars. But, being here in my third year now, I can tell you that it’s hard work. People are here for a good reason; to do business. I have over 30 appointments in my diary over the next 3 days. I will be up and out by around 7am and back again after midnight. It’s a marathon. My intention is simple; to return with as many contacts and leads as possible.

The entire MIPIM event is unique. The environment sets the scene for a very different mindset. People, generally representing the top of their respective organisations, are away from their day-to-day working routines. There are no boardroom formalities and people aren’t thinking about a hundred other things. Generally people are here to focus on the job in hand. Therefore you can connect with people so much more easily – and they are much more receptive to talking. This is what makes MIPIM special.

I’m representing my new company WCEC this year, in only my second week with the company! We have some great experience and current projects to talk about this week. Our company has been built up through our long standing partnerships with Morrisons and Asda. This has enabled us to build a strong port-folio of town centre regeneration, supermarkets, convenience stores, mixed-use regeneration and also logistics/ industrial, to name just a few. Beyond that our recent work has included hotels, leisure and residential.

Residential has been a big growth area for the business in recent years. Our teams are currently working on a number of high-profile urban developments in London and the South East. Our signature project at present is Royal Wharf in the Docklands, the first phase of which is worth £250m. We have also built up a team delivering Permitted Development projects for Office to Residential conversions.

Delivering all of the above, is a focused and diverse team of around 120 staff offering a broad range of group services. A key one at present being BIM (Building Information Modelling). We have been actively involved in BIM for around 8 years now – there’s probably not that many architects who can say that! Until last week my knowledge of BIM was pretty limited. It strikes me that there is a lot of ‘talk’ about BIM, but a lot of people probably don’t understand it and are certainly not well placed to effectively deliver it. I am in no doubt; BIM is the future to delivering buildings and running them for their lifetime. WCEC are delivering projects for all our clients in BIM, using Revit and a number of other programmes. We believe we have developed a real expertise in BIM, so we have a separate consultancy which provides services to the wider construction sector. This is in big demand at present.

Whilst I’m over here, in between my meetings, I’ll be seeking an overview of the property markets. What’s the forecast? Is London really over heating? Are the regions coming back? I’ll be spending time at the London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds stands. I’ll also be seeing my good friends and acquaintances at “Team Talented Nottingham” to learn more about Nottingham and the East Midlands plans. You can see the brand new Invest in Nottingham website here. They also have a MIPIM specific website here.

Royal WharfI’ll be blogging a bit more through the week, as and when I get a few moments…?