Tag Archives: Student Living design

The Future of Student Housing; whats next for the sector?

I’m privileged to have been asked to speak at a major Student Housing conference in London today. The Property Week hosted event is in it’s 8th year and has sold out; we can expect to see well over 500 people there. I’ve spoken at other industry events on Student Living, but this is my first time here – and its widely regarded as the big one.

New Student Living project by WCECOne of WCEC’s current projects; currently in Planning.

It’s been another incredibly strong year for UK Student Living. It’s anticipated that the year will close with over £5.7bn of investment recorded; that’s bigger than ever before. However almost all of that is transactional activity of existing operational assets, not new development supply. There is still strong interest from investors and developers in building new product, but there are some challenges to overcome.

Most major university cities have strong supply already. There will always be opportunity for growth and diversification, but its not simple to do, despite what some might think. Location, location, location remains a major factor for Student Living; it is housing after all. Beyond that the image below outlines some of the issues which are affecting the viability of building new Student Living at the moment.PowerPoint PresentationThe basis of the problem is that the required capital investment is outweighing income potential, especially for the lower-mid level “affordable” offer.  This is arguably where the greatest volume of demand exists. It’s become much harder to make the numbers work. But some, who know what they are doing and create an angle, can make it stack up.

Premium/ Studio led projects work, with weekly rentals of £250+, but only a small proportion of students can afford £10k a year to live in an ultra cool pad. They also have their tuition fees and living expenses which could easily add another £15k to that.

In my talk and panel session, we’ll be exploring how developers can create a competitive edge through design led schemes. This is recognised as a key differentiator now, but its easy to make mistakes and follow established trends which wont create a distinct angle. I’ve seen some great projects delivered this year, in the UK regions, in London and also in Europe. Quality is consistently high on the agenda, but its so easy to overspend on delivering it – and in areas which are unnecessary I think.

Despite public perceptions, students are discerning customers, with needs and demands which reflect hotel quality living, as apposed to the traditional student digs – or a hostel type offer. They want to be engaged in a community environment which blends living, relaxing, socialising and studying. These are the essential ingredients for Student Living. Some of this is physical, but some is about the brand and the operational function as well.

The  challenge we all face in delivering new student living buildings is to create something which delivers quality in all areas, but which is also commercially viable and realistic. To do this takes experience and skill; it will consist of a considered blend of design, space, specifications and also operational strength.

My talk concludes with four areas which, in my opinion,  define how design can give new student living buildings a competitive edge…PowerPoint PresentationYou can see a copy of my presentation in .PDF format by  clicking on the image below…PowerPoint PresentationYou can also read an insightful Property Week publication on the changing dynamics of the student living sector by clicking here.

 

Want to talk more about student living design?…

WCEC Architects are working on a range of really dynamic student living projects at present; for both private developers and universities alike. Some of these are new-build, others are refurbishments/ conversions. We are designing new concepts which explore compact living ideas, along with reinventing the traditional cluster apartment. We are also designing premium studio led projects with market leading providers. The fact our team have been involved in over 16,000 beds in the last ten years demonstrates to our clients that we know our stuff. We can create and add value. You can contact me by email by filling out the form below

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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!

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