Jennifer Adams Peffer of the University of Toronto Scarborough, Shelagh McCartney of Together Design Lab/+city lab/Toronto Metropolitan University and Tomer Diamant of Teeple Teeple Architects Inc. held a thought-provoking discussion about university architecture and housing at SHURE GTA on Nov 15.

A counter-intuitive approach to student accommodation: Less privacy may boost student performance and improve socialization skills

January 12, 2024

SHURE Initiative
The ongoing PBSA market assumption is that students want their own bathroom and more privacy. However, a SHURE GTA expert suggests there may be social and affordability advantages to having less privacy. This counter-intuitive suggestion contradicts the current private-sector housing methodology. “Solutions from the early 2000s are not the same today,” said Tomer Diamant, Principal, Teeple Architects Inc., who moderated the session at SHURE GTA on November 15.
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The suggestion was that students may have better academic and socialization outcomes in a more communal setting that prioritizes shared space over complete privacy if they live with more students in less space in an on-campus housing environment. The fewer roommates and greater distance from campus negatively impact their academic success. The semi-private type of suite built off-campus for most of the last 20 years may need to be updated, with opportunities to revisit the design and the degree of privacy. Indeed, less privacy is not necessarily a negative, but blending the appropriate amount of privacy and affordability is the challenge.

Tomer Diamant, Principal, Teeple Architects Inc.

“This is counter-intuitive to what we had assumed about the market,” said Diamant. “The market assumption is that students want their bathroom and privacy, but there may be disadvantages.” “How does socialization affect student success?” asked Shelagh McCartney, Director of Together Design Lab; Director of +city lab, Associate Professor, School of Urban + Regional Planning, Toronto Metropolitan University. “It’s when they engage in out-of-chance encounters. And what I mean by that is when you’re walking in the room, you’re in a comfortable room, you’re in a new room, you step close to the bathroom, you’re in the dining room, you’re in the kitchen.”

Shelagh McCartney

According to McCartney, in the post-COVID environment, there is a more substantial likelihood of better student performance in terms of GPA and maturation to adulthood in housing with less privacy. “So, socializing architecture is cheaper to build. It aids in helping students from universities achieve higher academic performance and higher chances of graduation. There is a higher graduation rate if they live with socializing architecture,” McCartney told the SHURE GTA audience.

Jennifer Adams Peffer, Campus Architect and Director of Architecture, Planning and Project Development, University of Toronto Scarborough

Jennifer Adams Peffer, Campus Architect and Director of Architecture, Planning and Project Development, University of Toronto Scarborough, discussed her experience as a student 20 years ago, noting that she’s been rethinking the models of what students do today.  “Back when I was starting, there weren’t a lot of international students here. And the international student population has grown,” said Adams-Peffer. McCartney believes students are more likely than not to give up every amenity, such as the pool and gym, to be able to live in on-campus housing with more roommates. “By putting in more social spaces, you’re not building socialized architecture,” said McCartney. “If you look at older buildings, they have less social space. We have a video on structuring your dining menu options to strengthen your GPA.” “A provocative discussion,” concluded Diamant, who said he was intrigued by McCartney’s comments.  
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