Forward-thinking SHURE GTA contributors discussed ways to combat alienation through new design and architecture methodologies and "knitting those programmatic spaces into the routine or path of student life."

SHURE GTA panel: Students want more in-person connection post-pandemic, and the real estate industry must respond with revolutionary ways of designing buildings  

December 11, 2023

SHURE Initiative


A new way of thinking about post-secondary building design is underway in Canada, thanks to forward-thinking executives from ARK | PETROFF and others in the operations arena. Challenges of the last few years have been met by the best minds to redesign higher education and student housing buildings.

"If you think you're 20 years old, the two years of COVID is like 10 percent of your life, and almost all of your adult life was in isolation," according to Guela Solow, Managing Partner, ARK | PETROFF at the SHURE GTA session on November 16. "The alienation that people experienced during COVID has carried on vigorously into the student environment, and as architects, we see ourselves as creating a framework for the real work of managers and developers."

The forward-thinking and engaging discussion was moderated by Rylan Kinnon, CEO of SpacesShared, and included executives from Toronto Metropolitan University, York University, and Simon Fraser University.

Emmanuel Adeboyega, President of the Executive Board, Residence Hall Association (RHA), SFU Residences, said he has observed extended wait lists for students to get into housing on campus. Those students, according to Adeboyega, are looking to be engaged.

"I think the greatest thing that has changed is student engagement. We notice students not as engaged as pre-COVID," according to Adeboyega. "A way that students have been trying to mitigate the lack of engagement is to be around students, so we see students that wouldn't previously live on residence begin to want to live on residence to just be in an environment filled with students."

According to Solow, the student accommodation and university planning arena require a new way of thinking about design that brings students into direct contact with each other.

Solow told the SHURE audience that there are four critical steps to building scales of community.

"The first thing has to do with planning," according to Solow. "There are scales of rooms where a couple of people can gather, where maybe five or six people can gather, where the whole floor can gather, and the whole residents can gather, which is maybe up to 500 students in a courtyard. Those rooms are programmed with activities that bring students together, and they're knitted into everyday life."

Solow explained the following three stages of building scales of community to combat alienation through design and architecture.

"The second thing is materiality to create transparencies in those communal spaces. So as you're running to class, as you're running to take your garbage down to the garbage area, as you're going to do your laundry, you see into rooms. You see students and friends gathering at different scales, and you feel hopefully encouraged to join them and say hello," explained Solow. "Know that you could pop in and be part of that world."

The third thing is transparency to the outside world, according to Solow.

"So lots of strategically placed glazing brings in views of the outside. This is Canada: the seasonal drama is spectacular. Bring that into the facility so students feel invigorated by the passing of seasons, and their diurnal cycles are gauged by sun, morning, and evening," explained Solow.

Indeed, it is healthier for students to feel connected to the larger university campus by seeing outside of their room or outside of their kitchen into the larger campus to see what's happening with the weather, the seasons, and campus life.

The final stage is simply adding more light. "Light is great for health and mental wellness, so bringing light into the facility through great lighting, but also through natural daylight is hugely important, as is fresh air," said Solow.

Valerie Bruce, Director of Student Housing and Strategic Partnerships at Toronto Metropolitan University, concurred with Emmanuel Adeboyega's comment about more students now looking to live on campus.

"There's a higher interest in living in residence," Bruce said. "We got recent feedback that said our students are looking for more opportunities to connect identity groups, and that may mean international students connecting with international students, that may mean equity-deserving students connecting with equity-deserving students, and so on."

Bruce is focused on finding ways to provide opportunities for students to build those relationships and connections. "The feedback has been give us as many opportunities as possible [to connect in person]."

"I think, if anything, there is more of an increased number of students looking into social interactions," said Amal Awini, Director of Housing Services at York University, who joined the SHURE GTA session.

Awini noted that her students don't want to be in an isolated apartment by themselves and prefer to have interaction.

"Ideally, they prefer to be in a room by themselves with their washroom, but then they still have much ability to interact with other students, whether that's through the gym, common areas, any other means for them to be able to gather over meals, over study rooms, anyways to be able to interact more and more with their peers."

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