Architecture and design in student housing: the impact on well-being and the creation of community.

A few years ago, when Staytoo Apartments concept was coming to life, we have worked with Stephen Williams Associates to shape the interior design approach we wanted to adopt in our student housing properties. They have worked on a series of recommendations and ideas which guided us through the creation of Staytoo communal areas and shared facilities, but also for the interior design of the apartment units. We have interviewed the founder, Stephen Williams, asking him about architecture and design in student housing, their impact on residents’ well-being and how to plan spaces to creates community.

Stephen, how can interior design have an impact on life and well-being? 

Architecture and design provide a platform for all human activity. It has not only a function to provide shelter but also has an enormous influence on the emotions.  The brain analyses spaces and in a fraction of a second makes a judgement. This is referred to as semiotics, the understanding of signs. Within architecture the influencing factors are very wide, for example, acoustics, temperature, texture, colour, light, spatial sequences etc. A designer, would use these aspects to create a space that is responding to the briefing he was given. To evoke certain values and emotions.

In student housing buildings these days it’s all about creating community and inclusion, what is the role of an architect in this?

Good design brings people together! Architecture and planning spaces correctly give the possibility to bring people together and enabling exchange at all levels, from social to cultural. It is the most powerful form of communication from ancient times to the present day.

What has been taken into consideration when you were developing concepts and guidelines for Staytoo communal areas?

It was important to give the spaces a sense of freedom, to allow the user to inhabit the space, to live it, but not to be confined by being ‘too designed‘. We wanted flexibility and freedom for the user to choose different ways of live the communal areas. So for example the typology of seating arrangements were essential to provide various scenarios, from people sitting alone or groups wanting to share a mealtime. Also when it comes to communal areas within a student housing development, it is important to give them lots of visibility, especially from the main circulation spots: so when you come home, you can see who is there, you are encouraged to join-in. So the choice of material is very important too, and making sure they don’t obstruct the visibility of the communal areas: it is a great way to have a link to the outside space, the external world too.

Another example is the simple layout of a communal kitchen space: it can bring people together with a cooking block in which many people can stand around at the same time and enjoy sharing food together. It is really about understanding the needs of the people that will be together in the spaces we are designing. In the day to day functions the spaces must flow freely but also offer the opportunity for residents to meet, or for example to be able to sit down near the mail boxes and read a letter. Another clever idea was the giant, interactive city-map near the elevators, so while waiting for the lift student have the possibility to write comments on it, give current tips. We had a very human approach, trying to understand the needs and bringing a joy and fun into everyday activities.

Why did you decide to advise on light colours and neutral décor for the interior design we have in Staytoo apartments?

When it came to the interior of the apartments, we understood it was important that the design was not going to be in conflict with the residents’ lifestyle and personal objects. So we developed a non-invasive concept, with neutral and light tones, rather than very bold colours or imposing furniture pieces. We wanted to make sure that the private space of future residents would become a backdrop for their activities and not a design statement itself.

What would you recommend, as your top 3 advises, to any operator in the development phase of a student housing concept when it comes to architecture and interior design?

My recommendation would be to create a quality building that will age well over time; to make sure you use very intelligent details for the interiors, to avoid premature damage by the users; and not to be too fashion-driven, but to design with integrity of materials and spaces. These choices will allow the building to survive time and operator changes, and its quality will last.


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