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Australian cities are changing in the wake of an international education boom that has seen our nation become the third most popular destination for international students.
The $20 billion international education industry has altered the face of our capital cities, with research from the Department of Education and Training revealing the number of international students in Australia last year grew to 554,179, which equates to an increase of 11 per cent.
With a confluence of market drivers including housing affordability issues, reduced university contact hours and the rise of digital campuses, leading designers have an intriguing opportunity to provide innovative student accommodation typologies that cater to students’ evolving needs and transform our towns into 24-hour global cities.
Traditional notions of student accommodation, which were centred on on-campus college dormitory-style models with associated teaching spaces, required specific and somewhat prescriptive architecture.
However, as education grows to become a major economic export for Australia, drawing unprecedented numbers of international students to our shores, these low-rise college models have proved ill equipped to cope with the scale of arrivals. Increasingly, they are being superseded by to mid- to high-rise student housing typologies that blur the lines between learning and liveability.
Drawing on our 25-year history of residential apartment and housing experience and unwavering commitment to amenity, Rothelowman is helping drive a movement of developers and planners who are differentiating themselves by teaming thoughtful communal aspects of student housing with contemporary ways of returning a true collegiate experience.
For example, working with the group that essentially created the student housing sector, Global Student Accommodation (GSA) in Melbourne’s Parkville, Rothelowman is continuing its award-winning design portfolio of successful contemporary architecture to transform the modernist Whitley College.
Taking into account the buildings’ past, context and the evolution of student housing, GSA and Rothelowman have developed a design that will nearly triple the college’s original 130-bed offering and create new and innovative communal spaces. These spaces engage with the building’s existing fabric and suit the new generation of local and international students.
Across Australia, many state governments through local or state planning regimes are promoting development in the education sector. Government not only sees investment in education as important to the growth of local economies but also in the wider impacts the users of student housing can have on a city. Australian universities are recognised as global leaders in education and exploring any opportunity to attract students is encouraged.
We believe that leading politicians and planners are beginning to understand that, as well as having an economic impact on a city, international students contribute to the urban landscape around student accommodation projects.
With their disposable incomes and youthful approach to spending, students tend to be great consumers who live life outside the four walls of their room and contribute broadly to the spaces and places they inhabit. The transition that has occurred in the past 10 years in Melbourne CBD, clustered around the key universities, is testament to that transition.
When distributed strategically throughout a city and designed in the right way, student accommodation can enhance the ability of its residents to form a significant part of the metropolis and engage in a more conscious way.
Technological advances, such as web-based learning and the ability to access university classrooms remotely, have fuelled designers’ ability to create student accommodation offerings in unexpected parts of the city that become exciting places to live.
Working again with GSA, this time in Adelaide, Rothelowman is blurring lines between university and business in a cutting edge off-campus project with a dedicated in-house co-working ‘incubator hub’ that references European internet cafes.
Co-located with a café space, the hub enables sophisticated collaboration between students and business leaders by providing dedicated spaces where students can hone their commercial skills, while enjoying the experience of living and working with their peers and forming a career.
With tertiary studies increasingly focussed on problem solving, interaction between students has become an important part of the college experience. Curated and inspirational architectural spaces with well-planned common areas, such as those provided by GSA, embrace and encourage this style of ‘incidental’ learning.
As housing density increases in our cities, the innovation currently occurring in student accommodation design will likely begin to inform multi-residential developments. This means student housing projects have the potential to become platforms for incubating and developing new types of communal interactions in denser living environments, with a user group willing and able to inhabit and use buildings in more dynamic ways.
The students who are being drawn to the student housing experience demand high quality facilities and experiences of which innovative multi-residential developers should take heed.
For example, aside from its incubator hub and focus on amenity, Rothelowman’s work alongside GSA on its Adelaide student accommodation project could become a precursor for multi-residential developments, especially in terms of how that building deals with passive environmentally sustainable design.
In a site-specific design response, our team devised a 670-bed residential-style tower that has been designed for Adelaide’s climatic conditions. The external façade is screened and shaded through a brise soleil that acts to assist the thermal performance of the building, completely protecting the glazing from the heat of summer.
Further, the rooftop crown element is a beacon for future cities, in its intention to express the large roof top solar array. This array will create power for the building, amplified by battery storage in the basement. The integrated architecture, which was partly in response to South Australia’s highly publicised focus on generating sustainable power, not only works to passively reduce energy consumption, but also provides on-site power generation and storage.
Aesthetically speaking, the built form has elegant columns expressed on the outside. Embracing the ground plane via a series of pilasters and colonnade, the tower’s external frame tapers to expose the significant communal facilities and is scaled visually by columns that appear to expand and contract. In respect of its context, the tower’s lower portion flares to express the weight and scale of the tower, through a modern interpretation of columnar entasis (a classical design device that echoes the shape of a tree).
Aside from their striking appearance and architectural merit, student accommodation buildings such as this present an incredible opportunity for designers to create iconic buildings that speak to an international audience and position our cities as the best places in the world to live, learn and create.