Pomona College Magazine
Volume 44, No. 3
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Campus / Residence Halls
How to Design a Residence Hall

By Pauline Nash

When Pomona decided to add two new residence halls, the first step was to go right to the people with the biggest stake—the students. “It was important to bring users into early stages of planning,” says Miriam Feldblum, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “They know the questions to ask.”

Planning for the new halls, which will provide housing for 150 juniors and seniors on north campus, began last fall with the formation of a task force of students, faculty and administrators. Headed by Feldblum, the group conducted a survey and series of workshops to find out what students wanted in a residence hall. Top priorities included suite-style living, ample common spaces, kitchens and environmental sustainability.

“I joined the task force because I wanted to make sure the student voice was heard,” says Matt Rogan ’08. “It turned out student concerns were a priority for everyone involved.”

Students voiced their opinions through an online survey that asked questions ranging from the number of rooms in an ideal suite (67 percent said “four”) to whether they wanted exterior courtyard areas (85 percent said “yes”).

The next step for the task force was an East Coast tour of colleges and univer­sities selected for their innovative student housing strategies, commitment to sustainable building and suite-style dormitories.

“We’d visited colleges and universities in Southern California and found out that most of their housing was for underclassmen,” says Duke Oakley, a principal at Steven Ehrlich Architects, which is developing a preliminary design for the residence halls. “Because Pomona is 100 percent residential and the new housing is for juniors and seniors, we’re dealing with a different set of issues and expectations. The schools we visited in the northeast had more of the characteristics we were looking for.”

One of the challenges in designing the two new halls, says Oakley, is to give older students the privacy they need and, at the same time, provide opportunities for social interaction. The task force found that balance at Keene State College in New Hampshire, which has suite-style living, as well as large living rooms integrated with well-equipped kitchens located on the ground floor.

“That arrangement was really successful in bringing students together,” says Oakley.

“We picked up ideas at every place we visited. Some of what we came back with were small things, like putting a shelf in the bathroom for each student for shampoo and other supplies. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a thoughtful design detail. Everyone we talked to was very open and told us both what worked and what didn’t work.”

The visits helped the group clearly articulate the guiding principles for the new residences, says Tomás Summers Sandoval, assistant professor of history and Chicano studies and one of four faculty members on the task force.

“We know it needs to be environmentally sustainable, reflect the Pomona aesthetic and meet student needs. What that looks like wasn’t always clear,” says Summers Sandoval who is in his second year as a faculty-in-residence. “The site visits helped us picture those necessities.”

With construction tentatively set to begin in summer 2009, the new residences will be located near Lawry Court and Walton Commons along Amherst Avenue, north of Sixth Street. Along with housing for juniors and seniors, a faculty apartment and a staff residence also have been proposed for the 70,000 square-foot complex. Rooms will be in use year-round and will be the College’s primary summer housing for students.

Geared toward achieving at least a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating, the plans for the new residence halls will be aimed at reducing energy consumption and making sustainability efforts more visible on campus. Low-energy-using lighting and electrical systems, drought-tolerant landscaping and the use of sustainable or reused materials are a few of the ideas incorporated into preliminary plans.

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by Pomona College
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