Student accommodation is returning to being a big issue. Recent pieces have called attention to the cost, and that many accommodation packages now cost in excess of the annual maintenance loan. Meanwhile, there is concern about the provision for ‘commuting’ students. This brings us back to why we are in this situation – why has the UK, but particularly England, prioritised the residential student experience?
I did a quick summary of the history and emerging problems, but here I want to present an optimistic vision of student housing in the post-war period as described in a book by William Mullins and Phyllis Allen – Student Housing – Architectural and Social Aspects published in 1971.
This book sets out to look at student housing in the UK with an appraisal of its requirements, plans and photographs of some of the ‘better schemes’ built internationally, and a briefing guide for those ‘coming to the problems of student housing for the first time’ (Mullins & Allen 1971 p vii).
The chief glory is the plans and photographs, depicting an international style of housing. Sometimes this is integrated with teaching, in collegiate settings, and sometimes in separate locations. What’s clear is that provision is broadly equal; there are no luxury studio flats – these are not segregated gated communities built on the ability to pay (in the UK this is a deliberate consequence of UGC funding policies). As a consequence these are temporary homes, intended to be a base away from the family home, encouraging integration in the common pursuit of study.
With the exception of the halls in London, the majority of the housing featured have generous external spaces, with clear connections between the different buildings. Mullins and Allen do not arrange their illustrated schemes in chronological order, but an early example featured is the Graduate Centre at Harvard, whose principal architect Walter Gropius taught at the Graduate School of Design.
The international style is such that this type of covered walkway is a feature of many post-war UK campuses. Harvard could easily be York or Lancaster.
Away from the universities, colleges of education were being built on similar lines. Architects for Local Education Authorities built campuses that looked very similar to those being constructed for the ‘new universities’. In turn, student housing could also go upwards in precast concrete.
There is a clear sense that the housing is designed to create community. Although the single study bedrooms (the briefing guide notes the privacy problems of shared rooms) are increasingly independent, there are generous communal spaces.
Furniture and Fittings
The guide at the end of the book raises issues that architects need to consider when planning housing, including the cost of furnishing the rooms. Handy hints are offered about new modular furniture, and how these might be converted to use for summer lets. The photographs provide further insights into student rooms in use.
Mullins & Allen note that Treasury grants (via the UGC) will be inadequate to meet the need created by rising student numbers, and universities should now be looking for loan finance. They note that Lancaster had the first successful scheme; borrowing £500,000 at 8% over 30 years. The sums worked on students paying £3 per week (the only possible upgrade bring an extra 2 shillings & 6 pence a week for a room with a hand basin).
There was no return to major capital funding of residences – student accommodation moved off the main balance sheet, as loans financed institutional building – especially as non-UGC HEIs caught up with provision. The growth of student housing companies now means a far greater variety of provision, but what was once the standard vision of decent communal spaces is reserved for luxury providers. Mullins & Allen offer an insight back to a vision of egalitarian provision for all students, a utopia – increasingly non-existent.
Mullins W & Allen P, 1971, Student Housing – Architectural and Social Aspects, London, Crosby Lockwood & Son.