Future of Student Housing
In collaboration with Andrea Hoe | Advised by Gary Bates of SPACEGROUP
Over the past several decades, there have been increasingly more conversations around challenging the white male-dominated heterocentric culture. Society has long been organized around a binary opposition of “masculine” and “feminine” spaces, where the “masculine” is privileged and the “feminine” is disprivileged. This category of space needs to be deconstructed for us to imagine new ways of structuring society and reclaiming the value of women and non-heteronormative roles. We have seen these conversations arise in the media, and among our peers in both professional and informal settings. Despite these conversations, there has been less effort made in manifesting the topic of these discussions into reality.
The university campus is a diverse one with people from different cultural backgrounds and identifications. The dorm is a space for privacy and personal expression; it is where we can reveal our “true” selves without being repressed. In the 1950s, dorms were off limits to members of the opposite sex. In the 1970s, universities across America started implementing coed dorms. Today, about 90% of them have at least one coed dorm. With less restrictions between the sexes, not everyone sees this layout as a welcoming and safe space. Some find living near the opposite sex stressful due to different traditions, individual expressions, and personal values.
The Office of Student Living at Syracuse University states that their student housing is a safe place for students to grow as a community. They hold strong beliefs in accommodating students from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities, and place an emphasis on wellness and bathroom etiquette. The reality of the dorms, however, suggests otherwise. Education has become a commodity, and the relationship between student and university is defined by monetary values. Because of this, dorm standards are poor with alarmingly high prices. Mental health services at the university prove to be disappointing and difficult to access — countless students have tried to reach out only to receive impassive responses with lack of genuine concern. The university dorm disregards the safe spaces for people outside the male heteronormative agenda; issues linked to the relationship between gender identity, sexual orientation, and the built environment, remain largely ignored and understudied in academic spaces.
We must consider the significance of feminine space. Society is littered with heavy stigmas of men’s supposed superiority and the constant degradation of women in every possible aspect. These misogynistic mindsets create gender imbalance in spaces. It is a known fact that violence against women is much higher than that against men. Many women are scared and cautious around men, especially those they do not know. This is a stressful situation when living in co-ed dorms. Some women feel the need to dress more modestly in the hallways even when going to the bathroom. Having no option for gendered dorms can make women feel undermined and pressured with male judgement.
When discourse involves queer space, the first association we have is with the closet. A foundation to queer narratives, the closet is the contrast between interior and exterior, safety and freedom, repression and pride, and heterosexuality and homosexuality. For the subject, there is a fear of coming out of the closet. For the spectator, there is the fear of the closet opening. In essence, the closet is an abject space where its interior contents bring fear to both the insider and the outsider. Local geosocial apps like Grindr, Her, and Lex allow strangers to connect to those nearby — hookups and meetups can be arranged almost instantaneously after short exchanges of pictures and preferences. While these apps are convenient, however, they also limit LGBTQ+ people to a network of interconnected bedrooms rather than in communal spaces — queer people ironically retreat back behind the screen and into the closet. Mainstream queer spaces like the metaphorical closet, the physical restroom, and digital apps, all offer queer individuals new ways of thinking, loving, and living.
We propose a student housing complex that centers around women and the queer community. Our project addresses how boundaries of the existing university housing are limited by the normative majority. It considers the fragmented roles of gender and sexuality in the built environment — the solution is one that involves intersectionality — race, class, gender, and sexuality are considered together, rather than individual elements. Currently, students have the option of choosing the person they want to room with, but no option to choose their own community. Additionally, students are also scattered randomly in co-ed dorms without any regard to their own safe space.
Thornden Park has a reputation for being unsafe. Upon further analysis, we discovered that although the park area's overall crime rate is A- , assault received a grade of D+. Building a housing complex adjacent to the park addresses the safety situation. Previous victim stories have warned women to stay away from the park. The accessibility of green space, especially for women, is limited which is something we need to discuss. Placing our project adjacent to the park addresses the issue directly. More women stay away from parks due to the lack of light, safety systems and vast space. The addition of our dormitory on campus automatically implements more alarm systems, and activates the road next to the park. Greenery is a crucial element in college, and the park is crucial for students and their experience.
Heteronormative spaces have been the source of mental health problems in many female and queer youths. To combat this issue, our project places an emphasis on the five senses. The incorporation of the senses across the building will help students feel more at peace and less stressful. We also offer open access to mental health facilities that can be accessible to everyone on the campus. The project will have different room layout options for living, so students can choose which one they feel more comfortable with. They will have the option of choosing to live together with a shared common space, or individually.
The bathroom has been at the center of architectural discourse, and is undeniably linked to the politics of the queer community. The typical pristine white fittings alongside pipes and drains are not appealing whatsoever, and they further enforce heteronormative ideals. In addition, Americans regard the toilet as utterly unclean and even avoid the mention of it in polite conversations. Our project understands the bathroom as both a personal space and gathering space. By making the bathroom wood, it has the power to calm and soothe. This also adds softness and warmth to the space. Our project has 8 bathroom types installed across. There are smaller bathrooms, and larger ones that include a meditation space. All are on raised, setback wood floors to encourage mindfulness and interaction.
Our housing complex provides a healing space that allows its residents to choose what to bring to the surface, whether it is expressing themselves fluidly, acknowledging their identity, or being supportive. Most importantly, it can provide those coming of age a more comforting and understanding lifestyle. By tying feminist and queer visions of safety in architecture, our project acts as a catalyst for future student housing across the United States.