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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

South is the new center

Published: September 22, 2006
Section: News

The Administration has been working on a South Campus Development Project to vitalize the lower region of campus, and the team recently released the plan. Specifically, the program wants to give guidance at the conceptual level for future architects, find housing models that respond to upper class students needs, and to enliven the common spaces for a range of social interests.

Last September, focus groups were held, with thirty-four students in 7 focus groups, meeting for 50 minutes long each. From the focus groups, the following was concluded.


First and second year housing options were found to be satisfactory, with a good review for the double-loaded corridor where one can see people walking through. Sophomore priorities were identified as primarily, Rosenthal, secondly the Castle, and finally East. It was found that the Brandeis lottery is making efforts for groups of friends to live together more easily.

They also reviewed the current upper class housing. Ridgewood was extremely well-received, with a kitchen that imparts a sense of independence, and the ability to leave the meal plan. Also, it has a very good common space that is welcoming for people to hang out. Ridgewood has a home-like feeling, with ones own front door, and the see and be seen factor, where students can see into the common rooms through big windows, to see if your friends are there.

The Mods are a good mix of living in a social environment, while still having your own house. Charles River has the benefit of a kitchen, but the cost of being far away from the center of campus, and aesthetically unappealing. The major problem with Ziv was the lack of interaction between suites, especially with the two stairwells that can completely cut off residents of the same building. One possible solution was turning the first floor into a common space.

The Village had more of a mixed reception, with the building layout as confused and maze-like. Additionally, while materials are very high quality and attractive, there is underused common space that could be better suited as bedrooms. There is less of a community due to the weird hall configurations, multitude of common spaces, and the doors closing automatically. Finally, with doubles and singles on the hall, it is more reminiscent of freshman and sophomore year, as opposed to the adult living experience upperclassmen are seeking. Still, the Village does have positives, like the wildly popular Village gym.

Preferences for Housing

The conclusion was that, for upperclassmen, there is a need to balance privacy, for sleeping, bathing and quiet activities, with communal space for socializing and hanging out. The request is for community space on the first floor and units on the upper floors. The ability to close a door and have total control over a space (in a suite) gets higher reviews than the open common spaces in the Village. This space is important because it begins to mirror the real world, with students having to clean their own bathrooms and cook their own meals. Overall, students want interaction, but still privacy.

Other preferences were maintaining the suite configuration, providing choice of how many people with whom one wants to live, incorporating a full kitchen, and placing laundry machines adjacent to the lounge (thereby making laundry a social function).

The review of the lottery system brought student quotes into the presentation. Housing lottery is when you find out who your true friends are. You can steal somebody elses girlfriend and the friend gets over it, but betray a friend in the lottery and your friend never forgives you. Upperclass students freak out over lack of housing. Students have made it clear that one of the most stressful parts of Brandeis is the housing shortage, and they want enough beds to house everyone desiring to live on campus. There are also worries regarding the interim time between the destruction of the old Ridgewood and the creation of the new Ridgewood.

Campus Social Life

Next, the focus groups discussed campus life. Students said community was very important to Brandeis, but that social gatherings tend to be low-key, occurring in small groupings in students rooms. While not a traditional party school, Brandeis students constantly get together to study and socialize;

a common suggestion is for spaces to support this interaction.

What could be the best thing for Brandeis to improve its social life? One suggestion would be to have a 24 hour place to get food. Social things at Brandeis tend to happen around food. Snacking begins around 11 pm or midnight, according to the presentation. Another suggestion was to find a way to create social life that lasts past 1:30 a.m. on weekends.
Social life on campus mostly revolves around food;

less so on alcohol. Meanwhile, hours of campus food are out of sync with students schedules. Late night food options are limited, forcing students to order out but even delivery ends at midnight. Java City is open until 2 a.m., but only on weekdays, and with little variety. Friday and Saturday options are certainly not a strong point. A pizza place, snack bar, diner in the south part of campus would be awesome, with eggs, burgers, shakes, smoothies, pancakes, and healthy options. It could offer food until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on weekends, with wireless internet.

Brandeis is very student-driven when it comes to clubs. There are more clubs at Brandeis than at UMass Amherst, while UMass Amhert is 10 times larger than Brandeis. Organizational activities can run late into the evening, and there is a need for lounges and hang-out spots for meetings, rehearsals, and student activities. Ranges of sizes, for fitting between 10 and 70 people, with couches, comfortable chairs, and whiteboards are necessary.

When it comes to parties, the presentation recognizes that parties happen for birthdays or events, where up to fifty people cram into a Ziv or other suite, where there is loud music, and social drinking. Parties get broken up because they cause disturbances to next-door neighbors;

therefore, students want a place where they can party without interfering with neighbors.

There are enough spaces for big gatherings, dances, and ballrooms (in the Atrium, Levin Ballroom, and Sherman) but there arent enough mid-sized spaces. Shapiro has plenty of smaller rooms (15 people), but it needs more to hold, for instance, 60 people. For many students, Shapiro is a place to get a cup of coffee more of a pass through space than destination space.

Ziv Commons is not used heavily, as it is a place with offices, is separated from other buildings, and has little function or attraction (but a bar would make it popular). Chums is well-liked by students, but far from South campus. Another Chums-like establishment, which would be unique and open late, would be attractive for Lower campus. It would have to be carefully programmed to be complementary to, not competitive with, Chums.

The future South Campus buildings must be aesthetically pleasing, unlike Ziv and Ridgewood, which look like big blocks on outside and are plain on the inside. On the contrary, the Village aesthetics are wow. Students suggest thinking about how buildings will look in winter, when there is no color;

windows should let in the light, because winter is dark and miserable. Massell Pond, the Ridgewood trees, and the Castles view of Boston must be maintained as attractive areas.

Overall, the need on South Campus is a focal point for students to connect with each other;

the goal would be a mini-center of community, a high visibility place where students can see and be seen.

Case Studies

Then, the project reviewed the best practices from institutions nationwide to offer helpful ideas, drawn from Biddison Hiers industry experience. According to USA Today, To be competitive, schools are building live-learn centers that combine rooms, apartments, lounges, classrooms, shops and cafes. Schools have been following suit. For example, at Case Western, the new upperclassmen building has high visibility common space along a traveled traffic corridor.

Johns Hopkins has private rooms in a high rise, but the first floors have lounges, computer rooms, fitness center, game room, and music practice rooms. At University of Maryland, smaller common rooms make for more interaction at the group study lounges. Furthermore, Starbucks and other food options are directly across the street. The University of Dayton formed neighborhoods of individual houses, porches, and sidewalks, because a high degree of freedom brings campus social life.

When it comes to lottery policies, Case Western and Carnegie Mellon assign lottery numbers to a group rather than an individual. Bowdoin gives numbers to groups or individuals, assigning points based on class rank, with four different lotteries: chemical free, quads, triples and singles, and doubles.

Creating a Campus Commons

The goal is to construct student-orientated spaces that could be flexible. Public spaces should offer a highly public, congregating space along natural traffic patterns, with either food or computers, or another reason for students to visit the space. There could be a television for watching big events, a place for central display of student artwork, or a multi-purpose room. There should be outdoor spaces with fire-pits and patio chairs to accompany the space.

As stated before, food brings people. The most common complaint of residential campuses is the lack of late night food options, and the boredom of the usual options. One option is Pomona colleges free food from 10:30 to 11:30 p.m., a campus tradition called Snack. Furthermore, Brown University contains three snack bars with different fare at each location.

Technology is the other main social center of activity. Well-located, well-lit computing centers can create a hub of activity and a feeling of energy late on campus, especially if combined with late night food. A coffee house, with plush, comfy chairs, or a pub/bar, where one could play darts, poker, pool with friends, are two significant options. Some campuses hold movie theaters, bowling alleys, a game room, or raw party spaces. Specialty spaces (music practice rooms), student organization space, and study space are other options.

The most significant trend in recent years has been College Towns and Main Streets, focusing pedestrian circulation, assisting people watching, and giving opportunities for informal meetings. One trend is using glass to make indoor activity viewable from the street;

others colleges are positioning coffee houses and other hang out spots around the street, with patio and picnic tables.

The Future of South Campus

Since around 84% of Brandeis students are housed on campus, Brandeis wishes to make the South Campus the focus of development for a new upper class neighborhood. The goals are to house more upper class students in unit configurations that appeal to them, promote social life and student development by increasing opportunities for upper class student involvement.

South campus should be a distinct community, offering a variety of activities and spaces to make it an unique place. It should be conceived of as a village with a town center, with social spots for congregating, visual stimulating architecture and street life, with hours that mirror student life.
Spaces should incorporate a hierarchical fashion, for residency and private space at the top, with open, communal space toward the ground. There should be primary community space on the first floor, with fireplace, comfortable seating and tables for working;

study rooms to accommodate small group study, and smaller conference rooms and lounges on upper residential floors.

Outdoor and indoor space should be pedestrian-friendly, with highly visible entrances in natural pedestrian circulation patterns, with gardens, and lighting to create visual interest in the walk. Outdoor spaces around Ridgewood should be enhanced. Indoor spaces should incorporate unusual or daring design that can serve as a focal point on campus, with a home-like feel. Both natural and artificial light should be incorporated into a design element, with high visibility in the night and in the day.
A student Commons should be the center of community, in a place where students can see and be seen, either as a central public space, or for independent function (like coffeehouse or convenient store), depending on resources. It would include a campus living room, a reading room, email checking stations, a TV lounge, an entertainment center, display space and group meeting rooms.

The University is looking at 300-350 beds to replace the 109 beds in Ridgewood, and accommodate up to 90% of students in on-campus housing. The buildings are to be low-rise and free-standings, forming courtyards and easy connections to outdoors space. The units will be suite style. Some of the first-floor residences will have direct access to courtyard outside. Each suite would have a full kitchen, 4 to 10 persons (with most housing 4 to 6).