From Dorms to Modern Live-Learn Communities: How the Student Housing Architecture Has Evolved

The student housing architecture has come a long way. If a boomer or someone from Generation X walks into the place they used to live in while studying at the university, they’ll be surprised. There have been massive architectural and design transformations in student housing.

Male college student studying in his room using a computer and a laptop - student housing architecture concept.

Supporting students’ social and academic needs.

In fact, students no longer live in traditional dormitories containing bunk beds and ergonomic desks. Instead, they live in welcoming, productive, modern housing environments that meet various standards.

Today, students value comfort, privacy, convenience, and a sense of community. Therefore, developers must design student living spaces that meet these standards and preferences.

But where did it all begin? How has the transformation been from traditional dorms to modern live-learn communities? In this article, we walk you through the whole journey of student housing architecture.

Traditional Dorms

This is where it all began. Students of that time didn’t have much of a choice or preference. It was all about finding a place to live while you complete your studies on campus.

Developers had an easy time creating student housing designs, sometimes without considering the occupants’ privacy, convenience, as well as other needs and preferences. And the sad part is that the students had no choice but to live in those small, congested, and shared units. Some standard features of traditional university student living include;

  • Room sharing – Two (or sometimes more) students sharing a bedroom
  • A twin-size bed
  • A desk, closet, and dresser for each roommate
  • Communal bathrooms – Shared bathroom that serves all floormates. In most cases, the shared bathrooms were cleaned daily by custodial staff.
  • Shared community living spaces like kitchens and lounges
  • Some had in-room sinks or small attached bathrooms
  • Basic amenities – traditional dorms offer basic amenities such as heating and air conditioning, basic furniture, and appliances. However, students may be allowed to bring their own electronics, such as a computer.
  • Resident advisors – Most traditional dorms had resident advisors living in the same building or floor as the students. Their work was to enforce dorm policies, address conflicts, and support and guide students.

Pros of Traditional Dorms

There weren’t many benefits of living in a traditional dormitory for students other than having a place to sleep after studies. However, we cannot ignore the little benefits students of those days enjoyed, including;

  • Cost-effective – The cost was lower (or affordable) due to the limited features.
  • Proximity to campus – Traditional dorms were built on or close to campus. Meaning students could easily walk or bike to class.
  • Social opportunities – Close, compact units and room and amenity sharing allowed students to interact with their peers.

Cons of Traditional Dorms

  • Lack of privacy – Shared living spaces and amenities in traditional dormitories didn’t offer much privacy.
  • Limited spaces – Traditional dorms were typically small. There wasn’t ample space, even in the shared rooms and units. Students also lacked enough space for storage or personal belongings.
  • Noise and distractions – Studying in the traditional dormitory was challenging due to the noise and distractions from roommates or floor mates.
  • Strict rules – Students were forced to adhere to strict rules and regulations regarding various aspects of life. Sometimes, visitors were only allowed for a specific period.

Enter the Modern Live-Learn Community

Today, living on campus is more private, convenient, and modern. It feels like you’re living in your home. This comes after various developers entered the student housing market, bringing more competition, all to the student’s advantage.

But what does it feel like living in a modern student housing?

Female college student unpacking her belongings in her new room.

Providing spacious living areas for students.

Student housing developers are working hard to build a new generation of purpose-built student accommodation that provides more privacy, comfort, and convenience than traditional student dormitories.

Modern student housing design offers a unique living experience that combines social and academic components. The communities may be housed within the university or off-campus apartment buildings. They are specially designed to provide students with a supportive environment for personal growth, academic success, as well as community engagement.

Characteristics and Benefits of Modern Live-Learn Communities for Students

A live-learn community allows students to live with peers who share a common academic interest, identity, passion, or hobby. Here are some of the characteristics of live-learn communities for modern student housing programs.

  • Academic support – Students living in live-learn communities often have access to academic resources, including study groups, tutoring, and academic workshops to help them succeed in their classes.
  • Shared interest – Live-learn communities allow students with similar goals and interests to live together, enhancing collaboration and support in academic pursuits.
  • Technology – We live in a technological world, and today, students want a resident design featuring the latest technological advancements. Modern live-learn communities feature the latest technologies and high-speed internet to support students’ social and academic needs.
  • Vast amenities – Modern live-learn communities feature the best amenities, including fitness centers, game rooms, study lounges, and outdoor spaces to enhance the residents’ quality of life.
  • Safety and security – Safety and security are among the top priorities for university students. Many live-learn communities have 24-hour security personnel, electronic keycard access systems, surveillance cameras, and fire safety equipment to enhance residents’ safety and security.
    Group of college students studying together in their housing’s library - student housing architecture.

    Giving students access to numerous academic resources.

Factors Driving the Shift in Student Housing Architecture

As a student housing developer, you must understand the various factors driving change in the student housing architecture. This will help you create student housing designs that meet students’ needs and preferences.

Here are some factors to keep in mind for a student residence design;


This is arguably the most significant driver of change in student housing design. Times are changing fast, and developers should design buildings incorporating the latest technologies, including smart home systems, high-speed internet, modern surveillance cameras, and more.

These modern features will enhance the students’ living experience while giving your housing design a competitive advantage.

Shifting Priorities and Preferences for Students

College students playing billiards in their student housing - adding amenities to student housing architecture.

Offering vast amenities to enhance students’ quality of life.

Today it’s either you give students what they need and want, or your housing remains vacant. Students are willing and ready to pay more to enjoy their preferences in housing designs.

For instance, most students prefer modern, comfortable, and amenity-rich living spaces. However, these needs are changing quickly. Therefore, you must always stay updated to remain competitive.

Stiff Competition

Competition has increased significantly as more players, including private developers, enter the student housing and design market. Developers are looking for ways to differentiate their offerings through attractive and innovative designs.

Therefore, you must make your design unique to attract more students.


Environmental sustainability is a top priority in student housing architecture. Developers are embracing eco-friendly features, including green roofs, energy-efficient systems, and rainwater harvesting in an effort to conserve the environment.

Therefore, you must implement and comply with new and existing sustainability standards to remain competitive in the student housing market.

Final Thoughts

Being a multi-residential developer can sometimes be challenging, considering the fast-paced student housing market and the ever-changing student needs and preferences. The industry has significantly evolved from traditional dormitories to modern live-learn communities encouraging collaboration and academic success.

Having a student residence design that meets the needs and preferences of students is crucial. Ted Trout Architects & Associates can help you with student housing design to meet the changing student needs and preferences. Contact us today for your student housing architecture needs.