New Modular Student Housing with Magnificent Mountain Views & a Greek Life Twist

Glass Box projecting from contemporary red brick with stone base living learning student housing community dormitory building overlooking sidewalk above steep hillside with another red brick dormitory building below, mountains in the background

Spruce & Sycamore Halls – Phase II – Mansfield University

Designed & Managed by ROCKiT Founder Brian DiPietro while at WTW Architects

The Project:

Constructed in the heart of fracking country, during the natural gas boom, Mansfield University decided to go with modular construction for the second phase of it’s new residence halls, while building a larger phase to eliminate a third phase and save space on campus.

The second phase of student housing at Mansfield University continues the look and programming of the first phase, with a few minor additions. One of the buildings is significantly larger, having three wings instead of two. This is the result of fine-tuning of the master plan to eliminate a phase of construction, saving disruptions to students, time for everyone involved, and money spent otherwise on inflation and costs of a third project. It also saved space on campus – especially critical in Mansfield – where everything is built on the side of a mountain.
In addition to the living learning elements built into the first phase, several changes were made to the Phase II buildings. The smaller building includes visiting faculty apartments on the ground floor – allowing faculty to live in the residence halls and furthering the living learning experience but keeping them somewhat isolated on their own floor. The larger building, situated below Phase I, has an added Einstein’s Bagels location on the ground floor, a new campus Health & Wellness Center, a campus storage building/space, and a multipurpose room with a capacity of 250 students – used for large campuswide events. And Greek Life Housing is located in the larger building.

The Story Behind the Design:

Matching the look of the first phase is a small accomplishment, given that the construction type changed to modular, but the real accomplishment in the second phase is incorporating Greek Life housing into a traditional residence hall.

Contemporary large glass box jutting out from contemporary red brick living learning student housing community dormitory building and second red brick with stone base dormitory beyond with another glass box inserted into middle of building up on a hill, with stairs and grass in the foreground. Fraternity and sorority letters can be seen in the closest windows.
When a second phase of a project is intended to look like the previous phases, so far as to be a copy, you wouldn’t think there’s much of a story to it. We could talk about the additional spaces, but it would be a stretch. Knowing the story, and having lived it, the real story is that you don’t see any change.
First of all, the second phase was built as modular construction, which carries with it an entirely different set of requirements from traditional wood framed construction. In short, it’s a minor miracle that the buildings look as similar to each other as they do, and it’s a testament to the quality of the design of the new buildings. In layman’s terms, think of a veggie burger that tastes exactly like a burger from 100% beef. Most people will say the veggie burger is great, or close, but can still tell the difference. Here at Mansfield, you really can’t. And this is for a building that was built in a factory warehouse hours away, that came in on the back of trucks in preassembled, with toilets installed, drywall hung and finished, light fixtures and outlets in place, doors hung, the whole nine yards, and stacked together like a set of building blocks. The engineering and structure required to do this is substantial, and it affects the design of the building substantially. But at Mansfield, you really can’t tell the difference.
More notable might be the inclusion of Greek Life into a traditional residence hall. Once you accept the fact that Greek Life is located on-campus, in a campus building, everything else is relatively easy. Concerns? How about noise for starters? The already high sound requirements for the project needed minimal changes to make sure there were no noise complaints. It also helps that the Greek rooms stack, so any floor-to-floor noise is between the Greeks. So how do you fit the chapter house and all of its associated spaces into a traditional residence hall? That’s how Brian works his magic. Much like the transitional housing, it’s a flexible approach to design that leaves the university with flexible spaces. In fact, if the Greeks were to move back off campus, the university would simply have a few higher end units that should lease for more money. At the end of the day, just about the only difference you can see is the Greek letters that the pledges place in the windows.

Spruce & Sycamore Halls – Mansfield University

  • Owner: Mansfield Auxiliary Corporation
  • Developer: EdR Trust (now part of Greystar)
  • Contractor: Wohlsen Construction
  • Architect: WTW Architects
  • Project Architect: Brian DiPietro
  • Project Manager: Brian DiPietro
  • Delivery Method: GMP
  • Construction Type: Modular (Wood)
  • Project Size: 684 Beds/ 225,000 SF
  • Construction Cost: $41.0M
  • Completion: January 2012
  • Sustainability Rating: None – Geothermal
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