Maximize Views – New Residence Halls Embrace Difficult Site
Oak & Hickory Halls – Phase I – Mansfield University
Designed & Managed by ROCKiT Founder Brian DiPietro while at WTW Architects
When northcentral Pennsylvania’s Mansfield University decided to replace their existing student housing stock, the design team had to find a way to maximize views of the surrounding mountains while dealing with the ramifications of building on the side of a mountain.
The two wood framed over podium, five story living learning style residence halls were built on an old parking lot and tennis courts on a mountainside in Mansfield, PA. This allowed for the existing campus housing stock to stay in operation until this first phase was completed. It also moved the residential district of campus farther away from the core, allowing for the demolished building sites to give way to future academic buildings, an innovative way to expand the campus without buying more land or building further up the side of the mountain.
One of the problems with building on the side of a mountain is dealing with the steep slopes. Brian’s design for the project took advantage of this site, adding a basement to each building, with one side retaining the ground to make up the slope and the other side opening out to views of the surrounding mountains. These ground floor level basements house the bulk of the living learning community’s amenity spaces – large divisible multipurpose rooms, smaller study lounges with whiteboard paint, kitchens with large dining rooms, bicycle storage, and large lobbies that includes fireplaces – for when students come in from the cold. A basement area in the second building with views on both sides increases the number of units, allowing the footprint of the building to be smaller than previously designed.
Upper floor levels house the bulk of student rooms, with central core spaces that include large open TV lounges, secured study lounges with attached kitchens and public bathrooms (which could be converted to overflow housing) – a technique Brian has dubbed “transitional housing” where the study lounges are designed to be used as student bedrooms during times of housing shortages. Satellite study lounges are located within each wing, encouraging impromptu study sessions for the less social students, or late-night study sessions, when security is more of a concern.
The Story Behind the Design:
Designing an otherwise non-descript residence hall, the design focused on how to maximize the views of the surrounding mountains – an amenity few other institutions could match – and use them to emphasize the living learning elements of the building.
With better views than any of the PASSHE schools in Pennsylvania, the design not only takes advantage of the views and maximizes them but tries to improve on and magnify them. To begin with, glass boxes or lanterns are at the ends of the building, and the center, along with a glass recess on the larger building wing. The living learning elements – the study lounges and open lounges – were located in these lanterns, encouraging students to leave their rooms and enjoy the views. This helps address the age-old student housing question of “how do I get the students out of their rooms?” These lanterns also act as beacons of learning, a symbol of the living learning aspect of the new residence halls, often lit late into the night while students study and socialize, visible for miles around.
In a dual-purpose approach, the design of the main building is fairly simple, and the lanterns are more complex. This helps the red-brick buildings simplify with their campus counterparts; the more typical ten-story red brick building with standard punched windows. It also sets the tone that the red-brick building is more of a backdrop and emphasizes the lanterns. In addition, simplifying the main building allowed for the project budget to afford more glass – as glass is significantly more expensive than brick or siding.