The University of Kentucky anticipates building several dorms to house some 9,000 students in the next few years. President Capilouto’s leadership in improving living conditions for students is to be commended. But the project presents a unique opportunity that the university appears to be squandering. The dorms could establish the university as a real leader – they could begin to rebrand the university – if they:
- Are located to best serve students and the surrounding community.
- Are environmentally responsible.
- Exhibit design excellence.
Dan Rowland’s May 24 post addresses the importance of carefully planning the location of the dorms.
“…Omar Blaik, a national expert on the urban aspects of town-gown relations, provides an excellent blueprint for dealing with these issues. (He)recommends connecting the new student residences with walkable commercial development.”
Increasing pedestrian accessibility and reducing the need for cars would improve lifestyle in surrounding residential neighborhoods, and improving walkability would enhance the university’s recruitment efforts by making the university more attractive to top students and faculty.
Everything the university builds should be pushing the envelope of environmental responsibility. The first of the dorm projects reportedly will have geothermal heating and cooling – an excellent first step. Achieving high level LEED certifications for the dorms would be ideal. This would ensure healthy interiors for residents, conservation of building materials, resources, and energy, minimization of material waste, and countless other short and long term benefits.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of the university’s arrangement for construction of the dorms is the abdication of responsibility for design. The independent contractor, Education Realty Trust, will be handling this aspect of the developments, and their renderings reveal their intention to build structures devoid of serious architectural consideration.
This matters because we spend most of our lives in and around buildings. Our quality of life is directly related to how we build. Architecture has always been the ultimate expression of human culture and our very understanding of who we are is influenced by the architecture around us.
If a fundamental mission of educators is to encourage progress, then universities should lead the effort to encourage progressive architectural thought, just as they do in every other field. If we are to continue to evolve, we must make buildings that press forward technically and aesthetically.
Many universities have taken this to heart and boast campuses with exemplary planning and design. These places make for extraordinary daily experiences for students and faculty, encouraging fierce life-long allegiances. In the distant future these places will be revered as outstanding manifestations of our culture.
The cultural statement made by the design of the UK dorm currently under construction is that we no longer care what we build, and we are ignorant of our own history. By surrendering to sub-standard design the university is missing an opportunity to educate and failing to encourage progress.