Let the Sunshine (and Students) In

Window and door 
systems are on the broad list of factors that can impact the quality of student life — yet another reason why the choices matter for colleges and universities as well.

That being said, each student housing project has its own characteristics and dynamics along those parameters and others — window and door requirements included.

Weather-Tested and Approved
A 16-story project now underway in Oregon, Portland State University’s College Station Housing, is a case in point. The project’s design and logistical requirements include what window supplier Innotech describes as “superior water resistance.” Five to 10 percent of the windows undergo “rigorous performance testing… against water infiltration in the factory and [on] the jobsite after installation,” explains George Nickel, Innotech’s director of business development. Also, the supplier is delivering the 1,813 windows needed for the project — about one semi-truck’s worth each week — until February or March of next year, adds Nickel.

Other student housing projects bring other challenges. For example, the renovation of Loder Hall, a United Methodist Church building with a historic aesthetic at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, recently had window requirements that were no small matter, given the project’s ecological goals and other requirements. According to Dan Smith, a commercial representative for Marvin Windows and Doors, contractors at Loder used a Clad Commercial Door system and, according to Smith, an insert double-hung window system chosen because it “altered the daylight opening the least and was the best match to what was existing.”

Additionally, the window system was picked for Loder because its National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) ratings values and an interior consisting of Forest Stewardship Council wood (an environmental certification standard) contributed to the building’s LEED Silver rating, reports Smith. The case speaks to at least one expected but nonetheless notable trend: Campus decision makers are seeking “energy efficiency coupled with high-performing, durable products,” and that’s meant more inquiries about NFRC for window and door components selected for projects, Smith adds.

More Glass, More Light, More “Wow”
In another aspect, more campuses are using glass curtain walls, or non-bearing glass and steel exterior walls, in new construction of student residences, according to Christopher Miller, an associate and project manager for Stantec, a firm that has designed a number of such projects. There are several reasons why, he explains.

First, glass exteriors provide increased transparency and thus, more natural lighting and broader views. There’s also the desire to have student residence halls that stand apart from the old institutional dormitory look — that is, a standard “with small windows and monotonous façades of rhythmic window placement,” he says.

In Philadelphia, transparency is part of the equation at Drexel University’s Anthony Caneris Hall. The project, designed by Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates, uses a wide, seven-floor-high expanse of glass above its main entry doors, underscoring that sense of transparency.

Furthermore, glass curtain walls “highlight activity. Residence halls are active, social buildings that often have activity all day long,” says Miller, and broad exterior window designs in the buildings’ public areas — the lounges and social gathering places — 
highlight the activity there. Doing so points to yet another reason for glass curtain walls: “to increase the use of social spaces,” he explains. “Campuses routinely tell us that the lounges, public gathering areas, and some service areas, including laundry rooms, are underutilized.”
Encouraging Social Interaction
Glass exteriors can spur more use of shared spaces, Miller says, and that’s what happened at a recent, multi-building residence hall project at New York’s Binghamton University with sections of glass exterior walls. In fact, the campus reported to Stantec that plenty of students like and are using the lounges, while noting how “open” those shared spaces feel, according to Miller.

Providing a sense of openness and roominess is also cited as an important one by David S. McHenry, principal of Erdy McHenry Architecture in Philadelphia, who points out another way to help do so: vertical windows, instead of more common horizontal punch or strip window systems. McHenry’s firm used them in at least two student residences, the urban high-rises The Edge at Avenue North, serving Philadelphia’s Temple University; and a 12-story graduate student project now under construction at Rutgers University in Camden, NJ. Vertical windows appear throughout the former and will be in bedrooms in the latter. Horizontal windows make furniture placement easy, but floor-to-ceiling vertical systems also work that way: beds and other furniture can simply be placed against solid walls on either side of a vertical, which has the added benefits of better views, more daylight, and again, that sense of openness, McHenry says.

Behind Closed Doors
Door systems in today’s student residences, on the other hand, have their own set of factors to balance — doors need to be secure, energy-efficient, and durable, all while contributing to, or at least not hindering, a feeling of openness. In terms of exterior doors in lobbies, McHenry believes that revolving doors have some energy-efficiency advantages, but first and operating costs can be hurdles. Vestibules with an aluminum store-front system and a double-door air lock work well, says McHenry, with the exterior door providing easy access out of the elements and the internal door arrangement providing security, with card readers for residents and intercom systems and receptionist/guard areas for visitors.

Interior doors as well as operable windows speak to the broader topic of how students are using their campus living spaces today.

Solid-core wood doors today are durable and present a residential quality “so you avoid the institutional feel that you might get with hollow metal doors,” McHenry points out. Yet, decision makers must weigh those against the countervailing ability of metal doors to withstand use and abuse, although “wood doors have come a long way in that regard” as well, he says.

Interior doors also need to be functionally flexible enough to meet changing needs. For example, in a dormitory project for Temple University, multi-bedroom quads could be subdivided if, for example, a student dropped out of school. Thus, what were formerly interconnecting doors would then define separate dwelling units, requiring them to be rated doors, McHenry explains.

Open Windows, Open Doors

In terms of windows, operable units give a point of control to young people who are usually living on their own for the first time — 
another in a series of personal living arrangement choices that contribute to experiences of everyday freedom and its responsibilities. McHenry says there needs to be a balance in two respects: Usually, limiting the opening of such windows to about four inches, for safety, yet doing so means balancing safety with ventilation and thus, energy-efficiency, issues.

Finally, the windows and doors utilized in renovated and new student residences speak to another important trend, according to McHenry: students who are deciding on a college or university look at campus living environments and amenities more than ever before. He adds that it “makes a huge impact on their decision, so there’s a renewed focus on what student life should be on a campus, and how facilities should be addressing that.”

It’s an important topic on campuses today, and student residence windows and doors are part of the conversation. 

Scott Berman is a Denmark-based freelance writer with experience in educational topics.

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