LaPatra: u201cStudents thrive not only on the challenge of higher learning, but with a complementary, fulfilling campus-living experience.u201d

IRVINE, CA—Better student housing is about more than just nicer-looking dorms—it’s a complete lifestyle experience, according to Bill LaPatra, partner and project director for Mithun. The architect, in partnership with Hensel Phelps, was recently selected by the University of California, Irvine to design and construct the $92-million Mesa Court expansion student-housing community there, due for completion in Summer 2016. LaPatra tells GlobeSt.com what the expansion will entail and what makes for a “state-of-the-art” student life complex.

GlobeSt.com: The UC-Irvine Mesa Court facility is said to be “state of the art.” What does that mean?

LaPatra: Students are the key customer, and Mesa Court at UC-Irvine brings together the current research and best thinking in creating the optimal student-life community. Designed for sustainability and for student health and well-being, this 780-bed, 250,000-square-foot student-life complex pushes through traditional norms to create a space where we think students will want to be. Shared bedrooms are comfortable, have lots of glass to bring in daylight for better studying and productivity and flexible design to accommodate change, such as two-person rooms that can flex into three-person rooms with multiple furnishing arrangements personalized by the students.

Mesa Court also facilitates a rich collection of amenities to help foster student interaction such as study rooms, computer labs, and inviting two-story “great room,” fitness center, recreation center, group kitchens and laundry facilities. Another innovation Mesa Court supports is a cutting-edge approach to dining, with options and “mini-cafes” offering market-fresh alternatives. Student dining at Mesa Court will extend beyond mealtime and create a flexible community extension for meetings, study groups, events and entertainment along with a teaching space focused on nutrition and health.

There’s also an emphasis on social space. “See and be seen” spaces, which are abundant throughout Mesa Court, exemplify one of many design strategies in creating community among college students. These adjacencies are critical within the residential towers where corridors between rooms have grown to become community spaces, combining seating with circulation. At the entry to each floor, a two-story open great room exists to foster student engagement—whether it be just for a moment or for an hour. Tech organizations have been adopting these informal social spaces to foster creative collaboration, but their origins are really drawn from college campuses, and we’re reemphasized that here.

GlobeSt.com: How is the UCI team getting this done in such a tight time frame?

LaPatra: There are a number of innovations to the Mesa Court complex, but first and foremost is the sophisticated design-build delivery method that UCI has used many times. Hensel Phelps and Mithun have a strong design-build methodology that will be key to delivering the project 2.5 years from contract award, which is about 12 to 18 months faster than usual—while maintaining highest-quality and budget goals.

GlobeSt.com: Why are US schools making the transformation to more holistic “university-life” facilities that encompass residences, healthy dining, exercise and learning?

LaPatra: Universities today are finding that students thrive not only on the challenge of higher learning, but with a complementary, fulfilling campus-living experience. This blending of student life and academic life is a component of student satisfaction within the residential college, and universities are keen on maintaining high completion and graduation rates. Universities are capitalizing on the fact that so much learning goes on outside the lecture hall or lab, too. To some degree, this emphasis on student life is a revival within the history of “dormitories” where students formed lifetime friendships and great memories of their college days. For large universities, it’s particularly important that residential precincts create community, where scale is an issue.

Many of these trends are at play in other types of institutions we’re doing, too, such as the dining/living/educational Lander Hall at University of Washington and the entirely new Department of Sustainability campus for Chatham University near Pittsburgh, as well as K-12 projects such as the Northwest School in urban Seattle and Teton Science School in Jackson Hole, WY.