Designing Ahead: Housing for Gen Z Students Will Emphasize Digital Technology and ‘Alone Together’ Spaces

by Paul Wuennenberg

Generation Z (people born between 1997 and 2012) is different than Millennials in terms of lifestyle preferences and unique needs in student housing. Gen Z is the most digitally engaged group of students, as they have never known life before technology. They are also the most diverse and well-informed demographic, knowing exactly how to get the information they need to make decisions.

To this end, university housing for the Gen Z student needs to incorporate the digital world. For example, many housing providers are utilizing apps to field student complaints and needs, plus track and communicate with students in real time. Reporting something like the heat not working needs to be able to be communicated in real time, 24/7.

Four college students occupy different parts of a small, well-lit lounge area

Providing flexible spaces with student-oriented technology solutions is in the forefront of current residential hall design trends.

As digitally engaged as Generation Z is, they still value and desire in-person communication and socialization. This unique trait impacts the types of spaces and amenities that residence halls should incorporate. Gen Z is more independent in their learning style, but they want to be in a communal space, not isolated – the concept of being ‘alone together’.

The Gen Z student is typically very value conscious as they saw their Gen X parents suffer through the Great Recession and understand the importance of maximizing value. That being said, Gen Z students are willing to pay for amenities, and will pay more if they see it provides them value.

A number of college students gather in a circular, well-lit lounge area within a residential hall as other students walk by.

A well-implemented amenity space can provide immeasurable value to a university and its student body by addressing many common quality of life concerns.

Using digital technology comes naturally to Gen Z students. Wi-Fi and networking are simply expected in student housing. Shopping online is the norm for the Gen Z student, so universities need to accommodate the ability for them to receive packages and have safe access to those packages 24/7.

The values that Gen Z espouses will promote more studios and micro units in residence halls. Gen Z students will also want more opportunities to cook for themselves and social spaces where they can work in an ‘alone together’ scenario. Providing spaces for gaming will also be important, as a majority of this generation say they game at least once a week.

A variety of students sit, talk, study, and cook food inside a residential hall multipurpose room.

Simple, flexible design can be all that is needed to create a nexus for students who often have wildly varying schedules and academic needs.

I think the combination of wanting privacy, having fewer people share restrooms, and the desire for maximizing value will encourage these types of units. Allowing them these choices will be extremely important.