Student Housing Safety Incorporates Sophisticated Technology, Traditional Design Elements

by Javier Esteban

When designing or renovating a student housing facility, square footage, number of occupants and budget are often top design considerations. Designing for student safety ranks even higher.
Protecting students from intruders and dangerous individuals is always top of mind, and frequently discussed during the design process for any student housing project that our firm is involved with. There are several common safety strategies that we as architects always strive to implement in any design. Sophisticated new technologies are adding a valued extra layer of safety to traditional designs. The safety and security industry is moving toward more personalized security systems where a user’s data resides directly on access cards to gain entry to student housing facilities and fingerprinting or other biometric processes are being used to access secure areas. The new generation of security cameras also provide higher definition images at lower lighting levels, with the ability to cover much wider angles, creating a very strong, multi-layered security system.
An interior photo of a college residence hall lobby shows various people walking by, lounging on seating, checking mailboxes, and a student and receptionist talking.

A variety of security systems, such as keycard entry, security cameras that capture a wide array of angles, and differentiation between the public lobby and private residence areas reflect solutions to security needs in modern residence halls.

The prices of these sophisticated devices are coming down and becoming more affordable for many universities. The level of sophistication of new access control system technology can provide nearly instantaneous data on what key was used and when the entry was accessed and locked and could also provide control of locking from the outside via a website in cases of wired electronic door hardware. This technology can also provide a vital tool for forensic examination should a security breach occur.

Additional ways high-tech safety technology is being incorporated into student housing design include:

  • Providing access cards on exterior entry points
  • Specifying new door hardware technologies that allow for greater control
  • Using Power Over Ethernet (POE) access control hardware that allows for centralized building locking controls on doors in case of an intruder or active shooter
  • Monitoring entry points at the building with electronic controls and cameras
  • Installing local alarms at exit-only stairs and exits to notify security of potential breaches, including timers on doors for alarms to sound in case a door has been propped open
  • Including a bedroom, suite or apartment electronic access control point
An employee sits at a reception desk in a bright, open lobby as various students walk by. In the foreground of the image, an opened ornate gate flanks both sides of the desk.

Implementing new security solutions with time-tested security practices can provide stunningly beautiful and practical ways of ensuring the highest level of student safety possible.

Traditional design theories that incorporate basic layers of security and the human element on site, throughout the building, and in individual units should still apply in today’s student housing designs and complement the use of technology. These include:

  • Creating a clear separation between public and private areas
  • Reducing the number of building entry points to guide students and visitors past a reception desk, while still maintaining an adequate number of exit points
  • Providing adequate exterior lighting near the building
  • Creating clear paths to public areas and reducing or eliminating hiding places, such as open access enclosures and tall, dense landscaping
  • Controlling access points at the main public floors between the public and residential floors
  • Incorporating a reception “front desk” area with a set of eyes (this is typical at most if not all residence halls)
  • Designing spaces that create a sense of security. For example, instead of having a dark, empty sidewalk, design the sidewalk to pass near a public space that people can observe
  • Locating large windows in the first-floor lounges that face building accesses to provide visibility
  • Designing laundry rooms with glazing-facing corridors, or even locating washers and dryers in a manner that does not create dead-end situations, so a person would have two accesses out
Two students stand beside each other and talk in an open, spacious laundry room alongside a row of washing machines. In the far left, a woman washes her hands at a sink.

Even seemingly innocuous spaces like laundry rooms can benefit from thoughtful design choices, such as by positioning equipment in a way that maximizes a student’s range of movement throughout the room.

In the end, when it comes to designing for security, the good guys must always have it right, but the bad guys only need to breach these systems once. Despite all the new, more advanced technologies available, having the right human behind or in front of this technology makes all the difference.