Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 50th anniversary of my former university – the University of Kent. Formerly known as the University of Kent at Canterbury – UKC.
Part of the scheduled festivities included attending my first lecture for 13 years, in a lecture theatre I knew well, but that had been refurbished in the intervening time.
Nothing much had changed aside from some shinier surfaces, brighter furnishings, and the integration of technology (and electrical sockets on desks) that had not been a consideration pre 2000.
The evening’s entertainment meant that local accommodation was a near essential part of the package and the University made on-campus accommodation available to us.
I was intrigued to see the old student halls – again nothing had really changed; corridors of 7 bedrooms, 1 shower room, and 1 bathroom allowed for a linear existence that discouraged communal interaction unless hosted by one of the bedroom tenants. The flip side (positive) being that a small group was given a physical space – ‘corridor S3N’ around which to identify as a community.
I actually chose to stay in one of the new accommodation blocks containing ‘flats’ – a small number of ensuite rooms grouped around a communal kitchen large enough to host all the group residents and with space to communally eat and rest. No more meals perched on the edge of your bed, shouting to your adjacent friends, likewise eating down the corridor. Alone together.
I loved the experience of this new style of communal living; private spaces with, crucially, private toilet and shower facilities – but with a spacious communal space that positively encouraged social interaction in a neutral space.
It made me think about the challenges of young urban dwellers in cities around the world. A lot of them fresh from this exact domestic setup, with a need for low-cost accommodation, with a need for new social interactions, and in cities that need future construction to occupy as small a footprint as comfortably possible.
I would venture that the new style of campus accommodation is exactly what we need to be building for the current and next generations of young professional adults in our cities.
Social housing (in the interaction sense) that respects the needs of people to retain their individual space and identities that are easily muddied through being forced to be and move as part of arbitrarily numerical groups just to secure a sub-divided house – or worse, as an individual trying to attach to an already established social unit.
And it turns out that Naomi agrees.