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This Is University Housing, But Not As You Know It

GroupGSA have instilled life and style into the architecture of Wollongong University’s new student accommodation.

  • Reception area

  • Common area and kitchen/mess hall

  • Breakout lounge and media room

  • Standard bedroom accomadation

education design, UOW, Group GSA, Student Housing, Accommodation, Student Living

From frat houses to windowless towers, broken elevators, and fluorescent corridors smacked with the nauseating essence of cheap tequila and barf—student housing is the sort of architecture you suffer rather than enjoy. Lifestyle is hardly a concept you’d pin to the place students sometimes call home during gruelling, penniless study years. However—the University of Wollongong (UoW), south of Sydney and set against the lush green backdrop of the NSW South Coast—is trying to change this undisputed perception. It’s a sort of study-by-the-sea concept, that’s been dreamt up and delivered by GroupGSA.

“What the university is trying to achieve is to create a completely different university accommodation offering from what you typically see,” explains Lisa-Maree Carrigan, Director of GroupGSA. “It needs to be something that really speaks to the benefit of going to university in Wollongong.” Benefits like sea breeze, or sweeping views of the rocky pitch of Mount Keira.

“Consistent to both [undergraduate and postgraduate sites] has been an openness and an engagement with the landscape, a real fluidity between the inside and the outside spaces,” says Carrigan. For GroupGSA, there was also the potential to design spaces that would encourage vibrant communities centred upon lifestyle, as opposed to just student cohort.

GroupGSA have been on hand in the design and development of new undergraduate and postgraduate housing for the seaside university from the beginning. “There was an expression of interest called for consortiums to deliver the student accommodation across both post graduate and undergraduate facilities—a total of 1,054 beds,” says Carrigan.

GroupGSA was counted in the winning consortium for UoW, and has worked across everything from “masterplan options, form options, and urban design analysis; through to the delivery on site.”

Stage one—a postgraduate block titled Bangalay—is now complete. The 7720sqm building features 212 apartments and 254 beds on an established landscape along Northfields Avenue at the entrance to the university. “Every apartment has a balcony, whether it’s a studio, single, double or two bed or three bed, every single dwelling, which is really different [for university housing],” says Carrigan. By maximising the height envelope of the site, most apartments also enjoy north, east or west aspects with swathes of natural light and heating during winter months.

The ground floor of the building features a range of multifunctional spaces for private and communal study, spaces for research groups, as well as play areas for families living within the apartments. “The ground floor can also have launches and significant events, which is again a bit different from normal student accommodation,” Carrigan adds. As for the interiors, GroupGSA rolled out a more residential feel. “It’s sort of elegant and a little more mature. We asked ourselves, if we were selling apartments, what’s the palette that we would like to see?”

The undergraduate sector of the project (stage two) is now under construction, and is due to be completed in September. Comprised of three seven storey sites, the buildings will be home to 800 students. Following the concept of a tree house, GroupGSA’s design is supposed to be a nurturing sanctuary, inspired by positive psychology and enhancing holistic experiences at individual, community, and local levels. “There is a lot of pressure while studying, and we’re trying to create environments that will encourage connectivity and community,” says Carrigan.

An internal-external street weaves through the sites, linking a series of shared spaces. “The ground floor is a series of outdoor spaces and barbeque areas. There are also outdoor lounges and games areas, which then blend into the internal spaces on the ground floor—theatres, different scales of study rooms, communal kitchens, and more lounge areas.”

“The university was really trying to attract overseas students, as well as domestic students away from Sydney. So we needed to be offering something different,” adds Carrigan. “There’s a fantastic lifestyle and connection with the landscape that you get in Wollongong. You can actually see the ocean from the upper levels of Stage Two.”


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