Downtown Revitalization of Suffolk University’s Student Residence Halls

Suffolk University 10 West Residence HallAs urban universities look to expand on-campus housing, they seek innovative ways of meeting this need in a socially responsible and economical way.

In order for colleges and universities to remain competitive, they must meet the growing demand of students who want the feel of an on-campus residential experience. Suffolk University, a 100-year-old private institution, has evolved from its early days as a commuter school into a full-fledged university, which has brought an increased demand for more facilities, including a significant need for on-campus housing. The university is located in a dense historic district of downtown Boston making it difficult for the university to offer student housing as the school has continued to grow.

Suffolk University realized a real estate opportunity that would renew one of Boston’s most diverse neighborhoods while helping the university reach its goal of housing 50 percent of its student population. The university purchased a failing condominium conversion project of two 20th century office buildings in the Downtown Crossing neighborhood to create its newest residence hall, 10 West Residence Hall.

The condominium conversion was approximately 85 percent completed when CBT Architects was commissioned to transform the buildings into a student residence hall to house 274 students. Working within the individual condominium floor plans, CBT transformed these fixed configurations, with minimal demolition, into singles, suites, lofts and common lounges. The first and second floor retail space was converted into a central lobby with mail services, common student spaces and study rooms with an open floor plan and interconnected stair, which helps foster interaction in the building.

In addition, 10 West Residence Hall has received LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council—a distinction shared by just a few student residence halls in Massachusetts. The project embraced the sustainable principles of restoration and reuse by repurposing the structure and preserving the beautifully detailed exteriors of the buildings, maintaining the architectural aesthetics of the neighborhood. Converting the partially completed condominium project prevented enormous amounts of demolition waste and vastly reduced the need for new building materials. Moreover, the university plans to own and operate the building for many years, reducing potential future construction and allowing for design decisions to take a longer term view relative to life-cycle costing.

Room configurations and innovative design details allowed for extensive use of natural light. Studio and one-bedroom units were converted to open suites housing up to four students in a system of single “sleeping rooms” with a shared bathroom and kitchen by the entry door and an open common area by the windows. The sleeping rooms, which are large enough for a bed, desk, dresser and armoire, are defined by opaque sliding panel doors that open or close onto the shared common area, providing a simultaneous sense of community and individual privacy. The sleeping rooms feature walls that are below ceiling height to allow natural light to penetrate the space. Day lighting and energy-efficient lighting fixtures help achieve a lighting power density that is 25 percent above current ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) standards.

The building materials and furnishings contain a high percentage of recycled content. In some cases, the designers worked with the manufacturers to incorporate more recycled material into their standard products to create products customized to meet a high standard of sustainability. Additionally, local and regional building materials and furnishings were a priority—all dormitory furnishing materials originated from and were assembled within a 500-mile radius.

The 10 West Residence Hall has become an important component of Suffolk’s student housing program and has helped support Boston’s goal of encouraging academic institutions to house more of their student population on campus. It serves as an example for other urban institutions seeking to adopt environmentally responsible solutions to housing and further enliven the surrounding neighborhood.

Photo courtesy of CBT Architects

Profile photo of Christopher Hill About Christopher Hill

Christopher  HillChristopher A. Hill is a Principal and designer at CBT with over 26 years of experience in architectural and urban design. His experience spans a variety of projects ranging from academic and institutional facilities to mixed-use office and residential complexes. He has guest lectured and spoken on the topic of residential hall design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, ACUHO-I, ERRAPA, NACAS, SCUP and the AIA National Conference. He has also published articles in Planning, Urban Land, College Planning + Management, and Multi-Family News. He has contributed research to Campus Architecture by Richard P. Dober, The Residential Development Hand Book by the Urban Land Institute, and to the 21st Century Project-The Residence Hall of the Future Sponsored by ACUHO-I. Mr. Hill received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Minnesota with advanced studies in studio art and art history.

CBTChristopher can be reached at or 617-646-5117

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