The New Dormitory Movement Island-wide Dormitory Renovations Aim to Make Higher Education Warmer and More Considerate
“To characterize the new generation of university dormitories, I’d quote Legislator Wu, Szu-Yao from the Legislative Yuan: “A dorm isn’t just a dorm; education must be realized in daily life!” says Wang Chun-Hsiung, Project Manager of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) Universities and Colleges Dormitory Improvement Promotion Team and Chair of the Department of Architecture at Shih Chien University.
Previously, since universities could charge students for accommodation, the MOE did not offer dormitory subsidies. Chair Wang observes, “For universities and colleges campus architecture is still using the decades-old ‘separate functions’ model, in which schools focus on building subsidized educational spaces such as classrooms, libraries, and gyms. Dorms are relegated to the margins, far from other facilities, with a view to reducing costs and building floor space, so dorm facilities are limited, and even the bedroom is less than ideal. Their only function is as “sleeping quarters.”
This model must change. Professor Chung Sung-Chin, Department of Creative Design at the National Yunlin University of Science and Technology and Project Manager of the Universities and Colleges Dormitory Improvement Review and Management Team, points out, “Foreign universities highly emphasize the planning and design of dorm common areas, especially the idea of the ‘commons.’ One example is the communal kitchen, where students from all around the world make food from their own cultures in a bright and clean space; their exchanges and sharing with other students is a great mode of interaction, and a great way to learn communal living.”
The Promotional Team “Teaches” How to Design Breathtaking Dormitories
In September 2019, after the MOE budgeted 5 billion NT dollars over five years for the “Disadvantaged Student Aid Project Enhancement Measures (Off-Campus Rental Subsidies) and Next Generation Student Dormitory Living Environment Improvement Project” (the Dormitory Improvement Project, for short),” a new opportunity for redesigning dormitories arose.
The Dormitory Improvement Project subsidizes improvements to the quality and quantity of common areas to lead the improvement of dormitory environments in general, including university dormitory common areas and infrastructure. “In terms of quantity, we hope to meet the same standards as for residential towers, in that common areas must make up 45% of new dormitory space and 42% of old dormitory space,” says Chair Wang. As for quality, the Counseling Commitment members have a consensus: “In addition to necessary infrastructure such as communal kitchens and laundry rooms, including creative elements would be best, with fewer fixed furniture items such as closets and cabinets. It would be enough to use simple furnishings, lighting, and color to create an extension of the learning space that integrates the university's teaching specialty.”
Since 2020, the MOE has commissioned Shih Chien University and Chair Wang to manage the Universities and Colleges Dormitory Improvement Promotion Project. In addition to promotional seminars, the Counseling Commitment has established guidance teams in four sectors: The North, South, East, and West. These teams “teach” relevant schools that are willing to apply, hands-on counseling for schools to understand the content of the project for the Dormitory Improvement Project and invite dormitory users (students), school officials, and architects to meet and reach a consensus. Once the architectural design has been ascertained to meet project criteria, and wins student and school approval, a number of review committee members are invited to hold a pre- review conference to highlight where the design can be improved and strengthened, thereby facilitate the passage of the reviews process.
Thus, during this review conference, the first results of the New Dormitory Movement were a sight to behold. The review committee saw many delightful designs. To highlight its specialty in design, Shih Chien University's “INNER HUB Third Dormitory Building Project” planned a public exhibition hall for design courses to present their work, with different design-related departments taking the lead and choosing exhibition themes, in addition to designing a large Lounge for people to relax or hold presentations; and Taipei Medical University’s “Second Student Dormitory” responded to medical students expressing that their busy coursework and everyday lives requires an athletic release of pressure more corresponding to higher use of exercise facilities than other schools by integrating such facilities into the first and second floors and building rooftop facilities for residents on higher floors, creating a unique identification to the dormitory in a medical university.
Bedroom Designs Respect Personal Space
Professor Chung believes that the concept of modern dormitories is learning how to respect individuals’ independent space, so in terms of personal space; “We hope that schools can forgo the six-person bedroom design adoption of a reasonable and comfortable personal space, in principle a suite for two to four people.”
However, some schools have decided to keep the six-person design, including National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) and Soochow University (SCU). It turns out these schools feel that modern students lack the communal living that only Universities and Colleges can provide, so in addition to using this method to strengthen roommate bonds, Chung says, “NCKU planned a broad common area linked to the outside to encourage students to step out of their small dorms and use the shared facilities and social spaces to interact with the outside world.” As for SCU, Chair Wang brings up its tradition of dormitory autonomy: “The students have a long-running and very organized system of autonomy that they wish to maintain.”
Bedroom designs must also avoid beams and pillars. Chair Wang often reminds the university regarding dormitory design; “More importantly, the current standard design is an ensemble with desk below and bed above, and if the bed is too high, drowsy students sitting up in the morning may hit their head on the ceiling!”
Changing Old Ideas is the Greatest Challenge
Across the New Dormitory Movement, the greatest challenge is changing design thinking.
The Promotion Team must bridge the school and the designer, as well as foster cooperation between the General Affairs Division responsible for building and supervising construction and the Student Affairs Division that manages the completed dormitory. It’s a great challenge. Chair Wang shares that the Promotion Team’s greatest sense of achievement comes from the fact that, “fortunately, many of our members are also architects or designers, and combined with their knowledge of university operations, they can translate the abstract design visions into accessible language for everyone to understand the designer’s concept.”
The greatest challenge faced by Professor Chung, Project Manager of the Universities and Colleges Dormitory Improvement Review and Management Team, is when some schools offer various excuses to alter the use of their designated common areas after passing the review; or, after obtaining subsidies with a stunning design, they abandon the designer’s concept to cut subsidies and offer various excuses to alter the use of their designated common areas. Reproducing a design is not just about picking a chair in the same place as the design and reproducing it. Affecting students’ right to use common areas is of course prohibited as going against the spirit of the Project, and committee members will not approve such alterations.
In the face of a falling birth rate and lagging international rankings, Universities and Colleges can use the New Dormitory Movement to offer more beds, reshape campus spatial design, upgrade hardware and software, integrate dormitories into university campus life, and even create a multilayered network with dormitories at its center; even locating campus units such as the Student Counseling Office to within dormitories is not impossible. If prosecuted with the mindset of two or three decades in the future, this wave of the New Dormitory Movement will have far reaching effects on higher education in Taiwan.