After the community balked at the original design for M@ College, Capstone Development Partners contacted Ankrom Moisan to refine and get it built. Under tight deadlines, we reimagined dense student housing that’s programmatically and aesthetically sensitive to the adjacent single-family residences.
Our role was to design a project that would work for everyone involved. On the one hand, SDSU needed student housing close to campus. On the other, neighborhood residents were concerned about noise, mismatched aesthetics, and more traffic. To tackle these complex requirements, we began by gathering input from community members, the city of San Diego, and SDSU project stakeholders.
Initially, the neighborhood guidelines stipulated a Spanish Colonial style akin to other campus buildings at SDSU. Throughout our public outreach, we discovered that the neighborhood actually wanted a more modern architectural style. Not only did we revise our exterior design and color palette, we revised the project’s overall scale, by removing units from the top floors, situating the taller side toward the campus and the shorter side to the neighborhood (which had the further benefit of bringing more sunlight into the shared courtyard). To minimize vehicular traffic, we added more bike parking and car-share access—especially useful to the student residents, given the site’s proximity to campus—and the lobby and entrance faces campus, encouraging walking.
One of the project’s biggest challenges was dealing with a steep slope. The building’s overall form arose from our intense work with the city of San Diego to match the building to its steeply graded site. Our solution, a stepped podium design, let us contour the building to the slope, and it kept costs down by using less concrete and concentrating on wood-frame construction.
The other big challenge was minimizing the overall scale, integrating it among the single-family homes. By strategically breaking down the building’s scale and manipulating subtle projections through pop-outs that create depth and articulation in the facade, we succeeded in making the building more approachable to pedestrians, especially along the front. Also, using two analogous colors of beige for the stucco breaks down the mass of the building; accent colors further break down the scale and group the window openings together. To inspire moments of personal interaction, we designed the entryway to resemble a front porch.
Inside, we created even more opportunities for students to gather, to interact with each other and activities in a way that suits them best. We focused much of our attention on the main community amenity—the kitchen and living room—which, again, was challenging on a steep slope. Visitors enter the main amenity one level lower than the main entry level, an unusual solution that connects people to the courtyard and pool through the entry lobby. To buffer the surrounding neighborhood from noise, our layout focuses the student community internally, around this central courtyard. Study and gaming spaces, study pods, a pool table, and a fitness room are just off the main community room. And answering a growing trend in student housing, reservable study rooms on every floor await more focused study, away from the main common area.
With the pared-down scale of its massing and California contemporary exterior aesthetic, M@ College fits easily among the surrounding family homes. It’s a place where students and their community can readily, and respectfully, connect with each other.