On most university campuses throughout the United States, you will find traditional residence halls, and you will find honors halls. But what happens when the two types of residence halls are combined into a single living and learning community?
Such a unique configuration was implemented nearly two years ago with the opening of the $38.5 million Levine Hall at the University of North Carolina - Charlotte. KWK Architects designed the university's newest residential building to house 435 total students - a combination of honors and traditional students. Currently, Levine Hall houses 136 honor students, about 31 percent of the Levine student community.
The 160,000-square-foot Levine Hall includes four-bedroom suites and apartments, plus large central lounges and study areas at the end corridors of each floor. Community spaces include a lobby, lounge, resident kitchen, laundry and meeting spaces.
The hall's extended "Z" shape creates a significant open lawn, which leads to a large arched opening. At this opening are entries to both the residence hall and the honors college zone to provide a separate identity and allow independent operation while encouraging regular use by residents.
"The design of Levine Hall at UNC-Charlotte had a very specific directive - the inclusion of an honors and scholars program inside a traditional residence hall,” said KWK Architects Principal Paul Wuennenberg. “This unique challenge required different unit types, such as suites and apartments, to be embedded within each RA community, as well as academic and administrative support exclusive to honors program students.”
Two years after Levine Hall's opening, the student housing experts at KWK and UNC Charlotte are now analyzing the results of their unique design and seeking answers to their questions: "Are the honors students successfully integrating into the traditional community?"; "Is the rest of the community accepting of these students?”; "What tools have been used to improve the sense of community within these two groups sharing the same space?" and "Are there opportunities for mentorship from the honors students?"
Aaron J. Hart, Ed.D., associate vice chancellor and director of housing and residence life at UNC - Charlotte, says the Levine Hall community has been deemed a success on many levels.
"The Levine Residence Hall staff shared and acknowledged that the honor students on the third floor thoroughly enjoy the connection of home to classroom. The relationship has successfully connected the housing community and the unique academic relationship for honors students," said Hart. "This semester the honors college has opened its doors up to late night homework and study hours that are only accessible to honors students and friends. This has been really beneficial for students because they can utilize the smart classrooms for homework purposes, instead of walking to the library. In my opinion, students have greatly benefited from the physical proximity of the offices. Our department has also seen development in relationships through the close proximity of the honors college."
Through analysis of the Levine Hall design, KWK's design experts plan to further their understanding of designing a residence hall that incorporates an honors program, with heavy emphasis on academic and administrative support, learning ways to improve the interactions between honors students and the rest of the RA communities, as well as understanding how honors program administrators and faculty interact with residence life professionals in the same residence hall.
"While the honors program supports the honors student, there have been measurable benefits for the traditional students in this type of Living/Learning Community," said Wuennenberg. "We will continue to look at this design further and whether this type of building configuration can be a benefit to other institutions."