The intersection of smart design, environmental stewardship and cultural evolution underpins the complete transformation of Zura Hall into a vibrant home for students seeking an authentic SoCal vibe. The San Diego State University (SDSU) project sets a new bar for student housing within the shell of a 1960s-era residence hall while showcasing the burgeoning sustainable surf movement.SDSU is a public research university that is part of the 23-school California State University (CSU) system. It is the largest and oldest higher-education institution in San Diego County. Serving 34,000 students, SDSU houses more than 4,700 students in 12 residential facilities—most built before 1970. To keep up with demand and competition for in-state and out-of-state students, in 2012, SDSU assessed its housing inventory to strategize and prioritize long-range investment to transform the student living experience on campus.
Zura Hall, affectionately known by students as “the Zura Zoo”, was one of the oldest residence halls on campus. Lacking the types of features expected by 21st century students and functioning with outdated building systems, Zura was one of the least desirable living options on campus. The campus’ facilities assessment, which included issues related to accessibility, electrical capacity, HVAC systems, fire and life safety, seismic performance, vertical transportation, and site and interior finishes, scored Zura lowest in most of the assessment categories.
To maintain the capital investment of the original facility, SDSU elected to extensively renovate the building to create a safer, more energy-efficient and attractive living environment. To undertake the project, SDSU selected a collaborative design-build team composed of architectural partners HMC Architects, Los Angeles, and Mahlum, Portland, Ore., along with Balfour Beatty Construction, San Diego.
During initial building investigations, the design team found numerous opportunities to bridge community and enhance the overall student experience. Taking the elevator to the sixth floor, the sunset views and vast unused roof were stunning, offering the possibility to deliver something truly unique for SDSU.
Early campus outreach and student listening sessions revealed five core design goals to guide design and construction:
- Improve OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY through a focus on building systems, user convenience and operational flow patterns.
- ENHANCE COMMUNITY through connection of spaces to bring students together.
- Support ACADEMIC INTEGRATION through faculty-in-residence programming and multi-use, academic spaces.
- Promote EQUITY and DIVERSITY by improving accessibility and all student spaces, as well as by enhancing privacy in toilet and shower facilities.
- Celebrate the SAN DIEGO LIFESTYLE by providing unique outdoor environments to extend the SoCal student experience and support an emerging sustainable surfing industry through art, education and academic partnerships.
One of the first operational elements tackled was an unusual one: trash and recycling. The existing process used an old trash chute to deliver waste to the basement, where staff carted it upstairs via a freight elevator to unattractive dumpsters, parked in full view of students. The new flow directed trash to an enclosed room at ground level for easy, discreet removal. By immediately addressing such a functional but important concern, the design-build team focused on a primary obstacle to the building’s core organization that allowed other space-saving solutions.
Another immediate area of concern was the chronic problems brought about by generations of surfers who used communal bathrooms to clean gear and stored boards and wetsuits in small crowded rooms or on outdoor decks. Conversations with facilities staff and students about the issue led to the development of a surf wash, repair and storage facility outside the main entry to mitigate ongoing plumbing damage, foster community and showcase the San Diego surf culture.
To nurture a cohesive, connected community, a single, secure entry on the ground floor was set adjacent to a shared lounge, kitchen and rec area that opens onto a resort-like outdoor space. On the upper floors, central open-air breezeways were enclosed to provide students access to all building floors. The enclosed spaces were transformed into social and study areas—from open study nooks and private study rooms to TV lounges—to foster connections among the three residential wings. Topping off the renovation, a roof deck was installed that gives students a place to enjoy SoCal weather and panoramic views of downtown and Mission Bay.
SDSU has a long tradition of academic support within the residential environment and the renovation offered the opportunity to enhance connectivity to academics. The program includes two apartments for the faculty-in-residence program and added high-tech student tutoring and education spaces, as well as faculty and teaching assistant offices. Themes on residential floors support more than 24 planned residential communities, including Honors, Emerging Leaders, Health & Healing, ROTC, Pre-Law and Nursing.
The renovation supports equity and inclusion by removing barriers; increasing ADA; and supporting the needs of students with mobility, vision or hearing differences. Design solutions include elevators now stopping at every floor, accessible bedrooms with extra space for wheelchair parking and recharging located throughout each floor, and fully accessible shower and toilet facilities. Moreover, enhanced privacy in student bathrooms and shower facilities supports universal student access—irrespective of gender identity—with dignity.