Architecture

University of Utah's New Dorm Mimics Google Headquarters


Lassonde Studios rendering

Courtesy CannonDesign

Lassonde Studios rendering

In a move it hopes will lure budding entrepreneurs who dream of souped-up Silicon Valley workspaces, the University of Utah plans to build a residence hall that blurs life and work the same way technology giants Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) do at their headquarters.

The new building, called Lassonde Studios, is part of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, a division of the Eccles School of Business. It’s modeled after startup spaces in San Francisco and New York that are designed to promote a culture of innovation, says Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the institute.

To that end, a 20,000-square-foot workspace called the “garage” on the ground floor offers 3D printers and rooms to build prototypes. The garage is open 24 hours a day to accommodate bursts of off-hours inspiration.

Courtesy CannonDesign

“If you have an idea at 2 a.m., you want to be able to get up and act on your idea,” says Mehrdad Yazdani, head of Yazdani Studio, the building’s designer. He says the space will give students “the flexibility to be in their pajamas and then create something.”

Video games, pool tables, foosball tables, and a ground-floor coffee shop will foster connections between programmers, designers, and future managers, says D’Ambrosio. The building looks good from the outside, too, with a modern exterior meant to mimic the shapes of the adjacent Wasatch mountain range.

University officials and architects want the building to be as nimble as a startup. It’s designed on a flexible grid system, which will allow the university to reconfigure rooms and expand the garage as student needs change. “Our goal is, five years after it opens, that it’ll be an entirely different-looking building,” D’Ambrosio says. “Universities usually build something that lasts 50 to 100 years, but when you’re an entrepreneur, things change rapidly.”

Courtesy CannonDesign

The dorm’s 400 or so residents will be a mix of undergraduates and graduate students, so that “more mature entrepreneurial students” can mentor undergrads, according to a presentation (PDF) the architects gave in February. Shared rooms were designed with less privacy and more open meeting space to encourage students to work together on startups.

But some students are wary of sleeping, partying, and launching their company in the same building. Students requested some breathing room, prompting the designers to modify their plans. They added private “sleeping pods”—single rooms for students who want privacy—and workspaces for teams of students to tinker behind closed doors, so introverts needn’t worry. “There are opportunities in the building to completely shut down and stay away,” Yazdani says.

Baylor University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison have also created special housing options to help student entrepreneurs collaborate. Schools are “marketing the housing inventory to attract and keep students. They’re doing it in a number of different ways, including adding academic space to the housing,” says Arthur Lidsky, president of the college campus planning firm Dober Lidsky Mathey.

Courtesy CannonDesign

Winning recognition as the school with the boldest and most beautiful student housing design isn’t cheap. The median cost-per-square-foot of residence halls increased by about one-third from 2010 to 2013, according to a survey by the magazine College Planning & Management.

Costs for students are going up, too: The price of room and board for on-campus housing at public universities went up 3.8 percent between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 academic years, according to a U.S. Department of Education report (PDF) released last week.

The University of Utah hasn’t yet determined the price of living at Lassonde Studios. The building will cost $45 million, 70 percent of which the university will pay for in debt, with Pierre Lassonde and other donors chipping in the remaining $13 million, D’Ambrosio says.

Weinberg is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek covering business schools.

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