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Hayball discuss the evolution of Melbourne's student housing sector

In light of the boom in student accommodation projects, Urban Melbourne recently took the opportunity to chat with Hayball duo Marcus Ieraci and Tom Gilbert.

As senior members of the Southbank-based design practice, both are heavily involved in Hayball's numerous student accommodation endeavours, and are all to happy to outline where the sector has come from in Melbourne, and more importantly, what lies ahead.

As a point of reference Hayball has designed 6,726 student accommodation beds to date, and have a further 5,474 beds in design and development. Research indicated that during 2015, Hayball was working on approximately 20% of all projects within the student accommodation market.

But both demand and design weren't always to current levels.

Tom Gilbert explains that prior to the Global Financial Crisis of 2009, the student accommodation market was a very different beast. In those times student accommodation developments generally consisted of strata owners buying into projects where studios were stacked atop one another, and the design nous was akin to that of a silo.

Built at the lowest price possible, they led to rudimentary design and livability outcomes. Post the Global Financial Crisis a hiatus in student accommodation occurred as the strata model fell by the wayside, whilst overseas student numbers grew steadily in the interim.

A new model of student accommodation delivery was taking shape in response to the shortage of beds.

Urbanest at 599 Swanston Street

The entrance of investment vehicles backed by multinational/institutional funding has led to a 'ready to go' mentality for project delivery. It has also led to the typical student accommodation project now being a very different beast.

Marcus Ieraci explains that even though a handful of players are now dominating the development scene within the sector, competition to attract students and the endorsement of any given university is high. Add the extensive research undertaken by institutions such as University of Melbourne, and the design of the once humble student accommodation building has radically changed.

It's this university driven research that shows students are looking for the inner city living experience close to their place of education, but not necessarily on campus. Design informed by research on how students prefer to study, socialise and interact within these new buildings has given rise to the cluster formation; a 'dormitory' of sorts.

Tom Gilbert adds that of current crop of developers in the sector, some are simply misreading the market and still providing solely studios.

Hotel like in their amenities and appearance, all student accommodation designs also now include Melbourne City Council's mandate that there must be a minimum of 1.25sqm of communal space per student within any given development. More astute players are pushing the envelope to 2.5sqm in light of the competition between providers.

Marcus Ieraci maintains that these communal areas are at the crux of the modern student accommodation building, where design budgets and allocated space are tight yet pivotal to the end result. 

The amalgamated Bedford Place / Flemington Road will feature cluster living spaces

Currently Hayball's major Melbourne student accommodation projects include Blue Sky's 42-50 La Trobe Street, Urbanest's 599 Swanston Street, 1 Flemington Road plus Blue Sky’s Waymouth Street accommodation in Adelaide.

In the light of design features which champion communal spaces, connectivity, dynamic design and interaction with one's surrounds, the question was posed regarding the future direction of student housing, both in Melbourne and in the wider context.

Marcus Ieraci believes that Hayball's La Trobe project is a true ground breaker in a number of regards. A light weight facade and light structure thanks to builder Hickory Group's HBS method will allow for speed of construction, increased build quality and adaptability upon completion. Modern student accommodation builds increasingly have an eye toward the future. 

Extensive modelling during design allows for facades and even entire floors to be adjusted for different use, should a need arise down the track.

Overseas design trends also factor into current design considerations. Tom Gilbert points toward the emerging trend of communal design aspects within student accommodation projects where research, commercial and residential elements blend to create incubator-like environment. Melbourne has yet to see this format.

Hayball cite 42-50 La Trobe Street as a benchmark design for student accommodation
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