“Young people today don’t want to waste money on concrete.”

Stúdentablaðið/Eydís María Ólafsdóttir

Stúdentablaðið/Eydís María Ólafsdóttir

Translation: Mark Ioli

The vast majority of student housing units are allotted to existing residents, leaving very few units for new students, says Rebekka Sigurðardóttir, spokesperson for Student Services (FS). “The wait list is always long. There were still 729 people on it after all housing units had been assigned for this fall. We have 1200 units to assign to students, but most allotments are renewals, i.e. assigned to people already living in student housing, so there are relatively few new students who get in. After all of the current residents were assigned housing this fall, there were only 185 units available to offer to new residents.”

No new housing units will come into service this year or next. A new dormitory is currently under construction on Sæmundargata, but it will not be completed until early 2020. It will be the largest dormitory ever constructed in Iceland, as well as the largest housing unit to have a single address. “There will be 244 units, some of them for couples, so the total number it will accommodate will be somewhat higher,” Rebekka says, estimating that the building will house about 280 students.

Time-consuming preparation process

It took a while to begin construction of the dormitory on Sæmundargata. “It is very important for us to always have something in the pipeline, because construction proceeds quickly once we get underway. It’s always the preparation that takes so long. The entire process, the wait for the lot, just going through all of the planning and so forth.”

The long lead time can in part be explained by the fact that Student Services looks to build housing in popular locations. “A lot of work and energy goes into the planning, which makes sense because we try to acquire lots in very popular areas. We want residences to be well-located so that students can walk or bike to school, or be close to a good bus stop or other public transportation. Sometimes that might make things more difficult than if we were building in the suburbs.”

Stúdentablaðið/Eydís María Ólafsdóttir  Rebekka Sigurðardóttir, spokesperson for FS.

Stúdentablaðið/Eydís María Ólafsdóttir Rebekka Sigurðardóttir, spokesperson for FS.

Rebekka says the new dormitory on Sæmundargata is designed to encourage students to be more social. “We’ve gone further with the idea of shared spaces in this instance than we ever have before: 118 of the units will be apartments where 10 people share common facilities, similar to Oddagarður, but different in the sense that the rooms open up right onto the shared space and so are more like shared apartments. As soon as you leave your room you enter a space shared with others, so it creates a much greater sense of closeness."

Addressing young people’s isolation

Rebekka says the new design is in part a response to research revealing the discontentedness of young people. “Young people today talk about how alone and isolated they feel, which may sound strange in these times when people have so much access to one another through phones and computers, and how easy it is to find out where someone is and what they're doing. It’s actually a matter of people walling themselves off behind their phones and computers. We have examples of foreign students who come for a three-year program and don’t even get to know anyone here. That can easily happen if someone lives their entire social life through their computer and hardly ever leaves their room. Such a situation can cause a great feeling of unease and social isolation.”

At the same time, Rebekka says new dormitories are designed with the idea in mind that young people have less desire to invest in “concrete” than previous generations. “When we design and build student housing, we look very closely at what neighboring countries are doing, and they've moved further in this direction in recent years. People are more taken with the idea of shared space, and are fortunately not as preoccupied as they used to be with having so much space for themselves. Young people today don’t want to waste money on concrete; they would rather use it to go to concerts and to travel, for example. We do of course offer people their own personal space, but we try to create as much shared space as possible. In general, a large portion of people’s living space is only used part of the time, maybe even never, and it’s unnecessary for each person to pay for their own expense if it’s possible to combine and share the cost.”

Building at the end of the runway

Student housing is examining even more construction possibilities. “The expansion of Gamli Garður has been under consideration for some time. It’s a work in progress but we’re hopeful something great will come out of it soon. This spring, the City of Reykjavik signed a letter of intent regarding a lot to be used for student housing at the end of the domestic airport runway here in Skerjafjörður. It remains to be seen when construction might begin. Along with discussions regarding the Gamli Garður expansion, other spots on campus have been considered, but it is naturally up to the city and school administration to decide how the area is developed.”