With its inaugural classes held in fall 1967, Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) of Kalispell, MT, has partnered with CTA on designing its first-ever student housing — kind of a big deal! The units will be highly efficient, but also user-friendly and attractive to more than just students. As construction nears completion, it seems an ideal time to take a look at what will make this facility unique.
Firstly, FVCC will market and rent the apartments to the general public in the summer months, to increase revenue versus allowing them to sit idly for three months. This approach has affected the siting as well — the building is highly visible from the main entry and main highway thoroughfare, as opposed to buried in the campus. It’s also located adjacent to a nearby shopping center for convenient access to food, services, and more.
The school initially considered a truly commercial mixed-use approach, with retail on the first floor and apartments above. Over time, the idea became less appealing because the approach didn’t match FVCC’s mission and business model; yet the spirit of that approach seems to have affected the project design, as it relates to retail at the nearby outer edge of campus.
It’s been fun in the design phase to think about “simplicity” in the units themselves. We worked very hard to create single units that have precisely half the dimensions of double units, so we could shuffle them around the plan like game pieces until we had the best overall layout. The resultant plans are ridiculously simple — no weird angles, no hallways. Every inch has been allocated for a purpose.
We played with windows in a different way as well, and landed on splitting the living room window into two, one at each corner, and ganging that with the adjacent room window. The result was a functional solution that will allow a feature (probably a TV) to occupy the center of the room, with the glass framing it — as opposed to the usual move-in question of “Where is my TV supposed to go?”
We studied scale and massing, and while it was determined that a consistent three-story approach was most efficient, it was not appropriate to the campus scale. As a result, we decided it was best to “mass up” the buildings slowly from one to three stories, and the result is a pleasant interplay of varying scales of apartment pods.
Materially and formally, the school wanted the building to harmonize with the university, but not feel as “institutional.” The materials are an offshoot of the campus but with more detail, and while the buildings do feel FVCC-ish, the fact the single-story mass has a tall standing seam pitched roof is a tip of the hat to straight-up residential design, marking it uniquely home-like.