The student housing market is undergoing a global change. Despite more than $16 billions of global investments in student housing in 2017[1], supply cannot keep up with the growing demand in many cities across the world, causing rent hikes. As not every student has the same budget, it is of great importance that student housing remains affordable. There are four approaches[2] that could be used to achieve this: develop more housing and unlock land supply, reduce operations and maintenance costs, lowering financing costs, and reducing constructions costs. This blog by our research intern Ali Naqvi focusses on the latter one, highlighting 5 trends that will help innovate the way we construct PBSA.

Re-use of abandoned constructions

The re-use of abandoned constructions might in some cases be an interesting alternative to new constructions. Of course, renovation costs play a big part when considering this. Offsetting these costs against the life span of the project will show if this is financially more attractive. An additional benefit is that re-using constructions is often more environmentally friendly.

In China, the Zhengzhou Art School transformed an abandoned train into student dorms, setting a radical example for transformation projects. The train has 11 compartments and can accommodate 300 students, with prices ranging from $55 to $86 per month[3].

Inhabitat, 2015

Building on water

While building a house on water might be more expensive regarding the construction, buying space on water is often only a fraction of the price of land, making this option cheaper in the end.Denmark based BIG Architects has developed floating studentresidences in Copenhagen, called ‘the urban rigger project’. They used nine shipping containers over two levels, creating 15 student units[4]. This is a great example of the previous topic as well (re-using shipping containers), showing how several ways of reducing construction costs can be combined.

Dezeen, 2016

Sustainable materials

The use of renewable or cost-efficient materials also reduces the cost of construction. The use of wood for example can lead to a 10-15% cost reduction[5]. An example is UBC’s Brock Commons student residence in Vancouver, housing more than 400 students[6].

The University of British Columbia, 2016


Some companies have started solving the housing issue with modular construction, which is a quick and efficient construction method. Construction on-site can be shortened to only a couple of weeks or months, off course depending on the size of the project. The overall building time for modular homes can be as little as 12 weeks, since 90% of construction can be completed off-site[7]. This all is saving time, and thus costs.

Another advantage of this method is that a 50% reduction in material use can be achieved with modular construction, since manufacturers have the opportunity to better control the flow of materials, and analyse the waste generated[8]. This saves costs and is better for the environment too.

An example is Apex House in Wembley. This 29-storey building accommodates 580 students. The total development time was 12 months, but all modules were placed within only 13 weeks[9]. Another great example is Ravel Residence of Student Experience in Amsterdam. This complex with 800 student units was completed in just 11 months[10].

Richard Southall

Student Experience

3D printing

3D printing processes in the housing construction sector is a recent innovation and is still in its infancy. This method has in common with modular building that it saves construction time and material, thus saving costs. On top of that, it will save extra labour costs since the process is automated to a far extent.

While most projects are still in concept, quite recently the world’s first family moved into a 3D-printed house. In Nantes (France), a four-bedroom house was printed in 54 hours. The costs were 20% lower compared to using a traditional method[11]. The team expects that they can print the same house again in only 33 hours, and that in 10-15 years this method will even become 40% cheaper.



It is the right time to further invest in innovative, smarter and cost-effective solutions that help solving the imbalance between supply and demand in European student living. Above mentioned methods hopefully serve as an inspiring repository of possible sustainable. The more the pressure builds up, the more likely it will be that we find a diamond somewhere in the rough.