Finding Common Ground
Natasha Singh likes her 100-square-foot bedroom in the newly built Charles Commons dormitory in Charles Village. It's bright, it's new, and it's clean. And she describes her view of Baltimore from her suite's 10th-story window as "gorgeous." But what the Johns Hopkins junior really likes about the 12-story, 313,000-square-foot residence hall is its well-appointed common areas for studying, exercising, cooking, eating, and just hanging out with friends.
"My roommates and I all agree it's like living in a hotel, but without the room service," she jokes.
Creating community among undergraduates was a big focus in the development of Charles Commons, according to Paula Burger, the Homewood campus's dean of undergraduate education. Sure, Hopkins needed more on-campus housing, but Charles Commons is more than a place where 618 students live. It's where Hopkins students — even those who live off campus or in other dorms — can gather.
"We didn't want this to be a building where students just went into their suites and closed their doors," Burger says during a recent tour. "We go to all of this trouble to assemble 4,200 of the best and the brightest undergraduates at Hopkins. They need spaces where they can come together."
This isn't the dorm you might remember from your undergraduate days — that's apparent the moment you step through the doors. Forget cinderblock walls and stodgy, plaid institutional furniture. Here you'll find study areas with walls of warm gold that are hung with original artwork. There are lounges filled with stylish, comfy furniture set amid pool tables and TVs. The rooms — either two- or four-person suites — have private bedrooms and shared living areas, bathrooms and kitchenettes. The dining hall, called Nolan's on 33rd, has a wood-fired pizza oven and a two-sided fireplace.
Even the laundry room is cool. "With this feature we have called eSuds, students get notified on their computer when their laundry is done," says Burger.
What happens at Charles Commons is different, too. There's a commercial kitchen where students can take cooking classes from local chefs or whip up a birthday cake for friends. There are practice rooms for musicians, a stage for standup comics, and a fitness room for exercise buffs. There's a private dining room where students can host sorority meetings or group study sessions — or even join in family dinners with Amy Shelton, the faculty fellow at Charles Commons, who lives there with her husband and toddler.
"We wanted to make Charles Commons a place that had social venues for students, a place that was upscale and stylish so they would feel special," Burger says. "We didn't just design a pretty building." — MB
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