When the University of California–Davis hired Mogavero Notestine Associates (MNA) to design the Tercero Residence Hall for the southwest corner of its main campus, its goal was to further refine a new trend in student housing: the creation of community at varying levels. “Traditional dormitories have rooms off long corridors and large shared bathrooms,” MNA principal Craig Stradley says. “The lack of privacy led to the creation of apartment-style suites in the 1980s, but these suites led to social isolation. Together with UC–Davis, we developed a hybrid we call a ‘cluster’ when designing its Segundo North dorm in 2002.”

Each floor of the Tercero Residence Hall’s three towers contains six clusters of eight or nine students, all of whom can meet up in their floor’s common lounge. The lounges are stacked atop one another over each tower’s entry.

Each cluster, Stradley says, consists of four or five single and double bedrooms that share a bathroom. Each cluster (as well as the bathroom itself) is accessible from a common hallway. In Tercero, with eight or nine residents per cluster and six clusters per floor, each of the three four-floor towers houses 200 students. “That building block defined a new generation of student housing at UC–Davis,” Stradley says, “but with the Tercero project, which we completed in 2010, we further defined the hierarchy of social spaces we began with the first project. The building block of the social community is the cluster, but then you also have a floor community consisting of six clusters that share a lounge. Beyond that, you have a four-story building community that shares a plaza and a common building entry—and a three-building project-wide community that shares a courtyard. The project includes the development of a quad to the north of the project that defines the broader neighborhood community.”

Additionally, one of the Tercero project’s community-enhancing elements also ended up being one of its greenest elements. Because California building code recently changed to allow a nonexit stairway to span four floors instead of two, MNA created an open internal staircase that stops at each floor’s community lounge, encouraging students from different floors to meet and mingle. At the top of the staircase, the firm built a raised roof that is slightly tilted and terminates with operable louvers and exhaust fans. The idea? When building sensors register unacceptable heat levels, the louvers will open, and the hot air will rise and be expelled. And louvers have also been placed beneath window seats in each cluster to draw cooler air in at the same time.

Magnetic door closers that allow students to prop their doors open for social activity (but that also automatically close the doors in the event of a fire) further enhance the system. When doors are open, Stradley says, cool air is drawn in from those dorm rooms as well as from the window seats. The system, Stradley says, is much like a whole house fan, popular in Sacramento, California, where 110-degree days turn into 65-degree nights, and it helped the Tercero project best the state’s strict energy code, Title 24, by more than 32 percent.

For Mogavero Notestine Associates, such achievements in social and environmental sustainability aren’t exactly novel. “We were founded as a sustainable design firm,” Stradley says, “and community is central to the work we do.”