Christopher Carvell Says Increasingly Complex Projects Create New Identities for Universities in CAPRE’s Mountain West Student Housing Forum Preview

DENVER, CO — Christopher Carvell Architects, PC was founded in Denver by Christopher Carvell, AIA in 1995. Mr. Carvell and his Senior Associates have guided programming, master planning, and the design of numerous critical efforts for private investor / developers, corporate end users, municipal / governmental and higher education clients throughout the Rocky Mountain West Region and nationwide. Christopher will be a featured speaker at CAPRE’s Mountain West Student Housing Forum in Denver, August, where he will participate in the panel, “The Evolution of Student Housing Design & Construction: New Urban Mixed Used Amenities, Speed to Market, and Cost Impact.” In anticipation of the event, we connected with Christopher to learn about his firm, perspective, and plans for CAPRE’s Student Housing Forum.

CAPRE: Thanks for chatting with us today, Chris. Talk to us about Christopher Carvell Architects. What’s your background and value proposition?

Carvell: As a firm, we bring a deep understanding and appreciation for what today’s students are looking for. Since our founding, CCA has designed every building type associated with Student Life on a college campus. This includes student unions, student recreation centers, event venues, satellite dining halls, and flex/lab multi-use classrooms. In each case, this wide range of uses inform the appropriate mixture for new campus expansions and housing precincts that are outside of the Campus Core. We call this “The total housing village concept.”


Four-bed loft semi suite, KCAI Student Living Center

Having an extensive array of on campus experience builds trust with a University that is possibly for the very first time putting out a P3 RFP. In the early days with EDR (now Greystar), we responded this way back in 2001 to an RFP for an off-campus full-block location that the University owned. 18 years and 6 successful projects later, we remain good friends and relevant to the needs that purpose built student housing has to have to be competitive.

CAPRE: What informs your strategy?

Christopher Carvell, Christopher Carvell Architects

Carvell: The best way to achieve success is through place-making. Place-making that enhances the student experience with buildings that foster interaction and community engagement. This is achieved through an intensive master planning and on-site programming workshop process. This thread carries through all projects at some level, having worked with the Nation’s top P3 Developers like EDR / Greystar, Capstone, and Balfour Beatty, to name a few.

CAPRE: 18 years is a long time. What kind of changes have you seen in the industry over that time?

Carvell: Well, the projects have gotten way more complex. They’re more about mixed use, with urban-like density, even on suburban campuses. There’s a high emphasis on community, that is outward and visible with smaller units. There’s usually (for most universities), a blend of academic space, dining space and “maker space” in order to showcase the hands-on aspects of what universities are perpetuating, which may be students and faculty interested in start-ups or new inventions or curricula. These projects are now much more than student housing, they are in many ways about a new identity – open, interactive, transparent, and technologically rich. We’ve been fortunate enough to work on some expansions that create new gateways to campuses, where students, faculty, and staff all interact together.


Wylie Dining Center, KCAI Student Living Center – Helix & Carvell Architects

CAPRE: Tell us about one of your recent projects.

Carvell: We’re in the middle of a mixed-use student life project for the Kansas City Art Institute’s downtown campus, with some interesting loft-like housing units. Amenitied include performance and viewing space, galleries, a new dining hall and a retail facility that’s designed to draw the museum community onto campus.


Gateway Campus Entry, KCAI Student Living Center – Helix & Carvell Architects

CAPRE: How important are those P3s in these projects? How much are universities looking for partnerships?

Carvell: Well, there are three ways to deliver these projects. One is the P3, another is a design-build model, and the last one is a traditional negotiated CMGC model. I’d say that ten years ago, even six or seven years ago, the P3 delivery model was 10-15% on campus, but now it’s more like 30%-40% of projects that universities are doing. That’s a pretty big jump.

CAPRE: So are the latest projects you’re seeing on campus or off?

Carvell: These projects are mostly on campus, but many are on the edge, just off-campus. The UT-Austin project was an example of a new development on university-owned land, but it was both on and off campus. So it can be both. We see a lot of hybrid projects like that, where the university controls the land, but the location can be not part of the core campus, and possibly not subject to as many campus standards.

CAPRE: How important is transit in inking a deal?

Carvell: We were one of the finalists for the most recent P3 for the University of Colorado at Denver. Eventually they decided to do it on their own. But there were two very different projects – one was more of a core on-campus residence and dining hall, and the other was more of a mixed use, transit-oriented design project that was adjacent to and connected to a light rail stop.

CAPRE: What are you looking forward to about CAPRE’s Mountain West Student Housing Forum?

Carvell: I’m looking forward to talking about prefabricated framing systems and the benefits of off-site technology, such as that by Prescient Co. In most cases, the construction time can be shortened by 2-3 months because you’re fabricating floors and wall assemblies, while completing construction documents and early foundations. You’re basically fabricating off-site in a controlled, more precise environment, and then shipping to the construction site. The speed is critical, because you have to be done prior to the fall semester for move-in, even if that means overtime. Whatever it takes. We live from August to August. Helping to control that schedule is a pretty big deal for us.

CAPRE: And we look forward to hearing about it in Denver. We’ll see you on the 8th!


Nerman Cafe at Gateway Entry, KCAI Student Living Center -Helix & Carvell Architects

Mr. Carvell’s specialized expertise in student life projects on college and university campuses has attracted some of the nation’s most prestigious public-private partnerships (P3) developers and advisors as clients. In addition, to CCA’s nationally recognized Student Life portfolio, their market rate / mixed-use and LIHTC Affordable Housing projects continue to thrive. Christopher Carvell Architects’ commissions have involved every aspect of the built environment. Major projects fall into six categories: Programming and Master Planning; New Building Design; Historic Preservation and Adaptive Re-use; Interior Design; Space Planning; and Urban Design.