Nic Lehoux

Most High School students try to convince university admissions staff that their academic achievements and extracurricular activities warrant acceptance. In an about face of sorts, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), among the newer schools in the state’s higher-education system, developed a master plan in 2007 to woo top students. One of its goals was to house at least half of the student body on-campus, including graduate students who historically must live in more expensive off-campus quarters.

“Because we don’t have a huge sports program and are academically oriented, we knew that being able to live on campus could help drive a positive experience,” says Mark Cunningham, executive director of housing, dining, and hospitality services at UCSD.

Case in point: Rita Atkinson Residences, a graduate student housing community with 226 two-bedroom, 762-square-foot furnished units at a monthly rental of $453 per person.

Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, in partnership with general contractor Webcor Builders of San Mateo, Calif., designed two adjacent L-shaped buildings at different heights and attached the buildings to form two U-shaped courtyards for outdoor use. A green roof atop one building offers a third outdoor option.

Inside, design choices such as granite countertops and polished concrete floors that mimic terrazzo make the units seem more like swank urban condominiums than typical grad student housing. “With nearly 11,000 private rental units within 8 miles of the campus, we knew the building had to be very attractive to warrant attention,” Cunningham says.

The building, which is hoping to achieve LEED gold or silver certification, was completed this past August, 11 months ahead of schedule, and was dedicated in early September. Within a few days, all 226 units were leased—a sure-fire sign of success.