For to­day’s stu­dents, it’s hip to be square

For the univer­sity digs of the fu­ture, think inside the box, says Christo­pher Mid­dle­ton

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Designs Of The Times -

Take three paces for­wards. Stop. Turn sharp right and ad­vance an­other five paces. Now pause for a well-earned rest; you’ve just walked the length and breadth of your Nido stu­dent cube.

Your what? Well, Nido (Ital­ian for nest) is the name of the huge new de­vel­op­ment that is cur­rently be­ing built just up the road from King’s Cross Sta­tion, and which is de­signed to pro­vide 846 col­lege-go­ers with liv­ing pods, or “cubes”, from Septem­ber next year.

Not so long ago, the two Nido tower blocks were NatWest Bank of­fices. Now they’ve been bought for £27 mil­lion by a big in­vest­ment com­pany, the pho­to­copiers and wa­ter­cool­ers have been shipped out, and in their place have come hun­dreds of prepacked, pre-man­u­fac­tured shower-cum-toi­let units, im­ported from work­shops just out­side War­saw.

The cost of the whole scheme is £95 mil­lion, and an­other 1,000 iden­ti­cal cubes are be­ing built just a cou­ple of miles away, in Spi­tal­fields, by the same com­pany. All of a sud­den, it seems, stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion is no longer the prov­ince of dodgy land­lords want­ing rent in cash, no ques­tions asked, but of global in­vest­ment com­pa­nies with bil­lions of pounds of eq­uity be­hind them.

“This is a sec­tor we very much want to get into,” says Stu­art Grant, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the real es­tate sec­tion at the Black­stone Group, the firm fi­nanc­ing Nido. “More and more stu­dents are com­ing to Lon­don all the time, which means the de­mand for ac­com­mo­da­tion is in­creas­ing ac­cord­ingly.”

And what Nido will of­fer those square-feet-seek­ing stu­dents is a self-con­tained, sin­gle cube (742 avail­able) for £180 a week, or a shared one for £120. “Shared”, it should be men­tioned here, means sleep­ing in the same room, which is some­thing to which Amer­i­can stu­dents are much more ac­cus­tomed than English. Al­ready, one US univer­sity is thought to be tak­ing a block book­ing of 80 cubes, and it’s likely that large num­bers of Nido ten­ants will come from over­seas, not least be­cause the project is be­ing ac­tively pro­moted abroad.

“I’ve been trav­el­ling the world with ap­pli­ca­tion forms at the ready,” says Mau­reen McDer­mott, the project’s stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion man­ager, who has been ev­ery­where from Mon­treal to Mumbai, from Sin­ga­pore to Switzer­land, drum­ming up in­ter­est among col­leges and po­ten­tial par­ents. “One of the main mes­sages we’re try­ing to get across is that Nido is more than just a place to live.”

In other words, th­ese young pod-dwellers won’t just get four walls and a view of St Pan­cras, but a range of cam­pus-type fa­cil­i­ties such as com­mon rooms, study rooms and a free gym­na­sium. There will also be spe­cially des­ig­nated post­grad­u­ate stu­dents, known as res­i­dents’ as­sis­tants, who (in re­turn for free rent) will each act as in­for­ma­tion point and so­cial or­gan­iser for some 60-70 younger nest-dwellers.

“They will be on per­ma­nent call, so if, for ex­am­ple, one of the stu­dents has to go to hospi­tal, he or she won’t have to go alone,” says McDer­mott. “It’s a peace-of-mind thing.”

In ad­di­tion to a ready-made friend, Nido ten­ants will also get a per­son­alised swipe card that will serve both as front­door key and charge­card, al­low­ing them to pay for (or rather get their par­ents to pay for) things such clean­ing, laun­dry and es­sen­tial cups of cap­puc­cino.

“You can see how this kind of set-up will ap­peal to par­ents who are send­ing their chil­dren to col­lege for the first time, and are a bit ner­vous about it,” says Roland Shanks, of Univer­sity of Lon­don Hous­ing Ser­vices, which helps stu­dents at 30 dif­fer­ent col­leges find ac­com­mo­da­tion. “Es­pe­cially if they’re from abroad.

“At the same time, though, £180 a week is very much at the top end of the rent scale. For that sort of price, you can get a proper-sized stu­dio flat in the cen­tre of town, mea­sur­ing some­thing like 30ft by 12ft (Nido cubes are 16ft by 9ft). As for a room in a shared flat, we’ve got some on our web­site for £59 a week in Finch­ley and £85 a week in Lon­don SE16 (Rother­hithe).

“The thing is, the stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion sit­u­a­tion in Lon­don isn’t nearly as dire as peo­ple think. Over the past three years, so many peo­ple have put buy-to-let prop­er­ties on the mar­ket that there has been a bit of a glut. Stu­dents now find they have ac­cess to much nicer prop­er­ties than ever be­fore,” says Shanks.

As well as point­ing col­lege­go­ers to­wards flats, the Hous­ing Ser­vices Unit also helps steer them to­wards flat­mates, via its house-share no­tice­board. Not that par­ents on the other side of the world (or even the UK) are go­ing to be too keen about fix­ing up their off­spring with a flat­ful of strangers in East Sheen or sim­i­lar. Which is where the Nido pack­age starts to look at­trac­tive, with its big-money back­ing and glossy cor­po­rate brand­ing (de­vised by Tyler Brûlé, founder ed­i­tor of stylebible mag­a­zine Wall­pa­per).

All right, so on the one hand, you’re in a cube that’s only twice the min­i­mum per­mis­si­ble size of a Home Of­fice prison cell. But on the other hand, you’re young, you’re liv­ing in the mid­dle of one of the world’s most cos­mopoli­tan cities, and al­though you’re 15 storeys up in the sky, you’ve got your own pied à terre. D Nido, 020 7778 9273, www.nidolon­ DUniver­sity of Lon­don Hous­ing Ser­vices (020 7862 8880; hous­ing.lon­ of­fers an ac­com­mo­da­tion no­tice­board and find-a-flat­mate fa­cil­ity.

Through the square win­dow: Nido, the new de­vel­op­ment near King’s Cross in Lon­don will house 846 stu­dents in cubes 16ft by 9ft

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