The world's quirkiest student housing:new-look university halls are springing up within floating shipping containers, eco sheds and railway-inspired towers

Designers are turning their eye to university housing, creating smart, eco-friendly halls that even the most discerning student would be proud to call home.

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Student housing has a grim reputation, with most of us remembering cramped messy bedrooms, damp walls, dated decor and common rooms littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.

But while such delights are still reality for many, there are some halls of residence around the world that even the fussiest students would be proud to call home.

Property specialists have unearthed eight hidden gems that are sure to impress design fans, from stacked shipping containers floating in Copenhagen harbour to a Massachusetts extravaganza that offers students the chance to unleash their inner child in a ball pit. 

The Chapter in King's Cross is the pick of London's offerings, built in Natwest's old headquarters to reflect the railway heritage of the area using concrete and steel, ceramic tiling and carriage-style booth seating. The two 15-storey towers have been hosting students since 2007, but expect to pay up to £1,996 to live in such a prime location.

Those smart enough to have scored a place at Cambridge University's Churchill College can enjoy Cowan Court, dubbed "the first wooden Brutalist building". Behind the natural blackened oak walls there are 70 spacious rooms with oak floors, exposed beams and picture windows overlooking an internal courtyard filled with silver birch trees. Rooms cost between £360 and £700 a month.

Secret forest: Cowan Court in Cambridge hides a glade of silver birches

Those looking to study abroad should consider the Danish capital of Copenhagen for two stunningly innovative options. The Urban Rigger project offers low-cost housing in repurposed shipping containers built on floating platforms in the harbour. Costing just £472 a month, this buoyant hall boasts en-suite double rooms, roof terraces overlooking the dock, a kayak landing and a bathing platform, with raised edges protecting students from the threat of rising sea levels. Solar panels help keep the building eco-friendly.

Bang in the centre of the city, Tietgen Residence Halls house 360 students across seven floors, with rooms starting at £366 a month. Built around an inner courtyard, features include a classical room with a grand piano and an auditorium for hosting events. 

Over in the USA, Simmons Hall on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus cost an eye-watering £78.5 million to build despite its unglamorous nickname, "The Sponge". Modelled on a sea sponge, its award-winning 'lungs feature' brings in natural light and circulates fresh air around the building, while students enjoy unleashing their inner child in the ball pit or getting their 3am caffeine fix in the night café. The 344 undergraduates living here have to cough up big bucks for the privilege, with rooms starting at £1,102 a month.

The Sponge: Simmons Hall in Massachusetts is modelled on a sea sponge

In Småland, Sweden, students can embrace a minimalist lifestyle in an eco-friendly Tengbom Unit built from locally-sourced wood. Efficient design makes impressive use of just 10 square metres, fitting in a small kitchenette with fold-down dining table, a small bathroom, loft sleeping space, a hammock and a patio area for each student. Legal consent had to be sought to offer inhabitants such little space, but this option costs 50 per cent less than comparable renting options and would certainly make for a memorable student experience.

Eco living on a budget: Sweden's Tengbom Units offer just 10 square metres of space

Other stand-out European halls include Cité a Docks in Le Havre, France and Spacebox Studios in Apeldoorn in the Netherlands. Cité a Docks is a new student town built from old containers mounted on a metal grid. There are 100 apartments of 24 square metres, each costing £372 a month with full-length windows overlooking the English Channel. 

The colourful Spacebox Studios consist of stacked mobile studios that make excellent use of the small space available. Each self-contained unit comes with an en-suite bathroom and access to a shared kitchen, with prices starting at £370 a month.

Danielle Cullen, managing director at, said: “I absolutely love the effort that has gone into these developments, to really create a fun and functional living space for students. Many associate their time in a student house with a grubby single bedroom in a damp shared house. It’s refreshing to see diversified options for students to make their time at university truly memorable.

"With a bit of an uncertain future for the UK in terms of students numbers, Brexit and so forth, accommodation providers here should really take a leaf out of the books of some of these innovative developers across the world. The student accommodation market here is certainly developing, but who wouldn’t want to see some more fun and innovative spaces to bring more students to study here?”

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