Evening in the interior courtyard at the Bridge Apartments.

Not thirty seconds into my tour of the new Ringling College Bridge Apartments, I announced, “I want to live here.” And I wasn’t exactly joking.

Dorms—as I recall them from my college years back in the Jurassic era—were concrete boxes that housed two army surplus beds, a pair of desks (circa WWI or perhaps the War of 1812), and two claustrophobic 18-year old roommates.

The Bridge Apartments is clearly the antidote to that antiquated living situation.

Just ask Sydney Anderson, a junior Creative Writing major who serves as the first-floor RA there. “The kitchen is the first thing that makes people go WOW!” she notes. “As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted by an open kitchen that simply flows into the living room area. The bedrooms have long windows that allow so much sunlight to stream in. Overall, it’s lovely and all the little details—the light fixtures over the island in the kitchen to the backsplashes in the kitchen and bathroom—make me feel like I’m in a chic New York apartment.”

“Ringling College has enjoyed growing enrollment over the past few years, necessitating the need for additional campus housing. Everyone wants to live in the new Bridge Apartments the moment they see them, but housed there are third- and fourth-year students,” reports Dr. Tammy Walsh, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students. “One of its most popular features outside of the beautiful apartments and inviting common indoor and outdoor spaces? The laundry room!” Sure, it’s great to have sparkling new machines lined up wall-to-wall, but what really puts a smile on student faces is that they’re free to use. FREE! Anderson laughs about it, saying, “I have friends offer to come visit me all the time, and when they get here, they’ve dragged along a bag of dirty laundry.”

Students working and lounging in the common spaces in the Bridge Apartments.
Students working and lounging in the common spaces in the Bridge Apartments.
Common spaces are designed for work or play.

The building is pending LEED v4-certification and mostly made up of two-and four-person apartment-style units that feature a shared living and kitchen space, private/single bedrooms, and semi-private bathrooms. All told, its 77,000 square feet of space houses 181 students, with common areas aplenty. One of the touches that I’m a big fan of is the glass area outside each dorm door that serves as a whiteboard. (It’s possible I might’ve stalled my tour to doodle a few penguin bikers on them with Expo markers. I confess!)

One of the most unique features is the bike room, which has metal racks to hang up 56 bikes for those who don’t want to store bikes in the outdoor racks. Another terrific element is the project lounge which has a monster sized TV, a variety of seating areas and tables (all with outlets to plug in whatever students need), and space to just hang with friends between classes. There’s even a spray booth and a sink with a stainless-steel top (just in case a project gets messy).

The construction was completed in a 12-month whirlwind by Willis Smith Construction with architecture by Ayers Saint Gross and interior design by Ayers Saint Gross and Ringling College’s interior designer, Lauren Hanson. One of the challenges they had was adjusting the plan to preserve two existing grand trees on South Riverside Drive, which meant sort of wrapping the building around three sides of those trees (the view of them from the top floor is stunning). The building’s form also creates a magnificent courtyard space that celebrates Whitaker Bayou and has a cool, curvy, meandering bridge that flows back toward campus.

Part of wall mural designed for the interior of the Bridge Apartments.
Students in common spaces.
Lively interior design covers the Bridge Apartments.

The inside of the Bridge Apartments features a captivating stair designed by alum Lenna Dahlquist (Graphic & Interactive Communication, ’08), and each floor has a clear color identity expressed through the interior finishes, the shades of the glass marker boards, and the lounge graphics. In short, it’s beautiful. But that’s not really why I want to live there. It’s because the big TV screens in the lounges of all three floors are often plugged into Xboxes and Playstations. “There’s a lot of gaming that goes on in the wee hours,” admits Anderson. With that much serious gamer competition, I could easily prove that I’m the best Mario Kart player ever to walk the earth.

Plus the hip lounge seating IS pretty comfy, I have to say. Hanson notes that the design concept was a boutique hotel, and that they actively sought to pay homage to the heavily-wooded, tropical area. “You see a lot of abstracted leaf elements and green throughout,” she says, “that’s often inspired by the palm fronds and existing vegetation.”

The end result is perhaps best summed up by Anderson, who shrugs and says, “I LOVE it here.” Even if all her student pals bring laundry when they visit.

By Ryan G. Van Cleave | Images by Ryan Gamma
Ryan G. Van Cleave is the author of 20 books as well as a writing coach and amateur papaya grower. He also runs the Creative Writing major at Ringling College of Art and Design.