Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments at the Yard New Brunswick, New Jersey

Creating a new residential community while strengthening town-and-gown connections, The Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard provides 442 student beds in 135 apartments in two-, three-, and four-person suite apartments with full kitchens and living rooms. Located just off campus adjacent to Voorhees Mall—the most historic part of the Rutgers University’s College Avenue Campus—The Yard is a result of a creative partnership between the University and the City’s non-profit development agency, New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco). The programming and planning of the site was the coordinated effort of Facilities Planning and Student Affairs at the University, Devco, and the City, and part of Rutger’s larger College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative.

Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments

The Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard accommodates 442 continuing students in two-, three-, and four-person suite apartments with full kitchens and living rooms. All images © Brad Feinknopf

Consistent with the University’s developmental goals for each student, the new 232,000-square-foot residential community provides apartment-style accommodations for continuing students as they prepare to transition to life post-college. Every aspect of the building’s location and program fosters individual independence, self-reliance, and self-awareness. Students living at The Yard receive all the benefits of a University-sponsored residential life program while living independently and benefitting from daily interaction with people of all ages and occupations in the larger community.

Design Opportunity

The College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative at Rutgers University–New Brunswick looked strategically at Rutgers’ 21st-century needs and strategic parcels of land in the core of campus. Through a unique partnership with the City’s non-profit redevelopment agency, the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco), the University was able to participate in land exchange with neighboring institutions. This enabled the connection of the north and south parts of the campus for the first time in its 150 years.

With this newly available land, Elkus Manfredi Architects design team was able to rethink the campus core and reprogram an urban perimeter where the campus meets the City. Three new University buildings, the Sojourner Truth Apartments at the Yard (2016), the Honors College (2015) and Rutgers Academic Building (2016) — are the direct result of this planning effort and offer students state-of-the-art living, instructional, and support spaces designed to attract top talent to New Jersey’s premier public research university.

Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments

Cafe tables line the boardwalk that leads to a pedestrian passage to Hamilton Street and the neighborhood beyond.

Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments

The common room has views to the lawn, video screen, and boardwalk. Bifold glass aircraft hangar doors open the living room space to the lawn.

Design Challenges for the Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard

  • Master plan these much-needed student apartments while also concurrently master planning the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative’s other new buildings, the Honors College Residences and the Rutgers Academic Building, creating a newly connected campus
  • Redevelop the project’s “Parking Lot 8” site, at the edge-of-campus along College Avenue, for the student apartments, incorporating welcoming connections to both the adjacent campus and the College Avenue neighborhood
  • Design residences to house Rutger’s students during their junior and senior years that support campus life and their transition to life after graduation
  • Create a sustainably designed, contemporary student residence that connects aesthetically with Rutger’s historic, masonry campus.
Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments

The double-height sky lounge offers panoramic views of the city and historic campus and is a great space to study and socialize.

Rutgers University Sojourner Truth Apartments

On a clear day, the Manhattan skyline can be seen from the eastern windows.

Design Solutions for the Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard

  • Set at the edge of the historic campus, The Yard occupies over 300 feet of frontage along the neighborhood side of the University’s main street, College Avenue.
  • Designed in a U-shape, the Sojourner Truth Apartments’ three connected wings surround a courtyard, called “The Yard,” open to College Avenue. Oriented to the street in a gesture of openness and welcome, the apartments are atop a mixed-use ground floor with 14,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, a student Commons collaborative space, a 1,500-square-foot fitness facility, and several open common rooms and administrative offices.
  • Designed for public access, The Yard is a new common ground between Rutgers University and the City of New Brunswick, revitalizing the University’s main street by offering social amenities for all. Students, faculty, affiliates of the University, and residents of New Brunswick are invited in the courtyard, the restaurants, and the large common room that anchors the lawn.
  • Design balances modern architectural forms and materials that evoke the history of the University. The “Girder Slab” high-rise has glass, metal, and terra cotta rainscreen cladding. Its three volumes form three edges of a courtyard, while the fourth side opens to the street. The center wing is 14 stories tall and offers dramatic views of New Brunswick and the historic Voorhees Mall on campus. The six-story south wing and eight-story north wing frame courtyard lawn, known as The Yard.
  • The use of a prefabricated panelized wall system of terracotta improved construction time and maintained the desired aesthetic complementing adjacent historic buildings. With a design and construction duration of less than three years, this 232,000-square-foot project was on a fast track. A steel structure with precast concrete planks for the floors became the skeleton that would receive prefabricated terra cotta wall panels. These large wall panels spanned from floor-to-floor and column-to-column and arrived at the site with the windows and the framing for the interior wallboard preassembled, reducing the time required to make the building weather tight and shortening construction by six months.
  • The terra cotta panels offer three advantages: durability, resulting in a low life-cycle cost; naturally fired earthen colors are visually compatible with the historic brick and brownstone buildings of the adjacent Old Queen’s and Voorhees Mall; their flat, machined profiles complement the contemporary rectilinear volumes of the building.
  • The facade design also reflects campus sensibilities in the rich red brick–inspired patterning of its tower.
  • The courtyard and public sidewalks are designed to foster 24/7 activity with finishes and dimensions that encourage informal gathering.
  • Large airplane-hangar doors open to the lawn, giving anyone in the community access to the building’s comfortable Commons living room, regardless of affiliation.
  • The lawn of the courtyard, animated by a large freestanding video board, eight independent third-party retail stores, and a pavilion housing a Starbucks, is the town square for this town-and-gown community.
  • The University sought to accommodate some of the beloved food trucks that had operated out of the former “Parking Lot 8,” serving the larger neighborhood, in some of the new ground floor storefronts. The planning team worked with the City and Devco to ensure that these vendors could return to the site in permanent storefronts. “RU Hungry?,” the most famous one, now occupies 1,500 square feet at The Yard.
  • The outdoor courtyard features a large video screen that draws the community together for movies, sports, concerts, and social gatherings.
  • Sustainable design: The Sojourner Truth Apartments are certified LEED-NC Silver. The apartments have floor-to-ceiling windows to allow for maximum exposure to natural light. Within the units, operable windows provide natural ventilation and reduce the need for artificial heating/cooling use. The building is energy- and water-efficient with a LEED total energy use savings of 33.5% and a LEED total energy cost savings of 24.9%. The project also meets New Jersey’s “Pay for Performance (P4P)” energy program standards, which identified a cost savings of 19.9%. From a water-efficiency perspective, the building achieves a 40% water use reduction over the base line of a code compliant building due to very efficient showerheads installed in the units, water efficient toilets, and user-sensor faucets. Lighting in the building uses efficient LED and compact florescent fixtures.
  • The Sojourner Truth Apartments at The Yard, in combination with the Rutgers Academic Building, and the Honors College Residences, were honored collectively by the U.S. Green Building Council of New Jersey (USGBC NJ), with the 2016-2017 Innovative School Project of the Year award presented to the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative.
  • These student apartments are named for abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, a former slave who was owned as a young girl by the family of Rutgers’ first president Jacob Hardenbergh.

By the Numbers

  • Total project: 232,000 square feet
  • 442 student beds in 135 apartments
  • 13 residential floors
  • Center wing: 14 stories
  • South Wing: Six (6) stories
  • North Wing: Eight (8) stories
  • The Yard (courtyard): 25,000 square feet
  • 14,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space
  • Eight (8) independent retailers tenant the ground level
  • 1,500-square-foot fitness facility
  • 5% LEED total energy use savings
  • 9% LEED total energy cost savings
  • Opened Fall 2016

Project Team

DeveloperNew Brunswick Development Company (Devco)
Master Planner, Architecture and Interior ArchitectureElkus Manfredi Architects
ContractorJoseph Jingoli & Son Inc.   
MEP/FPCosentini Associates       
StructuralThornton Tomasetti
Building Envelope ConsultantSimpson Gumpertz & Heger  
Landscape ArchitectHargreaves Associates
LightingKaplan Gehring McCarroll Architectural Lighting   
Civil EngineeringLangan Engineering & Environmental Services
Accessibility ConsultantKessler McGuinness & Associates
Sustainability ConsultantThe Green Engineer
Specifications ConsultantJack Fogg
Hardware ConsultantCampbell-McCabe
AV ConsultantConvergent Technologies Design Group
Acoustical ConsultantAcentech
Van Deusen & AssociatesVertical Transportation
Graphic DesignBurke+Design
TerracottaShildan Group