Expected Changes to Multifamily Design

We sat down with some of our multifamily housing experts and asked them for their insights on the future of multifamily design, and how the cultural shifts brought on by the pandemic might forever change the look and feel of apartment living. Here’s what they told us:

Q: Listening to the residents of our buildings has always been a priority, but there’s been a significant uptick in feedback coming from apartment dwellers. Why is that?

Mike DeRouin: One benefit to renting an apartment is the ability to inherently think in the short-term and, therefore, renters can be more reactionary to the market conditions and pressures–whether that means to change buildings or stay in place. Through the pandemic, the challenges of living in multifamily properties have been counterbalanced by the discomfort of embarking upon an apartment search and moving experience to seek a new living arrangement. That struggle has empowered apartment residents to get even more vocal about what they need out of their current or next multifamily property.

Q: What should apartment owners and managers be considering right now in terms of changing or upgrading their properties?

Kristen Larkin: We may expect to see a re-calibrating of the size and type of common spaces in the building. Perhaps amenity spaces will change from one large open lounge to multiple various-size spaces sprinkled throughout the building that can accommodate smaller-group offerings organized around themes and resident interests, rather than a single large amenity space that gets used for large parties only occasionally.

Q: Speaking of building amenities, we’ve seen many spaces closed for almost a year, now, due to health protocols. Once they reopen, how will they change?

Mike Breclaw: Listening to what residents missed most during the pandemic lockdowns, it is likely that more space will be dedicated to fitness and recreation. As we think creatively about how to respond to resident needs, one possible solution would be to blend desired space types across indoor and outdoor areas, for example, by integrating large operable glass doors–or a garage door–allowing an interior fitness space to open to an exterior deck where outdoor activities or classes can be hosted.

Steve McFadden: With amenities closed, many residents turned to distanced outdoor activities for variety and fitness. We’ve all come to appreciate that link to the outdoors, and we think residents will all consider it an important feature of their homes. Expect to see even more emphasis placed on outdoor terraces and easy links to the neighborhood outside the building—multifamily buildings that provide this much-needed amenity will have a competitive edge on their competitors who don’t. We also expect the demand for balconies on residential units to persist or grow long-term.

Q: Across many industries, work-from-home flexibility is likely to remain an option for a long time to come. Will that place a strain on multifamily apartment buildings?

Kristen Larkin: The work-from-home trend, while initially imposed upon us as a critical safety measure, has been embraced by many as the way of the future–for reasons including convenience, flexibility, productivity, and simply “preference.” Work-from-home is here to stay and will likely never return to the pre-pandemic 25%. Therefore, it will be critical that multifamily buildings support tenant’s work needs through improvements to the units, as well as supportive amenity spaces.

Q: Another aspect of daily life that was magnified during the pandemic was even more online shopping and local errand deliveries, causing multifamily buildings to scramble to accommodate the increase in packages and drop-offs. What needs to change in the future?

Rick Whitney: There are many ways designers can help building owners and managers navigate the need for more space for package storage or more efficient back-of-house space for managing deliveries. In addition to Lobby Drop-Zones and long-lead futuristic ideas like drone delivery pads on balconies, plenty of traditional design solutions, such as expanding package rooms, adding lockers, or generally improving adjacencies for ease of resident access to packages can alleviate the pain point in the immediate future.

Q: We talk a lot about the people who live in apartment buildings, but what about the people who manage them? How will spaces need to change for leasing professionals, for example?

Kristen Larkin: If virtual leasing is here to stay, a rethinking of the leasing office environment also may be necessary. One consideration may be providing for a couple of private offices, as well as back-of-house space for the building staff that can be secured at night. Adjacent space could include a large communal table where prospective tenants could explore unit options digitally on iPads before meeting with a leasing agent. Meanwhile, an open lounge and conference suite could be shared by both building staff and tenants.

Q: We’ve heard that health-consciousness is likely to last for years after the pandemic concerns have been calmed. What impacts could this have on building maintenance and upkeep?

Kristen Larkin: In consideration of both the work-from-home trend and the improved/increased cleaning protocols put into place by property managers, the need for long-lasting, commercial-grade finishes throughout both common areas and units will likely be emphasized going forward. As designers, we can offer unique solutions that meet this durability need, while also accommodating aesthetic goals. Additionally, we believe that this pandemic has accelerated an already growing focus on how buildings support our overall health and wellness. After all, we do spend 90% of our time in buildings, so as architects and designers we need to take a more holistic approach in creating spaces that enhance our lives, inside and out.