Designing the mixed-use developments of today and tomorrow

Mixed-use developments are constantly evolving to remain relevant with the shifting times and to keep up with the latest technology.

By Brian Olliges and Marcus Perry June 22, 2023
Courtesy: Henderson Engineers

Mixed-use developments are constantly evolving to remain relevant with the shifting times and to keep up with the latest technology. Humans crave memorable experiences, and providing unique, varied experiences all under one roof can help make those memories last a lifetime. While mixed-use facilities have been around for decades, continued population growth in cities and urban living environments have changed design trends for these spaces.

As cultural hubs of hospitality, retail, residential living, commercial enterprise, and wellbeing – these developments are becoming more prevalent and changing urban landscapes across the country, leading to a new model for urban design. Common examples of the multipurpose facility types often seen in mixed use developments are live (residential and hotel), work (office), and play (retail, sports, and venue).

With more than half of the planet’s population now living in cities, these densely populated areas are facing an urban redevelopment or regeneration to reimagine and provide new opportunities in older and dilapidated areas. Many of the mixed-use developments of today are transit-oriented, intertwine cultural roots of the past with the present, and have a heavy emphasis on sustainability. By modifying old strategies and concepts to accommodate the needs of today and the future, mixed-use developments can remain evergreen as cities continue to grow and support generations to come.

Ease of access

A key component to today’s mixed-use developments is ease of access. Walkability and movability are perhaps the most important features. According to the Federal Transit Authority, “Dense, walkable, mixed-use development near transit attracts people and adds to vibrant, connected communities. Public transportation can help foster partnerships in communities that support the development of affordable housing around transit.”

Public transportation methods commonly used to serve mixed-use developments include light rails, streetcars, and subway systems. As remote working and co-working become more prevalent in a post-pandemic world, these areas can provide flex office space to gather outside of the home including think tanks, conference rooms, and collaboration stations.

Community focused

Mixed-use facilities are perfectly equipped to provide a vibrant mix of uses that connect cultural roots of the past with the present. From restaurants, shops, gyms, and sporting venues to office spaces, hotels, and healthcare facilities, facilities are integrated into the existing urban fabric, rather than becoming isolated destinations. In many cities, mixed-use developments become the local heart and pulse of the community. They are a destination for both locals and visitors.

Designing sustainably

Today more than ever, designing with a sustainable mindset is crucial. Mixed-use developments can play a crucial role by encouraging mass transit use, therefore reducing vehicle miles traveled. It is critical to design and build mixed-use developments to be efficient in every way possible, including low energy use from building systems.

Engineering and planning for future challenges

Looking to the future, it will be crucial to build resilient mixed-use buildings. Limited resources such as water are leading to higher costs. Exploration and implementation of re-use applications such as rainwater catchment, harvesting and greywater reuse will be key to addressing these concerns.

Newer and cleaner methods for powering and heating these facilities will also be critical with natural gas being removed from many new builds and staged out in metropolitan areas. Building electrification is a clean solution, leading to all-electric buildings that provide a pathway to eliminating fossil fuel use, which is responsible for 92% of total U.S. anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Additional challenges faced by mixed-use developments of the future are related to densification. One of these being condensed footprints for all building utility services (sanitary and grease waste, storm, electrical, natural gas, generators, and water (domestic, fire sprinkler, etc.). Another challenge for these services is where to locate them and how to conceal them. It is critical to coordinate these thoughts early in project design.

Many of these facilities host varying tenants and are used for very different purposes. This gives designers the chance to turn challenges into opportunities. A key example is designing HVAC systems to accommodate different building usage types and to capture energy efficiencies. This can be accomplished by utilizing diversified operating schedules and needs to optimize system size and efficiency.

Other considerations for designing facilities with varying occupants are the multiple code requirements and differences. This requires coordination with municipalities, utility companies, civil/structural engineers, architects, and building owners.

Engineers will continue to be tasked with finding cost-effective solutions and ways to retrofit these developments for future client needs and emerging technologies. It’s important to provide guidance and clarity on choices with owners and clients to assist in futureproofing and adaptability. The engineers of the future are going to need to have great listening and communication skills, empathy, and provide clients an experience they won’t forget.

Original content can be found at Henderson Engineers.

Author Bio: Brian Olliges is Business Sector Mixed Use Practice Director | Principal and Marcus Perry is Business Sector Client Relationship Director | Associate