Multi-family housing design trends driven by COVID-19

As the COVID situation has driven many to work from home, the need for changes to the way in which new multifamily apartment buildings are designed has become apparent; architects and designers are adjusting to this new normal.

By Brian McSweeney, PE December 2, 2020

“The American Dream,” we are frequently told, involves owning land and a home. But for many, many Americans renting is either their preferred or necessary path to having a place to live. In fact, in the U.S. Census Bureau’s second quarter 2020 update on Homeownership, the Bureau says that only 67.9% of those housed in the United States own a home. The remaining 32.1% of the housed population rents.

As the COVID situation has driven many to work from home, the need for changes to the way in which new multifamily apartment buildings are designed has become apparent. Apartments are limited in their space just as many houses are, and as a colleague of mine noted, working from home in the family’s apartment has created new stresses. Developers and architects are taking note of these issues.

At TLC Engineering Solutions, we work with multiple clients to provide structural and M/E/P engineering services for multifamily residential projects. In the past few years, I have personally been involved with Nelson Worldwide on two multifamily projects local to Florida, and Baker Barrios Architects on a series of multifamily projects in the Nashville, Tennessee area.

The most immediate shift in the design of these projects is a pivot to provide more communal co-working space. In some cases, this is space that is additional to the original footprint of the planned development, either as an expansion of each apartment building’s plans or as a separate structure altogether. In other cases, I see this space taking the place of portions of already-designated community areas such as the traditional “community center” or gymnasium space.

Eddy Street South Bend is an excellent example of new multi-family residential housing that aims to provide renters with quality housing at an affordable price. Courtesy: Baker Barrios Architects & Ramston Capital, LLC/TLC Engineering for Architecture[/caption]

One more major trend in the development of lower-cost multifamily projects is that experienced developers aiming to complete these types of projects within a more limited budget are bringing the design and construction teams together much earlier in the design phase. As a structural engineer, this has enabled me to work closely with the construction team and design team to provide economical detailing suited to the locality of the project. It has also given the team the advantage of discussing material availability early, since many of us have noted that COVID has caused shortages in a number of key building materials, including wood, in some areas of the nation. Doing so helps prevent surprises that could dramatically impact project budget and/or the permitted design as the project moves to construction.

We have all seen in the news that renter eviction rates are potentially increasing, homeowners are selling and moving to rentals, and current renters of so-called luxury apartments are weighing their options under the pressure of decreased income. For these reasons, mid-range apartment developments that also offer options to work from home without being in the shared or perhaps limited space of an apartment are likely to reap the rewards of designing for the times.

This article originally appeared on TLC Engineering Solutions’ websiteTLC Engineering Solutions is a CFE Media content partner. 

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Author Bio: Brian McSweeney, PE, project engineer, TLC Engineering for Architecture