Creating Community is at the Forefront of Multifamily Design

Top architects and developers discuss what residents are looking for at the CPE-MHN 2020 Summit Series.
Oleander. Image courtesy of Mary Cook Associates

The CPE-MHN 2020 Summit Series brought together industry experts discussing today’s hottest topics including deal making, space planning, marketing tips and development and design. Day two was focused on multifamily, with one of the breakout sessions, “What’s Hot in Development and Design,” featuring architects and developers discussing some of today’s trends in multifamily and what residents are currently looking for.

Moderated by Alvarez-Diaz & Villalon’s Co-Founder & CEO Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz, panelists included JZA+D’s Managing Partner Joshua Zinder, Mary Cook Associates’ Founder & Principal Mary Cook and Gables Residential’s Vice President of Design Lynn Riley Stokes. Each panelist shared some of their most recent projects: Oleander in Brookhaven, Ga., with interiors designed by Mary Cook Associates; Gables Pointe 14 in Arlington, Va., developed by Gables Residential; and 30 Maclean in Princeton, N.J., redeveloped by JZA+D.

Even before the pandemic, multifamily developers and architects were placing a larger focus on incorporating health and wellness into a property. Now with the overwhelming importance of having a clean and secure space, many designs focus on bringing the outdoors in and utilizing natural materials to promote a healthier atmosphere. This could range from integrating retractable doors and windows to merge spaces together, to creating transformational spaces that residents can use for multiple uses, such as a coworking and lounge room being made into a gaming area.

The senses are also an element of interest, with Stokes noting they have used sight and smell as two large ones in their developments. “We want to engage peoples senses as you walk into a place. Smell is a big one. You want to make sure it feels fresh, clean and breathable,” she said. 

Sense of community 

A sense of community was an important topic brought up by the panelists, noting the importance of doing research before moving forward with a project. “The best questions to ask are “Who are we designing for? Where do they live? And what will this space mean for how they live?,” said Cook. The design should take into consideration the specifics of the site and how residents will get the most out of their space. 

Gables Pointe 14. Image courtesy of Gables Residential

When it comes to analysis of the area you’re looking to build, key considerations include the median income of the neighborhood, major employers nearby, your target demographic and most importantly what the competition is doing. “Identify who you are looking to put in these units and what their goals are. Something like a neighborhood walk and talking to locals is a great way to gauge what people in the area are searching for,” explained Zinder. 

Another point of interest for a community feel is the wellness factor. Adapting exterior spaces to make them more livable for year-round use is most important now, given that people have been facing long-term isolation due to the affects of COVID-19 precautions. Adding more lighting and heating outside, higher ventilation and air quality, protection from the elements and space coverings will allow residents to safely use these spaces while still remaining under secure guidelines. There needs to be integration of safety and security behinds the scenes. 

“We want to create opportunities to create relationships, even with what everyone has been dealing with,” concluded Alvarez-Diaz.