Sustainability is Most Serious and Exciting Challenge Multifamily Faces Today

Chris Jones, ARB, RIBA (pictured) is the managing principal of RMJM’s Urban Studio, catering to public and private clients developing large-scale projects. He specializes in dealing with the complexities of working in an urban context, sustainable and energy efficient design. He has worked on the award-winning Performance Academy and led the Lifestyle Academy projects for Newcastle College, U.K.’s largest education facility with music, performing arts and media under one roof. Jones is an active member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Urban Land Institute.He talks to MHN Online Editor Anuradha Kher about RMJM’s multifamily projects around the world and in the U.S., the competitive advantage that diversity brings to the company and the challenges of designing multifamily projects.MHN: What percentage of RMJM’s multifamily projects is based outside the U.S?Jones: We are currently working in over 20 countries and around two-thirds to three-quarters of our multifamily projects are outside the U.S. in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.MHN: Currently, where are the company’s ongoing global multifamily projects based?Jones: We have multifamily projects in the United Kingdom, Turkey, Dubai, Russia and China. MHN: Can you describe these projects? Jones: Our designs are playing a regeneration role in Scotland, where the Glasgow Harbour project is helping to stimulate a revival of Glasgow’s once industrial River Clyde. RMJM was successfully selected in a two-stage competition to design around half of the first phase residential component of this large-scale riverside regeneration development, comprising more than 600 units. In Russia, we have we have a residential project called the Syetun Residential Development in Moscow. The client is the St Group and the development is a residential and leisure development. It includes town houses, medium-rise and high-rise apartments. The focus of the scheme is to create positive outdoor space which has degrees for privacy from private to semi-public to public shared gardens.Mont Orchid Riverletin in Shenzhen Shekou, China is a high-end residential development, designed for Shenzhen China Merchants Real Estate. It features 13 luxury apartment towers and three townhouse blocks. With 15 percent site coverage, the development has green area coverage of over 50 percent. We achieved this by having the 1,800 square meter clubhouse semi-underground and all vehicle drop-off points were designated to the basement. MHN: Why are international projects important to the company? Jones: Our diverse workforce of 1,200 people represents more than 50 nations. We are seeking the best ideas from across the globe. One of the best things about our global reach is being able to learn best practices from other cultures and offices. Our global reach allied with local presence allows us to combine our broad expertise with local knowledge in a way that is both culturally and contextually responsive. One example of this is our Atasehir residential development in Istanbul, Turkey. Here we have a rich mix of local Turkish architects working collaboratively with our international team to produce a design that is inspired by the city’s multifarious culture. Our geographical and cultural diversity is a great asset and serves us well during this period of economic uncertainty.MHN: What is the developer-led competition in Turkey all about? Jones: VARYAP, the real estate development and construction arm of Turkey’s Varlibas Group International, and the developer behind one of Turkey’s largest recent housing developments, selected RMJM to design a mixed-use community and a school on a highly visible 26-acre site located adjacent to the main road between Istanbul and Ankara. The site is in the Atasehir district of Istanbul, on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, an area slated to become Istanbul’s new financial center. The mixed-use project will include residential, commercial, retail, recreation facilities and will serve as many as 10,000 to 15,000 people when completed. MHN: What are the challenges in designing multifamily projects in different parts of the world? Jones: Large-scale multifamily developments must respond to the need to control carbon emissions and build sustainably. Architects and developers are responding, but new legislation or regulations may be required and we need to be prepared to help shape those new rules and respond to them. Obviously, the global economy is a major challenge as well, and we think it is important to ensure that sustainable design does not get dropped just because the market is down. MHN: What are the top five new architectural trends in multifamily housing around the world right now?  Jones: There really is one that towers above any other, and that is sustainability. This is not just a trend, but a necessity. As cities continue to grow and urban populations increase, there is ever more pressure to be more sensitive and respectful to our planet. It affects everyone in the cycle of growth; manufacturer, consumer, developer and designer. This is the most serious, exciting and creative challenge we face.