Reflection of Resident and Neighborhood Personalities in Multifamily
- Jun 29, 2011
Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, the United Nations estimates that three-quarters will live in cities. At the same time, in the United States, the housing pendulum has swung somewhat in favor of renting rather than owning. This increased demand has created an opportunity and a challenge for developers, owners and operators of multifamily residential rental properties. The most successful multifamily residential buildings will be those built or renovated with a unique point of view that carefully considers the life goals of the targeted group of residents in the context of the neighborhood in which they choose to live. This is true for both urban and suburban projects, as, increasingly, the desire for denser, walkable communities transcends the traditional boundaries between cities and suburbs.
So how can developers, owners and operators of apartment properties take advantage of the growing trend towards urban lifestyles?
Design a lifestyle
Multifamily apartment buildings are no longer generic containers of identical dwelling units, where the resident’s self expression is confined to the interior of his or her home. The selection of a place to live is a decision that balances location, cost, functionality and emotional appeal. And this list can be as important for rental properties as for a purchased home. The desire for a given lifestyle, generally very aspirational in nature, depends on all of these factors and tends to drive decisions about where to live.
In a world of educated consumers who demand choice, the multifamily apartment building needs to be positioned within a specific market niche. Building style, both externally and in the internal public spaces, needs to be carefully considered within the context of the targeted market groups. Developers should begin the design process with research not just into the rents and unit sizes of comparable properties, but by really understanding the type of people they imagine will live in their building. Then, working with an architect, they should design specifically with those people in mind. Hospitality projects have long assumed this kind of research, and it is no accident that, as lifestyle becomes ever more important, apartment buildings should take some cues from hotels.
Offer multiple price points
The economics of any project mean that desires must be balanced with cost to position the project within a given price spread. Exclusiveness is desirable because economic status is a large part of lifestyle. Yet in the interest of a successful project, it is often wise to offer multiple price points beyond the provision of basic studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom options and consideration of views and height in the building. For example, inclusion of a junior one-bedroom, standard one-bedroom, one-bedroom plus den, one-bedroom with balcony, etc., all priced appropriately, will enable a wider range of people to afford to live in a given property. Since lifestyle choice is highly aspirational it is shared across narrow income brackets. Capturing a wide swath of the economic spectrum within the chosen lifestyle category will enhance the success of the project.
Since the physical environment is often the most visible incarnation of lifestyle, residents have always wanted to live in spaces that they can “make their own.” Inside their private residence, they should feel like they have a blank canvas on which to express themselves. Moreover, this private expression need not be in lock step with the style of the larger structure. Sample units should show a variety of stylistic options that enable prospective residents to imagine their own possibilities whenever they walk into an apartment that they are considering renting. The design of the space should allow for and encourage that. Carefully considered apartment layouts will provide ample wall space where people can hang pictures, paintings or posters. Ideally, multiple furniture arrangements should be possible in the living spaces. Choice has become even more important to the consumer in our contemporary economy.
The shared amenity spaces outside of the individual unit are equally important in this pursuit of personal expression. One of the key advantages that multifamily buildings have over the individual home is the access to pools, fitness centers, club rooms, private theaters. Making these spaces as elaborate as possible is a key factor in the success of a project. The lifestyle research noted above needs also to determine the type and character of the amenities provided. Once again, it is from the hospitality industry that multifamily residential should take its cues.
Connect with the external
Location is the mantra of real estate, so build on it! People take great pride in where they live and what it says about them. Multifamily buildings should take advantage of this by becoming a living, breathing and contributing member of the community. They should participate in the fabric of the place by engaging pedestrians through carefully selected restaurants, shops or services. The design should borrow from and elevate the surrounding buildings in order to create a more cohesive experience of this specific place that is, or could be, so desirable. This is accomplished sometimes through carefully considered contrast with the surroundings, but most often by fitting in and adopting the predominant language of the surrounding structures.
By better understanding the people and place a multifamily building serves, owners and operators can take advantage of the trend toward urban lifestyles that is developing quickly and decisively in the early years of this new millennium.
Michael R. Ytterberg, PhD, AIA, LEED AP. is a principal at BLT Architects (BLTa), an integrated architectural and interior design firm. Since its founding in 1961, BLTa has developed into a diverse and responsive design practice with offices in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. The firm has produced a diverse portfolio of hospitality, education, multifamily residential, mixed use and retail, parking, and intermodal projects. More information can be found at www.BLTa.com or www.aReturnOnDesign.com.