The construction of new apartment buildings will likely factor in the possibility of people spending more time at home as more companies are allowing employees to work remotely.
Architects will change the design and layouts of apartment buildings to adapt to the new norms caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Common spaces and amenities, such as swimming pools and gyms, will be viewed differently as these areas will need to accommodate social distancing practices and lower the spread of pathogens indoors.
The demand for renting is not likely to decline as more people are hesitant to put their savings toward a down payment to buy a house when it might be needed to pay bills due to the uncertainty in the economy.
Renters could consider larger spaces and additional bedrooms and eschew open floor plans because the number of people working from home is likely to continue in the near term. As more people spend time at home on video meetings or phone calls, the need for more privacy and space will rise.
Here are eight design trends we expect will soon become part of the norm for apartment features, amenities and layouts for the new construction of apartments.
Many apartment buildings feature amenities, such as places for renters to work, use a printer, grab coffee and socialize with their neighbors.
Places like fitness centers, working spaces, coffee lounges and leasing centers will need to be able to accommodate both renters and apartment building employees and be designed “with enough space to allow for heavy foot traffic without putting people in confined spaces," said Patrick Carroll, CEO of Carroll, an Atlanta-based real estate company that owns 30,000 residential and commercial properties.
Interior spaces will have to be rethought to accommodate the need for social distancing. “The flow of traffic in and out of these spaces will have to be carefully considered, as well, to avoid bottlenecks around entrances and exits," Carroll said. “Unit corridors will likely go unchanged because they are not heavily trafficked, but certainly amenity spaces are on everyone's mind right now."
The focus will have to shift so that residents feel safe and that communal areas are sanitary, Carroll said. Another factor is reducing the number of times residents and staff touch surfaces, whether it's incorporating technology like touchless entry, having the ability to open doors to the community gym or leasing office with feet or switching to lights with motion sensors in communal areas.
“In addition to the design and flow of these specific outdoor and interior spaces, communities will need to make sure the shared amenities are cleaned frequently," he said. "Not only that, but the management team will need to communicate what is being done to keep these spaces clean so that residents feel safe."
Several apartment building upgrades and add-ons are being implemented, including sanitizing stations, physical barriers at reception and amenity areas, temperature-monitoring stations, touchless faucets, auto door operators, increased air changing and air sanitizing HVAC systems/UV treatment and hands-free elevator technology, said Ryan Keane, Vice President of Nashville Operations for James McHugh Construction Co., a Chicago-based construction manager and general contractor.
Ventilation will remain a priority when architects design spaces in a post-pandemic world, said Tyler Davis, Director of New Construction at Bright Power, a New York-based energy and water management services company for real estate owners and operators.
“Health-savvy developers may investigate increasing ventilation rates or using better filtration to improve indoor air quality," Davis said. “Better ventilation will increase air quality and create healthier spaces for occupants. While occupants themselves will not see a noticeable shift in their spaces, they will reap benefits."
Determining where developers will find additional funding to cover better ventilation will be a critical issue, he said. Funding for affordable housing has already been hit hard by the pandemic, plus there are ever-increasing construction costs.
“It remains to be seen if these will be increasingly value engineered out of building designs in order to keep projects out of the red," Davis said. “We trust that developers will continue to see the value of higher quality ventilation systems to provide healthy spaces for their occupants."
"Some developers have already explored more costly options, such as UV treatment or HVAC bipolar ionization systems even though they are not proven to be fully effective." – Ryan Keane, Vice President of Nashville Operations for James McHugh Construction Co.
“It will be interesting to see if these items come to fruition," Keane said. “Projects still need to pencil out and whether a developer plans to hold or sell the building may dictate how much they are willing to spend on these various upgrades."
Not everyone will want to work from their apartment or will need more space to conduct meetings quietly. The apartment industry will need to offer more workspaces, similar to the shift made by hotel architects and designers incorporating more workspaces and Wi-Fi for business travelers in hotel lobbies.
While co-working spaces or coffee-shop replications will not disappear, residents might be more selective in how they choose to occupy those spaces, said Brad Vogelsmeier, Vice President of Development at Milhaus, an Indianapolis-based, mixed-use development, construction and property management company that specializes in Class A, urban, multifamily, residential buildings.
“Not everyone is programmed to work in an office and some still want light social interaction that these public spaces provide," he said. “Getting a small group together and not being on top of other people will be valuable. Amenity areas should be configured to accommodate more than just one group at a time."
Apartment complexes will need to adapt as more people will be working remotely and having this workplace mindset means they can provide tenants the co-working environment they desperately seek, said Mayank Agrawal, CEO of ZenSpace, a Santa Clara, CA-based meeting space company.
“Apartment common spaces will need to think about soundproof workspaces, tech-enabled meeting rooms, quality internet and options to help maintain social distancing," he said. “As we've seen from the pandemic, working from home just doesn't work for many people, whether it's due to noisy levels, multiple family members in a small space or simply a need to get away."
“Any interior or exterior common space that can be broken up should be to better facilitate multiple conversations or gatherings in the same place at the same time," said Vogelsmeier. “We've been forced into our own living spaces for so long and having private space is great, but getting a small group together and not being on top of other people will be valuable. Amenity areas should be configured to accommodate more than just one group at a time."
Even before the impact of the pandemic took place, some building designers were already working on adding demands from customers and rethinking natural light is a no-brainer. Renters have consistently demanded apartment units to have more light, outdoor space and purpose-built office and desk spaces for years, said Jake Dietrich, Vice President of Development at Milhaus.
“This is really pent up demand and developers are trying to figure out how to meet that demand with their products, while still keeping rents affordable and projects in budget," he said.
The compact spaces within apartments can be adapted to incorporate more true workspaces into smaller square footage.
“Work from home policies are about to get a lot more flexible moving forward and in order to make that sustainable, we're going to need to get creative," Vogelsmeier said.
"An architect or designer just needs to find 10 square feet to carve in a built-in desk nook into an apartment unit. Well-placed outlets, a sturdy hard surface top and good light is all it really takes. Working from a bed or couch just won't cut it for a lot of people moving forward." – Brad Vogelsmeier, Vice President of Development at Milhaus
Apartment designs also need to include more private workspaces. Sometimes, the separation between work and home is necessary, especially in an apartment. Some people don't want to trek to a coffee shop or co-working spaces because they're seeking a private work area to crank out work alone. Renters will be looking for these spaces and developers that don't adapt the design of their products quickly will be left behind, Dietrich said.
People will want to spend more time outdoors so they can easily social distance from their neighbors. Creating communal outdoor spaces can be more challenging for urban properties because of the scarcity of land and pricing for it continues to increase, Dietrich said.
The increase in the floor-area-ratio to maximize the number of units over the years has decreased the amount of surface parking or communal outdoor spaces on the properties.
“This is where the quality of place comes in — developing near public urban parks and open spaces can provide that communal outdoor space off property, often in a more meaningful way than we can achieve in the little remaining square footage we have on our properties," he said.
The trend before the coronavirus was to maximize apartment building density with a high percentage of studios or small one-bedroom apartments, Keane said. With the pandemic, there should be an increase in unit square footage in new construction apartments to give residents more space within their own dwellings, and balconies may become a “must," he said.
More apartment units could also have a den included, Dietrich said. “A den, hopefully with windows, can provide an urban renter with a work from home space, but also a guest bedroom, a nursery, outdoor gear room," he said. “In addition to building in a desk, we could also design these rooms with Murphy beds or large built-in storage."
Mary Cook Associates, a Chicago-based commercial interior design firm, says they've already shifted gears and specifications on a few projects in the works. One example is a renovation in Phoenix for which they've revised specifications to include touchless plumbing fixtures, said Mary Cook, founder and president of Mary Cook Associates.
In a Texas project, lighting has been switched to motion sensors that are touchless and also save on energy. Model home designs are also being adjusted. In a newly-constructed, multi-family community in New Jersey, the company revised the leasing office furniture selections. They switched from open café tables and chairs to pods with removable partitions separating individual workstations.
Apartment designers and architects have already changed some of their existing plans to adapt to the new norms that were pushed to the forefront because of the pandemic. Renters will increasingly seek more touchless fixtures, elevators and entry doors, as well as having more space in their apartments so they work from home more efficiently.
New construction apartments will likely offer many of these features to remain competitive. Apartment buildings and architects that adapt to these changes will likely see higher occupancy rates and beat their competitors who stick to standard offerings.
To find new construction apartments, search on Apartment Guide to see what's out there.