Rethinking Mixed-Use + Multifamily for the Future
Rethinking Mixed-Use + Multifamily for the Future

Rethinking Mixed-Use + Multifamily for the Future

Communal gathering spaces, open floorplans with few walls, elevators packed with people fresh from the gym or the office, and great access to public transit. These are the hallmarks of mixed-use and multifamily projects of recent memory—but are they relics of a pre-pandemic past?

Distance, privacy, and productivity are on the new collective wish list, especially for those who live in densely populated cities. Spaces inside and out of residential units will need to be designed for a changing definition of livability. Versatility will be key: it’s not yet clear whether we’re seeing temporary trends or paradigm shifts.

What We’re Hearing:

  • Should we make changes to our shared spaces now? Or, will this pass?
  • What can we do with elevators to make them healthier spaces?
  • How can we help residents who now have kids at home all day?
  • Can we change layouts and technology to help people work from home?
  • Should we revisit unit square footages to be more accommodating of present realities?
  • Will retail return? Or should we make a new plan for our empty spaces?

If people don’t return to public transit, will they have personal cars? What will that mean for our parking situation?

Helping people live safely and comfortably in close proximity has always been a challenge — one we embrace as designers. We believe people and cities are resilient. We will continue to live side-by-side, but we’ll need our space. Here are a few strategies for reconfiguring your mixed-use and multifamily projects with an emphasis on privacy, health and wellness.

Separately Together

Despite the de-emphasis of common areas and shared amenities, there are still ways to be communal and feel connected in proximity to others, while also maintaining safety and limiting group sizes. For example, why not establish five separate grill areas instead of five grills in one shared space? Or what about reconfiguring amenity area furniture into smaller separated groupings, building out smaller clusters or pods for people to visit with each other.

Solve the Office Dilemma

Our homes are now our offices too. Forward-thinking developers aren’t just creating desk spaces, they’re factoring-in connectivity, natural light, and acoustics. Unit design will change to accommodate home offices, and even multiple people working from one apartment. We’re also seeing a related re-use of empty retail space — as on-site co-working pods and amenities for tenants.

Take it Outside

We expect to see utilization rates rise dramatically for outdoor space. Outdoor living spaces have been growing in popularity for years, but the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 are spurring even greater demand, new planning strategies, and interesting new amenities. Natural play spaces for kids (instead of built playsets), more plant life of all types, bigger balconies, and mobile outdoor furniture (for versatile experiences) are all in vogue. For existing pools, provide access and movement protocols that provide adequate social distancing, and for the design of new facilities the pool should be configured to maximize these measures in an efficient and effective way.

Create Distinct Dwellings

We’re seeing a shift in interest from tightly packed urban living to less urban model. Large, individual units aren’t always possible in densely populated cities. But we are seeing increased interest in smaller urban markets, on the urban fringes of major metros, and in the suburbs. These multifamily developments are starting to incorporate larger dwelling types which function more like single-family homes. Residents can enjoy the benefits of the rest of the community while maintaining greater autonomy in a rowhouse or townhome type product.

Consider the Kids

Kids are stuck at home right now. They’re missing their friends, trying to learn from home, and spending most of their time with immediate family. They need a break too. And with the increased need for more dedicated learning spaces another idea for empty retail is to create small learning pods for families to find a break from small apartments. Providing kid-friendly outdoor spaces without the usual high-touch surfaces is also finding traction.

Address the Elevators

Speaking of high-touch surfaces, elevators are the petri dish of multifamily. There are behavior changes like occupancy limits, 2-4 riders at a time, and masking. But we’re also considering touchless tech, like using an app on the phone to call and operate the elevator.

Plan for Personal Vehicles

As we’ve seen over the last several months, public transit and ride sharing services have been slow to recover. People are not eager to share cramped, high-touch spaces with strangers — for good reason. What will this mean for multifamily? We expect to see an uptick in personal vehicles, whether scooters, bikes or cars. Sustainable alternatives will be needed, and parking, while always a premium, could be in even higher demand.