Community and neighborhood connections are well documented as growing trends in multifamily developments but differ from other amenity trends in that they are more of a holistic concept than a room or equipment. While a developer cannot directly create the communities that will form in its spaces, architects and designers can take interactivity and connections to the outside world into consideration as they build a space.
For Tom Pflueger, senior associate at Alameda, California-based MBH Architects, the neighborhood context has always been an important factor in the design process.
“[When we start a project] we ask ourselves: ‘What is the surrounding environment like?’” Pflueger told Multifamily Dive. “What types of plants and trees are native and thrive? What typologies of architecture exist in the surrounding environment and how can we integrate into that, while at the same time, embellishing it with a new building? How do we connect the building to the environment?”
Here, Pflueger talks with Multifamily Dive about how design professionals can answer these questions, as well as coworking, community gardens and ongoing health and safety considerations.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MULTIFAMILY DIVE: What are some ways in which you've fostered connections to the surrounding community in your projects?
TOM PFLUEGER: We look at materials and physical connections to the outside areas. At Celestina Garden Apartments in Sonoma, California, we included community gardens, where residents can actually tend to plants and nurture their well-being by being outside and interacting with the natural landscape.
We are incorporating co-working spaces as well that not only address the new remote working environment but also foster the notion of the gathering of people where they can work and feel productive through casual interactions.
What are some of the strongest amenity trends you're seeing right now?
We are exploring how to create more public workspaces in what has been the living room or the great room. Today, we are being asked to create a co-working environment that allows you to get out of your unit and work in a slightly more social environment. We have spent the better part of the last two and a half years in some isolation and people are craving to be in groups more often.
Another amenity is the gym, or exercise room, in the complex. The focus is less on how many pieces of equipment we can put into the space anymore, but more about creating a comfortable space that is large enough so that you are not elbow to elbow with someone.
We are creating some social distance while at the same time keeping the environment efficient enough to foster some camaraderie with your fellow residents.
How has apartment unit design changed in the past few years?
There are a few changes that we are implementing into more of our unit plans. One of those is programming in dedicated work space. With so many people working both from home and from the office, finding a dedicated space to work from is more common these days. This then also leads to a more robust technology infrastructure within the unit and the building as a whole.
We have also seen some clients upgrade the mechanical systems in order to provide even higher levels of air circulation and filtration that is beyond a code minimum standard.
Whenever possible, we are also designing in more personal outdoor space. These patios or gardens become a place not only to spend more time outside, but also flexible enough that if you want to work outside, there is an opportunity to do so.
How do community-fostering amenities fare in today's environment, where COVID-19 is still present but not as major of a concern as it once was?
Everyone longs for social interaction during good times and bad, and we have included amenities that promote community and can transition between times with and without social distancing regulations. The community gardens that we can provide on projects are certainly one amenity that seems to be most successful and can thrive in a COVID environment, or otherwise.
Celestina Garden Apartments is an affordable senior living community and its residents benefit from having a place to gather safely and effectively during a time of social isolation. However, this is a universal component that young and old can interact in.
Community bike shops are also emerging in some locations, whether it be purely for recreational riding, or for commuting. Having that amenity on site can be very gratifying for residents.
How do you foresee this trend growing and changing in the future?
We include co-working spaces and individual phone rooms in many of our multifamily housing projects. These have become more common across markets and target audiences, but especially among millennials who are embracing a remote workforce. Now that their homes have blended into their office, studio and workspaces, remote workers have the benefits of a focused space for the housing community without the commute.
I believe that as the “new normal” hybrid work environment continues to evolve, we will see this trend develop even more. It may be added to the technology infrastructure integrated into the unit itself so that there can be some sense of privacy.