Keith McCloskey – Bringing it All Back Home
August 16, 2021
Multifamily architecture and design trends honor regional history while delivering next-generation amenities.
Whether building a shiny high-rise with hefty rents or replacing World War II-era public housing, multifamily architects will usually tell you the same story — that it’s all about community.
Rent-restricted or high-end, today’s apartment designs have to reflect the way all people want to live and work. Creative spaces for artists to work on their crafts, amenities for pets, yoga studios, bicycle-friendly common areas and physical design that honors the region or surrounding neighborhood all check important boxes when it comes to the type of new or redeveloped properties getting the most attention.
Here, we take a tour around the country to highlight a handful of affordable and market-rate apartment communities that have either recently opened, are under construction or still on the boards.
Harboring Tradition in Boston
Hearing the phrase “waterfront property” doesn’t always conjure up images of a budget-conscious lifestyle. But the Harbor125 and Harborwalk projects in East Boston are enabling residents earning between 30 and 60 percent of area median income (AMI) to enjoy unobstructed views of Boston Harbor from their brand-new homes.
The two adjacent buildings opened on July 12. The team on the $30.2 million project consisted of developer WinnDevelopment, architect The Architectural Team (TAT), general contractor Cranshaw Construction and landscape architect Halvorson | Tighe & Bond Studio.
Bank of America provided an $11.6 million construction loan for Harbor125 Apartments and served as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program investor and the Massachusetts Brownfield Tax Credit investor.
To make room for the two properties’ 52 units, the developer demolished 20 units of obsolete housing formerly known as Clippership Apartments, which were managed by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). The original two-story brick townhouses were built in 1974.
The two buildings that replaced this aging community include 3,384 square feet of ground-level retail space, a management office, a bicycle storage room and a 1,000-square-foot community room.
Harbor125 includes 22 apartments that were built at a cost of $16 million. The building includes one one-bedroom unit, six two-bedroom units, 10 three-bedroom units and five four-bedroom units. The apartments are supported by federal Section 8 project-based vouchers administered by the BHA.
Three of the units are for households earning at or below 30 percent of AMI and 19 units for households earning at or below 60 percent of AMI. The AMI for Boston is $120,800 for a family of four, according to WinnCompanies.
The $14.2 million Harborwalk Residences include 30 for-sale condominiums, 14 of which are being sold to middle-income homebuyers at subsidized prices through a lottery process.
According to Andrew Stebbins, senior project manager with TAT, this project encapsulates several architectural and development trends that are popular across both market-rate and affordable projects that are being built today.
Building near public transit in urban neighborhoods checks one trend box, while another is building new structures that seamlessly blend with the old. “Context is very important to us as designers,” says Stebbins, “so we clad Harbor125 Apartments with a three-color alternating cement fiber panel to mimic a masonry building of the type often found nearby.”
When it comes to delivering affordable units that rival higher-end apartments in look and style, Stebbins says it comes down to the efficiency of the design.
“A well-designed unit is the basic building block, and the efficiencies that come from this approach enable better stacking, which in turn allows more units to fit into the site’s footprint — and those efficiencies can be put back into the resident experience through better fixtures and finishes,” says Stebbins.
Stretch Your Legs in Texas
Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects has several multifamily projects under construction throughout the United States, with a great deal in planning phases or under construction in the firm’s home state of Texas.
Hermosa Village in Leander, Texas, a suburb of Austin, is a recent signature project. Completed in spring 2020, the 240-unit community is spread across 18 two-story buildings on an approximately 19-acre lot. In addition to Humphreys & Partners, the project team included developer Impact Developers, builder Cadence McShane Construction and civil engineer Kimley-Horn. Place Designers provided landscape design services, while Leslie Fossler Interiors provided interior design services.
Hermosa Village features Humphreys & Partners’ “Big House” design, an architectural template the company trademarked in 1998. Big House design features units with direct-access garages, enclosed private stairs for upper units and walk-out patios and balconies. The concept also includes a façade that can be tailored to a particular market, location or demographic.
The Big House designs do not include common areas, which renders the majority of square footage rentable. The company has built approximately 300 Big House designs to date.
Hermosa Village was designed with young couples and families in mind, with units renting from $1,214 to $1,700 per month.
Walter Hughes, chief innovation officer with Humphreys & Partners, says the property exemplifies contemporary architectural trends in its spacious layout and integration with outdoor areas.
“Hermosa Village is an urban farmhouse community,” says Hughes, “and the Big House design lends itself to more of a neighborhood feel, with buildings more spread out and plenty of green space, which many residents find unique and attractive.”
Hughes adds that, in general, pet amenities, workspaces and buildings that support a sustainable lifestyle are the design features most in demand.
“Sustainable solutions are a must,” says Hughes. “This is becoming a big issue. We are particularly enthusiastic about a series of new ultra-efficient prototypes that focus on density and ease of construction.”
Taking Amenities to New Heights
In downtown Atlanta, a sleek new high-rise apartment was recently delivered, showing off design features unique to the city and to the architectural firm that designed the property.
Generation Atlanta is a 365,714-square-foot, 17-story urban high-rise that includes 336 units. The developer was Kaplan Residential and Atlanta-based Niles Bolton Associates was the architect. The project opened in July 2020.
According to Andres Rubio, director of hospitality at Niles Bolton Associates, Generation Atlanta is well-known for its popular amenity offerings.
“Generation Atlanta features an extensive 17,000 square feet of amenity space,” says Rubio. “In general terms, there have been a lot of accolades for the entire amenity package of the Generation project, but the two most popular areas have been the oversized gym and yoga areas, and the expansive pool deck.”
The community’s gym features double-height ceilings and includes Peloton bikes, a rig with wall ball (a full-body, multi-part exercise system), TRX (total resistance exercises) and kettlebells. The yoga studio has a fitness-on-demand kiosk as well as rowing machines and cycles. “It is truly a gym large enough to mirror those accessible by paid membership,” emphasizes Rubio.
The pool deck, with views of downtown Atlanta, combines three areas: the pool itself, a turf area with string lighting overhead and a covered trellis area with grilling stations and a fire pit. A rooftop sky deck and a duckpin bowling alley are also popular among residents, says Rubio.
“Multifamily renters are expecting upscale amenities including co-working space and generous outdoor space,” says Rubio. “We are also seeing market demand for work-from-home flexible spaces with robust internet service and smart home features and capabilities.”
While the amenities scream luxury, 15 percent of the property’s units are deemed affordable. The team says it prefers to keep the details of the affordability aspect of the project private. But a construction technique aided in keeping costs down and helped the developer deliver reduced rents. Generation Atlanta was built with Prescient, a brand name for a light-gauge steel structural system that reduces construction time and costs.
According to Prescient, the system can reduce the overall hard cost of a construction project by 20 to 25 percent.
“Prescient is a unique multi-unit point-loaded structural system that uses precisely designed light gauge steel panels and trusses combined with HSS (hollow structural sections) steel posts called the Unified Truss Configuration System (UTCS),” explains Rubio.
Design-wise, Rubio cites five big trends in multifamily today: Wide, daylit staircases in public areas; private conference rooms that residents can reserve or rent; and less-crowded fitness rooms with access to fresh air, such as rollup garage doors and sliding glass doors; plus plenty of outdoor space to train.
Residents also want to see more smart furniture designs and robust Wi-Fi that facilitate working from home; and, lastly, ground-floor and second-floor mezzanine amenities, which offer activities and a range of immediate connections to the street.
Affordable Meets Luxury in the Midwest
In Minneapolis, developer Dominium and architectural firm BKV Group opened 1500 Nicollet in January 2020. This affordable property serves residents earning between 40 and 80 percent of AMI. The ground-up development includes 183 affordable apartments and 6,800 square feet of ground-level retail space. The retail space interplayed with the streetscape to extend the popular commercial corridor known as “Eat Street.” Nicollet Avenue features a number of international restaurants.
“1500 Nicollet’s design corresponds with the existing architecture of the neighborhood, which is dominated by courtyard-style brick buildings,” says Mike Krych, senior partner at BKV Group. “By utilizing brick and cast stone masonry on the street-facing facades, the building further aligns with the historic context of the area.”
Approximately six miles to the east of 1500 Nicollet in Minneapolis’ twin city of St. Paul, the same developer-architect team recently built a ground-up affordable project called Union Flats. The 217-unit property opened in August 2019.
According to BKV, similar economies of scale used in the building of 1500 Nicollet enabled the Union Flats design team to deliver market-rate amenities to the affordable property that serves residents earning at or below 60 percent of AMI.
Upon entry, residents and guests of Union Flats are greeted by a lobby that features artwork and floor-to-ceiling windows. The lobby opens onto a clubroom with a kitchenette, built-in banquettes for communal gatherings and a central fireplace that subdivides the room into multiple zones.
“Union Flats boasts a bevy of amenities that allow for a healthy and connected lifestyle,” says Krych. “Residents enjoy access to an expansive fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment and an adjacent yoga room that fosters a sense of well-being.”
The building also features a bike storage and repair space with direct street access, and a central courtyard with an outdoor pool and seating nooks.
Floor plans range from one to three bedrooms, and each residence features 9-foot ceilings, wood-style plank flooring, Energy Star kitchen appliances and quartz/siltstone countertops.
Countertops are key in the design and construction of affordable communities that look like top-dollar apartments, according to Sandya Dandamudi, president of Chicago-based GI Stone.
“Granite or quartz for kitchen countertops make an immediate visual impact that helps affordable units look like market-rate units,” says Dandamudi. “These finishes are also practical. Granite and quartz products have longer life cycles and a better return on investment than traditional Formica countertops, which makes the upfront cost more palatable.”
In terms of the building schematics, for both Union Flats and 1500 Nicollet, BKV says it delivered affordability while maintaining a Class A look and feel through economies of scale.
“While Union Flats features amenities and finishes on par with many market-rate communities, BKV Group was able to design the building with affordability in mind,” states Krych. “Economies of scale and efficiency in floorplate design on a full block to achieve greater density, underground parking below the footprint, and affordable yet durable building materials allowed BKV to achieve the building’s desired aesthetic.”
Various building codes and materials specs have also helped make chic affordable properties a reality. Chicago-based James McHugh Construction Co. has been active building affordable housing projects throughout the Midwest in recent years.
According to Steve Wiley, senior vice president of preconstruction and estimating, recent changes in the International Building Code have been adopted in several cities, paving the way for a wider spectrum of allowable building products to be used that help make affordable housing projects resemble market-rate projects.
“Wood-framed structures may now be built higher than before,” says Wiley, “and alternative construction methods such as panelized load-bearing walls and floor systems are now allowed that reduce building time and construction costs.
“With the advancement of a wide variety of cost-effective finish materials and systems, prefabricated components have also advanced aesthetically to the point that affordable housing can be delivered with a look that is almost indistinguishable from market-rate products,” says Wiley.
“We’ve also seen affordable housing developers locate their buildings near public transportation, which allows them to redirect dollars from building parking to enhancing the structure instead.”
L.A. Lends Style and Substance, Equally
In Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood, a new apartment community under construction is preserving local history.
8th & Western, scheduled to open in summer 2023, is comprised of two buildings that KTGY, along with developer Jamison Properties, have woven together to create one new mixed-use community with 230 market-rate units. An existing 1931 Art Deco-style garage is at the heart of the design.
Formerly known as the Pellissier Garage, the building was a 24-hour automobile service station and parking structure sitting along a car-centric stretch of Western Avenue commercial services, explains Keith McCloskey, associate principal at KTGY.
Most recently, the building has continued to operate as a parking garage with retail on the ground floor.
“The retention of the Pellissier Garage and the preservation of its visibility were critical to the Los Angeles City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources and the ultimate project design,” says McCloskey.
As McCloskey explains it, the new structure “spills over” the existing parking garage with an outdoor amenity area that will include a rooftop pool, outdoor barbecue areas and landscaped outdoor lounge spaces.
While 8th and Western presents a unique opportunity to preserve a bit of Los Angeles’ vintage charm, it is also emblematic of 21st century tastes.
Great apartments today, as always, are defined by a great location, with a majority of renters preferring to live where they can be close to restaurants, shopping and public transit, says McCloskey.
“Once the box for the ideal location has been checked, the building-specific conveniences and amenities are what continue to set multifamily developments apart,” he says.
“Of late, we’ve seen a trend in projects scaling back on the size of the amenities in favor of highly curated spaces that deliver high-quality, thoughtful design and conveniences in a smaller footprint. Features that focus on smart-tech both in the units and in amenity spaces continue to become more widely expected and desired in new construction.”
Also in L.A., KTGY is working on a project of an entirely different tone and style: the third phase of Jordan Downs.
The project launched in 2017, when the City of Los Angeles partnered with The Michaels Organization and BRIDGE Housing Corp. to redevelop the 1940s-era Jordan Downs public housing complex in Watts.
KTGY recently prepared an updated conceptual plan for the redevelopment of the 14 acres at the northern edge of the specific plan between 97th and 99th streets. The plan calls for a total of 500 affordable apartment homes and 75 for-sale townhomes upon final buildout, of which 195 units will be delivered in the current phase. Construction is expected to begin on this component in early 2022.
A recently approved tract map includes infrastructure upgrades to the existing road network, connecting some of the surrounding blocks that had been largely cut off by the construction of the original housing development in the 1940s.
This new portion of the master plan will complete an existing linear park at Croesus Avenue and two stand-alone, half-acre parks. In addition, a variety of connective paseos (walking paths) and courtyard spaces will be introduced that weave together to connect the new residential buildings to previously completed phases of Jordan Downs and the neighboring residential area to the north.
This newest phase of the large-scale project will use open spaces and parks to act as the gel that connects other parts of the project. “Whether a project is a luxury market-rate or a deeply subsidized affordable solution, multifamily development is ultimately about building community,” says McCloskey.
“The third phase of Jordan Downs accomplishes this goal by establishing connections: connecting residents to other residents, to the nearby newly constructed commercial and retail uses, and to the broader community. What the community lacks in shiny finishes, it makes up for in placemaking.”
The Jordan Downs development is a large undertaking that doesn’t just aim to provide affordable housing. The overall vision for the master plan includes housing, parks, jobs, schools and commercial space.
All told, Jordan Downs will deliver about 1,800 units that will consist of a blend of 700 public housing units, 700 affordable units and 400 market-rate units, which will also include opportunities for homeownership.
“As a result of these complexities, this project demands a great deal of patience to navigate the design process, which includes funding applications, community workshops, multiple reviewing and approving entities, but the reward is great,” says McCloskey.
“In Los Angeles, the visual evidence of the housing crisis surrounds us as it permeates throughout the city, and as architects, we’re stirred to search for ways where we can have a positive impact on our city and in our neighborhoods.”