For decades, zoning regulations in the United States have heavily favored single-family development. Single-family homes, often seen as an embodiment of success and happiness by many Americans, come with a higher price tag and ongoing maintenance requirements. As neighborhoods spread out, these homes can result in longer commutes and reduced proximity to services. However, suburban neighborhoods also offer the lifestyle that many aspire to, providing opportunities for chance encounters with neighbors and space for kids to play outside. Neighbors may stop to chat along the sidewalk, whether taking a walk or working in their yards, supporting social connectivity within the community.

With rising housing costs far outpacing salary increases, single-family living becomes out of reach for many. Economic inequality has prompted cities across the country to rethink single-family zoning ordinances in favor of more equitable housing distribution. The economy of scale achieved in multifamily construction offers an inherent attainability benefit, but more than cost alone differentiates single-family and multifamily housing. Multifamily housing, while providing closer physical proximity to neighbors than a typical suburban home, can actually limit opportunities for spontaneous interactions and social connection. The narrow, enclosed hallways often used in multifamily design encourage residents to walk straight to their unit, restricting social interactions and perpetuating a feeling of isolation.

Humans need social connection. It is as vital as maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise, deeply influencing both mental and physical well-being. The United States Surgeon General has recognized this importance, declaring social connection as one of its current priorities. Increased social isolation has been linked to increased instances of heart disease, anxiety, high blood pressure, dementia, depression, diabetes, and stroke. A study at Brigham Young University found that lack of connection leads to risk factors for mortality comparable to those caused by regular smoking.

How can multifamily housing design encourage residents to connect with one another?

With the evidence of the negative effects of social isolation and the importance of establishing social connections for both physical and mental health, designers of multifamily housing have a unique opportunity to combat isolation through thoughtful design that encourages resident interaction. In response, KTGY’s Research and Development Studio has developed Block Party, a multifamily housing concept specifically designed for families, fostering the same kinds of connections often found in single-family neighborhoods.

The Block Party design concept takes a unique approach to multifamily housing design, Block Party organizes sets of six units into small, intentional communities, or blocks. Within each quadrant of the building, a set of six units surrounds a shared lounge and play area, inviting neighbors out of their units and fostering social connections. Unlike most multifamily buildings that consolidate community amenity spaces into one or two locations within a larger building, the Block Party design disperses small amenity spaces throughout each block area. The blocks are separated from each other by vertical circulation areas. Secured entries give residents peace of mind, allowing their children to enjoy shared spaces within their block. Parents can keep an eye on their children through a small window placed above the kitchen sink that visually connects the individual unit to the block corridor. The Block Party design has more amenity space than a typical multifamily building, but the increased shared amenity area is offset by smaller than typical unit sizes. The units range from 968 square feet to 1,248 square feet and can accommodate four or more people, supplemented by the shared areas that reduce costs for residents. Units are still designed with growing families in mind, with increased flexibility and built-in storage. Features such as work from home nooks, drop zones, and corridor-accessible storage provide residents with the conveniences of single-family living.

The family-oriented design of Block Party also includes community amenities. Outdoor areas to play and relax fill the shared courtyard, with a splash pad positioned at the center. On the ground floor, a small community lounge welcomes residents and visitors of all ages to the building.

Addressing the specific solar angle of the site, shading devices on the exterior façade are configured uniquely for each side of the building façade. Shading devices respond to the various sun angles, with considerations for sun angles throughout the year. On the roof of the building, a field of solar panels collects energy, while a community roof top garden provides access to healthy fruits and vegetables, increasing opportunities for community engagement.

KTGY’s R+D concept, Block Party, looks to prioritize the social needs of families living in multifamily communities. By rethinking how units are configured and amenities are distributed, the Block Party design encourages spontaneous interaction and community engagement. Large multifamily buildings can present challenges in creating meaningful connections, but with creative design solutions, Block Party makes connecting with neighbors that much easier.