How Will the Pandemic Impact Future Apartments?

While millions of multifamily residents sheltered in place for months during the nation’s COVID-19-imposed shutdown, apartments became makeshift offices, classrooms, gyms and hospital rooms. Now, architects, developers and property owners say there will be permanent changes in how future multifamily spaces are designed.

Many residents are returning to their offices and businesses. Others will continue to work from home at least part time, but possibly on a permanent basis. As a result, being able to offer strong Wi-Fi, flexible workspaces in units and common areas, and more outdoor space have become top concerns for owners.

Zion Perets, a managing partner & the CFO of CGI Strategies, a Woodland Hills, Calif.,-based real estate investment and development company, said previously about 70 percent of their apartments included balconies. Now, they are aiming for at least 90 percent in new projects.

imon Aftalion, the development director of Markwood, a Beverly Hills, Calif.,-based real estate investment company, is designing an “outdoor living room”—a covered terrace or space with balcony walls on three sides that can protect residents from sun and rain, but still allow children to play and residents to work or entertain outside. At Dunsmuir Row, a four-story, 17-unit ground-up development in L.A., Markwood is building each apartment with its own outdoor living space and use of an outdoor rooftop deck.

Aftalion plans to add moving-wall systems to create flexible work areas. Perets said tenants who may not want to pay for a third bedroom might be interested in one- or two-bedroom units with dens that can serve as a work-from-home space or playroom for children.

Jonathan Cohen, the COO of Universe Holdings, a Los Angeles-based investment firm specializing in value-add properties, said his firm is considering adding workspaces that could be a desk that folds up into the wall. He said they will offer free Wi-Fi, add USB outlets and install more in-unit washers and dryers.

Social distancing impacts design

While common areas, including fitness centers, may still be closed, residents will eventually use them again. “We may want to consider having larger gyms because of social distancing, so the space isn’t crowded and people may feel more comfortable using it,” Perets said.

Anthony Tortora, the senior vice president of LCOR, said his company’s Broad Exchange Building in lower Manhattan already has a huge gym with a private workout room, so they are marketing the amenity for people who want more social distance when exercising. While the residences—which include four penthouses—are large, he notes people working from home may still want to use the indoor lounges or outdoor spaces as co-working areas, so the property has installed reliable high-speed Wi-Fi throughout the building.

Ariel Aufgang, the principal of Aufgang Architects in Suffern, N.Y., cautioned against making knee-jerk design decisions. He said architects should take a more macro view, and design for all kinds of emergency sheltering. Some suggestions include using antimicrobial finishes that can be used on high-touch areas like doors and elevator buttons, and supplementing apartments with at least two outlets that can be connected to standby generators, so during a power outage people with medical conditions can use medical devices and keep medicine refrigerated.

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