Areas that double as socializing spots and remote workspaces are becoming prevalent in new developments such as 500 Ocean Ave. in Revere. Image courtesy of Arrowstreet

Rapid advancements in technology have revolutionized the way in which we live within the last 10 years. Today, our phones are connected to items throughout our home – our front door, climate control, car and even our voices. 

Today’s multifamily design responds to technology advancements as it relates to both the consumer and the industry. Considering the speed of our progress, it’s important that we identify a creative approach that considers the present and future. As residential units get smaller, we need to rethink how we design amenity spaces to support and cultivate a community feel.  

Today’s residents expect to be able to manage their hectic lives through integration with their phones, managing thermal comfort through a Nest thermostat, or letting in the dog walker through integration with the Latch entry system. Remote work is now the norm in all parts of the economy, and people expect to be able to work comfortably and effectively from coworking office spaces, coffee shops, and – most importantly – their homes. 

Our projects include flexible areas that can serve as both workspace and as social gathering spots. Private offices, work cubicles, conference rooms and seamless access to technology is now expected. Taking this design move one step further, we have been working with our developers to expand workspace into makerspace to support creative jobs that require more than just a laptop and internet connection. Commercial kitchens and flexible spaces with access to movable furniture and specialized equipment (laser cutters and 3D printers, for example) support the multi-hyphen career. 

While technology and flexibility are paramount, what distinguishes projects and attracts residents is the emotional connection made with the craft of the amenity spaces. Arrowstreet’s interior design studio works with our clients in the early stages of each project to create a unique lifestyle brand that guides the design and helps the client market the project once complete. Much like hotels over the last decade, residential projects can create a narrative that connects with the target demographic. Art, craft, innovation, relaxation, even wabi-sabi (a traditional Japanese design aesthetic that embraces imperfection) are just some of the themes used in designing our spaces for living. 

Construction Transformed by Technology 

As costs continue to rise in conventional construction, changes in technology provide the potential for cost containment for multifamily buildings.  

Wood-frame over podium modular construction has been a popular construction method for some years now. However, steel and concrete modular systems which are used regularly in Europe have the potential to allow for buildings taller than stories and 85 feet – the typical limits to five-over-two wood podium construction. 

David Bois

Prefabricated exterior wall systemsoften used in high-rise construction, can provide additional cost savings and a higher quality of construction. Fabrication of panelized systems results in less material waste, time, and labor savings from building in weather-protected factory conditions.  

Mass Timber, especially CLT (Cross Laminated Timber), is gaining traction as codes evolve to provide clarity to this type of construction. CLT delivers the benefits and flexibility of wood construction, with the potential to achieve much taller (and therefore denser) projects. The success of CLT in the Pacific Northwest and the development of several new CLT plants in New England will further encourage the use of this “new” type of construction.  

Technology can improve building efficiency, reduce construction durations, and result in a better-performing building. Companies like Katerra have the potential to disrupt the design and construction industry with their vision of “transforming construction through technology,” completely changing traditional delivery methods for buildings.  

Rethink Transportation Needs  

Another key to the success of multifamily developments today is access to transit. Walkability and access to the MBTA and commuter rail provide a desirable amenity to the residents looking to reduce dependence on cars. In many of the progressive communities around Boston, zoning is being adjusted to reflect this new reality. 

Parking garages represent a significant cost component for a multifamily project. When located within a transit-oriented development, the need for private car ownership is minimized, and creative approaches to reducing parking infrastructure can be employed. Stacking systems for parking are being incorporated to increase parking density. 

It is important to consider parking during the early phases of the design process; this way, infrastructure systems can be designed into the building to provide flexibility for owners to meet changing market demands.  

Our projects include flexible areas that can serve as both workspace and as social gathering spots. Private offices, work cubicles, conference rooms and seamless access to technology is now expected.

At Ora, under construction on Northern Ave and Congress Street, a three-level underground garage was redesigned as a tall, one-level garage to speed construction while still providing parking that could evolve to meet tenant needs. Where nearly 11-foot clearances cannot be achieved, robotic parking – like the Volley system in place at Cambridgeside and currently in a pilot at one of our residential projects – can be employed to increase the number of parking spaces by two to three times with no structural changes.  

In the future, self-driving/self-parking cars could increase density in parking garages by reducing drive aisle and parking stall dimensional requirements. 

Setting A New Standard for Sustainability  

Sustainable design is now at the core of design and construction for all building types, not only mandated by progressive communities but also driven by market demand.  

High-performance buildings can be effectively employed in multifamily construction to reduce a project’s carbon footprint and utility costs for residents and owners. Arrowstreet has integrated Passive House strategies into workforce and low-income housing to provide residents stability and predictability in their utilities. With recent incentives from PHIUS (Passive House Institute US), we are further studying the benefits to market-rate projects. 

As a leader in environmental stewardship, Boston is leading the path to a carbon-neutral future. In order to build in Boston, we are looking at buildings that eliminate dependence on fossil fuels, incorporate renewable energy from the onset and evaluate the embodied carbon of the chosen building materials.  

Building systems, skin and structure are critical components of high-performing buildings. Thoughtful specification of finishes can result in buildings that are healthier with the avoidance of “red list” materials – materials that negatively impact not just the final interior environments but the environment as a whole. 

Boston’s multifamily boom is both a challenge and an opportunity. With the number of projects coming to the market and the need for even more housing, innovation and collaboration are imperative. Architects, contractors and developers have the opportunity to work together to create residential buildings that are healthy, durable, welcoming and adaptable for residents today and 30 years from now. 

David Bois is a principal at Arrowstreet in Boston. 

A Decade of Transformation in Multifamily Designs

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 4 min