Keys to Designing Multifamily Environments that Are Inspiring, Healthy and Functional

Sterling Lofts, The Architectural Team

As the global pandemic continues into its third year, residents of multifamily properties are more interested than ever before in living environments that support their health and wellness—both physical and emotional. What wellness-focused spaces matter most today? And, as architects and designers, how can we design them to be both inspiring and functional?

A sophisticated understanding of what people are prioritizing—and how thoughtful design selections can support those lifestyle choices—is essential for crafting memorable and engaging multifamily developments. The following are a few key trends and considerations that are currently driving successful interiors:

At STERLING LOFTS, a sprawling 4-story jewelry factory artfully converted into 91 mixed-income units, the art program features images of machinery and other artifacts once used in the mill. PHOTO (here and above): Joel Howe

Create a More Holistically Satisfying Work-from-home Environment

One resoundingly clear takeaway from the pandemic is that the dynamics of work have been permanently altered. People are still navigating an uncertain return to the office or settling into a hybrid situation. Not surprisingly, many designers are hearing from their multifamily developer and own-er/operator clients that there is consistently high demand for flexible workspaces that foster productivity—and enjoyment—outside of individual units. If the first phase of the pandemic involved ad hoc design solutions to create functional and safe shared work-from-home spaces, the question now is how to make these spaces not just usable but exceptional.

From a space-planning perspective, certain programmatic trends have proven to be optimal: Small or individual work pods, open benching areas, libraries and quiet zones, and Zoom rooms are all among the key elements of an effective work-from-home amenity program. A thoughtful design approach can ensure that these areas also contribute meaningfully to the wellbeing of their users.

Incorporating principles of biophilic design, for example, is an effective way to support resident wellness. In addition to bringing the outdoors in through green walls, interior gardens, and extensive plantings, designers can focus on forming visual and physical connections to the outdoors from interior work areas. Combined with plant life and advanced HVAC systems, this kind of indoor/outdoor environment can bring significant air-quality benefits. Out- door zones, such as terraces, patios and roof decks, also can be activated as workspaces.

As an example, The Architectural Team’s (TAT’s) recent transformation of the 1.1 million-square-foot Sibley Building in Rochester, N.Y., now known as Sibley Square—created a vibrant, mixed-use urban center, including multifamily, commercial and retail space. The design team specified a range of seating types for the common roof deck, enabling the residents of the 104 units at Spectra at Sibley Square to utilize this desirable amenity space for leisure activities and socializing, as well as for work.

In the recent conversion of THE CENTRAL BUILDING, a former commercial property, the design team created work pods in an interior hallway located beneath a large, restored skylight. Combining this approach with the specification of folding storefront glass doors on each work pod resulted in significant daylight penetration. Folding doors: Milette; hardware: Hafele; locks/cylinders: Adams Rite and Falcon; door pulls: ASSA ABLOY/Rockwood PHOTO: Andy Ryan

In a related approach, access to light and air is one of today’s primary interior design considerations—and it’s possible to introduce these benefits into workspace areas even if they’re located far from exterior windows and toward a building’s core. In TAT’s recent residential conversion of The Central Building, a former commercial property in Worcester, Mass., the de- sign team created work pods in an interior hallway located beneath a large, restored skylight. Combining this approach with the specification of folding storefront glass doors on each work pod resulted in significant daylight penetration. The doors’ insulated glass also offers acoustical benefits and noise reduction. By folding them entirely open, the work pod opens to the hallway outside, offering residents a highly flexible and adaptable space that can be used in a number of ways.

This emphasis on flexibility and adaptability is especially important. As work and home lives evolve and sometimes merge, multifamily properties have to meet new kinds of functional requirements—such as expanded work-from-home offerings—while contributing to the sense of community and belonging that is more important than ever before. Finding ways to balance areas for focus work and collaboration—and providing opportunities for quick work breaks—is crucial.

TAT’s designers have taken inspiration from the work at Sibley Square, where the combination of apartments, workspaces, retail, and a central food court provides residents with built-in opportunities for socialization and community. Although most multifamily projects don’t operate with the scale and diversity of offerings of this city-within-a-city, the lessons still translate. Effective work-from-home environments should allow residents to choose different levels of engagement with their surroundings and their neighbors and should offer services that can make residents’ lives as easy as possible while they work; a great example of this is the growing interest in grab-and-go kiosks that can be located in an apartment building’s lobby or common areas and that serve a desire for around-the-clock food and drink options.

About the Author

Meghann Van Dorn, LEED AP ID+C
Meghann Van Dorn, LEED AP ID+C, is the director of interior design at The Architectural Team Inc. She has more than 15 years’ experience in design and project management for multifamily and single-family residential with an emphasis on sustainability and end-user wellbeing.

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