A demographic shift is driving large populations of people out of the suburbs and into urban areas. Millennials, young professionals, and even many “empty nesters” are preferring to live in vibrant, walkable urban environments over the sprawl of the suburbs.

Recently, the Atlantic revealed that “according to Census Bureau data, 2013 saw 2.3 million more people living in metro areas than in 2012… between 2012 and 2013, only 92 out of the country’s 381 metropolitan areas lost population.”

William Frey, a demographer at Washington’s Brookings Institution, indicates this shift is “driven by young professionals and retiring Baby Boomers who like living in cities,” and that “the trend is ‘180 degrees’ from the last decade’s rush to the exurbs.”

This described shift has resulted in a boom in multifamily residential projects in urban centers across the country. “Construction of residences with five or more apartment units—multiplexes, condominiums, high-rises—have reached their highest share of overall construction since 1973,” notes Sam Frizell.

It is also a key driver for the growing trend towards mixed-use neighborhood planning and transit oriented development (TOD), as public transit opportunities increase and more and more Americans chose to live within a half mile of public transportation, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Another outcome of this demographic shift is an evolution of the traditional concepts of what makes up a home and neighborhood. Multifamily building projects are “home” to those who live there. It becomes so much more than just a shelter or place to live – it’s a personal space that represents a sense of self and security.

Therefore, it becomes critical to align the way we design and construct these projects with the values of those who consider multifamily buildings their home. This is why sustainability becomes such a significant factor—from design to completion, it’s important to consider the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the building.

Because, if there’s no place like home, then there’s really no place like a sustainable home.

What’s Driving Sustainability in Multifamily?

So what does a sustainable multifamily project look like? At Paladino, we use the core concept of abundance to drive solutions in our projects. We identify the plentiful resources available and optimize them to create the highest value.

When we look at multifamily communities, we identify an abundance of residents, all with varying schedules, needs, and desires. This presents an opportunity to implement many differing sustainable strategies to meet the variety of expectations of the community, from big concepts like its design and locale, to including more community space, or access to public transportation.

And, these residents relocate to sustainable communities with intention. When moving to urban environments, there is motivation to be responsible community members, so a multifamily development that supports sustainable living is a compelling draw.

A multifamily project that demonstrates the influential impact of sustainable design features is The Ascent, a 26-story, 416,000 square foot luxury high-rise apartment building located in Tysons. Paladino worked with the project architect, WDG Architecture, as LEED consultant, providing sustainability strategy as well as commissioning services for the project. To appeal particularly to Gen X and Millennials, WDG incorporated specific building features and aesthetics like communal space and large windows to provide ample daylight and views. Our team integrated sustainable features such as built-in recycling systems, water efficiency measures, a green roof design and rooftop stormwater management. An ideal location in a booming urban center and proximity to a new metro station adds to its appeal. The project recently achieved LEED-NC Gold certification, and after opening in 2014, is now home to many happy residents.

Aside from sustainable designs and features, there is also desire to have a strong neighborhood economy, which is strengthened through durable materials that reduce maintenance costs, and energy efficient building systems that lower operations expense.

Additionally, a growing trend is an emphasis on the wellbeing of occupants. In the past, design, construction, and maintenance practices overlooked the impact on human health. Now, the focus is on integrating materials, indoor air quality, cleaning practices, and active design solutions that promote healthy living for all residents. As ULI demonstrated last year in their report, Building for Wellness: The Business Case, there are also compelling financial reasons to make wellness a development objective. Projects studied for the report had rapid lease-up and sales rates and higher rents than projected.

The most successful multifamily projects use creative design, a focus on wellness, and ongoing engagement techniques to encourage social interaction, create a sense of place, and establish a thriving community.

Our Growing Interest in Multifamily

So why am I so enthusiastic in sharing these trends with you? Earlier this year, Paladino announced a new organization of our practice by vertical markets, in which I was introduced as the leader of the multifamily market team. My background as an architect and passion for designing, creating, and promoting sustainable communities provides an excellent platform for leading the focus on multifamily housing development.  More importantly, I’m thrilled to be in this position because of the enormous opportunity that is emerging in this building sector.

In 2015, our multifamily market team will share a series of posts to shed light on these opportunities and discuss even more ambitious sustainability strategies and trends in multifamily development.

Some of the topics we’ll cover include: health and wellness in multifamily buildings; impact of transit oriented development patterns; and neighborhood gentrification and integration of affordable housing.

We hope the series will aid in achieving the highest standards for your multifamily projects and for the people and families that will eventually call them home.


Nash Emrich is an Associate Consultant, AIA, LFA, LEED® AP BD+C, in the Paladino DC office. 

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