Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
Reenvisioning the Way We Live
Architects, developers, and designers are moving past green homes and open floor plans. Here’s what trend-conscious buyers need to know.
September 16, 2015
Much of the hype around healthy living these days centers on whether you’ve eliminated gluten from your diet or walked 10,000 steps today. But lasting health benefits may be better derived from fundamental changes in how we live. That’s the tack savvy building and design professionals are taking as they draw on technological advances and changing demographics to create a new vision for the home. It’s not enough to just be green anymore; tomorrow’s homes—both single-family and multifamily buildings—will be more sustainable and resilient to natural disasters. And we’re moving beyond open floor plans. Flexible spaces are giving way to homes that can accommodate multiple generations, communal gatherings, and universal design. These preferences will influence the size of homes and how they look—and function—outside and inside. In addition, they reflect where homes are built, as an increasing number of buyers—from millennials to boomers—want to shorten their commutes and walk more. You can become an expert resource for buyers and sellers by tuning into the forward-thinking trends that design and architectural pros are buzzing about.
While suburbia isn’t dead or dying, it’s clear that a groundswell of home buyers is heading downtown. For some, that means a dense urban metropolis like New York or Chicago where work, home, and retail are at their doorstep. But for others, what’s appealing is a suburb with a downtown core that offers walkability such as Highland Park, Ill., or Clayton, Mo. Even a more rural outpost like bucolic Red Hook, N.Y., with its robust town center, fits the bill.
The common denominator: People of all ages are tired of their car-centric lives and care less about square footage than finding a home in a location that’s compatible with their interests and values, says Bruce D. Snider, a building designer and architectural writer based in Belfast, Maine.
Healthier, Smarter Materials
The construction of houses and multifamily buildings is evolving. Designers and architects are seeking to make buildings that are weather-resilient, sustainable, safer, and primed for the latest technology.
- Well buildings: Green buildings that steer clear of harmful paints and adhesives and highlight water conservation are well-regarded, but the newer focus is on design that enhances the quality of life for occupants. "Biophilic" planning involves placing windows to showcase outdoor greenery and doors that strive for seamlessness between the great outdoors and a home’s interior. An emphasis on natural light, along with LEDs controlled by dimmers and in colors that can be changed for nighttime and gray days, simulates circadian rhythms in the body to improve sleep patterns, another boon for healthfulness. Upcoming software will harvest daylight to provide more natural light since some multifamily building codes dictate smaller glass expanses and restrict certain lightbulb types, says sustainability consultant Brian Lomel, cochair of the Urban Land Institute's South Florida Building Healthy Places Committee. In areas with small yards, pocket gardens are popular, and more rooftops will be planted on multifamily buildings and townhouses. And look for more landscapes with trees featuring interesting branch structures, even without blooms or berries, says Betsy Williamson with Williamson Chong Architects in Toronto.
- Less maintenance: Whether it's due to the financial burden or the lengthy time commitment of tending to yards and repairs, consumers are eager for materials and systems that are more durable and require less maintenance than in the past. "Many boomers and their offspring are less inclined to mow lawns and perform other tasks," says architect Duo Dickinson, author of Staying Put (The Taunton Press, 2011). At Aventura ParkSquare, realistic-looking artificial turf will be installed, which will help conserve water. Other systems and materials there will need to be replaced less often. Individuals like mason and builder Clay Chapman of Atlanta’s Hope for Architecture also focus on materials with greater longevity, which is influencing the thinking of both design professionals and home owners. "Hand-built brick walls are labor-intensive but will last for centuries rather than for just one home owner," he says. Architect Jon Handley of Pulltab in New York concurs. "The best way to be green is to build with quality that lasts," he says.
- Weather and energy: Communities on the forefront of energy and weather efficiency are setting guidelines for better waterproofing and strategically placed insulation. "The goal is to go beyond what’s required, not use energy at all and get off the grid," says Philadelphia developer Nino Cutrufello. Going the energy-efficient route can be less costly than adding features such as solar panels and geothermal heating, he says. Structures are also being better designed to withstand severe weather. Aventura ParkSquare, outside Miami, is being designed to include well-insulated windows that block harmful ultraviolet rays, says principal Victor Ballestas. In parts of California where fires have raged, noncombustible concrete tiles, brick, and composites that imitate wood are favored, says New York architect Chris Garvin.
- Healthfulness: Encouraging healthy living goes beyond including bicycle racks and gyms in multifamily buildings, Lomel says. To build Aventura ParkSquare, a community within a community, its developer Integra Investments heeded ideas from “Fit City Miami," a collaborative effort with ULI to incorporate The American Institute of Architects' "Active Design” guidelines. Results at the condominium development are retail options such as a boot camp and yoga studio, restaurants with rooftop gardens for growing produce, medical offices, an assisted-living facility, wider sidewalks, and a 131-unit condo building with glass-enclosed stairways to encourage walking rather than riding in enclosed elevators, says Ballestas. ULI's South Florida group will showcase the project as a case study for healthy-living initiatives, Lomel says.
- Smarter technology: Managing power needs will continue to be huge as more home owners seek to stay connected 24/7. Forward-thinking techies will develop more robust wireless hubs to provide power from a central source and make it easier and less costly to control everything from one app on a smart phone, says Garvin. Already, developers like Washington, D.C.’s EYA are bringing on board an automation consultant.
A Greater Sense of Belonging
The size and layout of single-family homes, condos, and rentals are being reconfigured with an eye toward fostering community and adapting to space challenges and changing demographics.
- Seed to feed: Don't call it a garden: Edible landscaping is appearing in single-family yards and multifamily building rooftops. Lomel predicts consumer and developer interest will lead to demand for organic gardening consultants. "They'll satisfy people’s food-growing needs rather than [feature] nonedible plant materials," he says. Communal space for cooking and dining are expected to be part of more development projects. "People want that sense of connection," Garvin says. An even bigger trend is the “agrihood," which makes a farm a key amenity in a residential development. Developer and architect Matthew "Quint" Redmond of AgriNetx in Golden, Colo., conceived the idea back in 2003, but the recession stalled construction. Ground will be broken this fall for his newest—Adams Crossing in Brighton, Colo., which will include 438 residential units on 101 acres with about half the land devoted to farms. Redmond says his two prime buyer targets are "boomers who would rather work in orchards than play golf and millennials who don't want to live in a cubicle as their parents did.” Many sites are former golf courses, and he expects more little-used courses to be transformed.
- Multigenerational togetherness: Multiple generations living together isn’t new; cultural traditions, economic pressures, and elderly and child care needs have long made such arrangements desirable for some. In the past, families had little choice but to offer up a spare bedroom when they needed to share their space. But architects are dreaming up new options for the 21st century family. Designer Marianne Cusato became an early proponent for planning ahead with her "New Economy" house; its first-floor suite with a private entry offers independence for older adults and boomerang children. EYA is designing townhouses with private quarters on one floor that can be converted to other uses as needs change.
- Open plans on a smaller scale: Open floor plans still dominate, but to differentiate smaller spaces, designer Seth Grizzle of Graypants in Seattle likes to add whimsy, reflecting the desire for customized spaces. "People want a fun edge that makes them smile, and they'll give up space to get some uniqueness," he says. Examples can include a door that becomes a bookshelf, a phone charging station in a desk, or a softly glowing wall lit from behind. In multifamily buildings, developers are including larger shared and mixed-use spaces to make up for smaller-sized dwelling units. David Baker Architects' 1178 Folsom Street building in San Francisco will include units that average just 290 square feet but have access to large common areas such as a rooftop deck and ground-level retail. Sarah Barnard, a designer in Santa Monica, Calif., sees the trend mushrooming as millennials shift from renting to buying. "They're a generation that is less materialistic and more concerned about the environment and that has a debt burden, so they have less to spend," she says.
- Universal design: A recent AIA Home Design Trends Survey found respondents were interested in having greater accessibility inside their homes including wider hallways and more visible handrails. Yet, many still resist features, such as grab bars in showers and bathtubs, that signal that residents are aging. Future designs are expected to incorporate such adaptations in more subtle, creative ways. As the built environment evolves, how it looks will reflect a more contemporary sensibility."We won't look to the past. Modern design is the future," Williamson says. "All this amazing technology and other changes go part and parcel with much more forward-looking designs."