Four Trends in Apartment Design

02.24.2016 / Project News

Jonathan Glance RA, AIA, NCARB

Apartment buildings are springing up all over town – both in the suburbs and in our urban neighborhoods. For many years, Pittsburgh lagged the national market and there was little to no new apartments built – particularly urban product. One of the turning points in this trend is the Cork Factory Lofts. The building attracted investors and developers; Chicago-based McCaffery Interests partnered with the visionary CEO of Pitt Ohio Chuck Hammel proved that urban apartments can work in Pittsburgh.

Since that time, the multifamily market in our region has been strong. According to Marcus and Millichap, the Multifamily Investment Forecast for 2016 in Pittsburgh remains very bullish, with high absorption rates and low vacancy rates expected through 2017.

However, the apartments being built today are not your parent's apartments. Today's urban apartments are, on average, much smaller and more amenity-heavy than those built a decade ago.

Here are four trends we are seeing in apartment design, based on our projects at LGA and others going up throughout the city.

1. Home Alone: The 20/30-somethings that are the primary target audience for urban housing are used to living alone and marrying later in life than they did a few decades ago. This trend has led to a very different unit mix than we've been used to seeing; instead of two-bedroom units occupying a high percentage of the unit mix, many of our current projects don't have any 2-bedroom units at all. In fact, many of our units don't even have bedrooms – some of the fastest absorbing units are what we call "micro-units." A micro unit is defined as anything smaller than 500 square feet, but in some markets like NYC and San Francisco, these units can be as small as 250 square feet!

2. Bikes Rule: Most of our current projects are just short of the typical one parking space to one apartment ratio. This is because City zoning will allow a reduction of parking by 30% if bike storage is provided. Interestingly, what we are finding is that where once bike storage was a token gesture, it is now often a centerpiece of an apartment project. Our target demographic is looking for alternatives to cars and bikes are leading the charge. Coupled with the city's investment in bike lanes, we think this trend will grow in the coming years. In fact, with the rise of Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and good old fashioned public transportation, we think that on-site parking will become scarcer as time goes on.

3. Overcooked: Pittsburghers once ranked Pizza Hut as "Best Italian Food" in the Pittsburgh Magazine Readers Poll. Fortunately, this is no longer the case – the City is now home to outstanding restaurants helmed by nationally recognized chefs all around town. As a result, tenants of urban apartments have a breadth of restaurant options at their disposal and are dining out with more and more frequency all the time. With busy social and work schedules, who has time to cook anyway? Current apartment design has adapted to this new lifestyle with smaller, more efficient kitchens. These scaled down kitchens are conducive to preparing smaller meals and looking good rather than for preparing formal dinner parties. As a result, the kitchen can be more integrated into the living space, where entertaining over a bottle of wine and take-out doesn't require any separation between the party guests and host.

4. Alone, Together: Although our target demographic values their privacy, sometimes it is nice to hang out with neighbors. Common areas, with a variety of passive and active spaces are now commonplace in most of our projects. More than just a room with a few chairs and a big screen TV, we incorporate features like roof decks, fire pits, pools, grills, billiards and ping-pong tables, and communal dinning and kitchen areas. These spaces, once relegated to the 'leftover' parts of apartment buildings, are now front and center, often commanding the best position and views in the building.

In short, as Pittsburgh's apartment market continues to follow the trajectory that it's on, these trends will continue to grow and adapt to the city and to the marketplace. It's an exciting time in the Pittsburgh design landscape and we are thrilled to be a part of setting these new trends.