A post-pandemic “new normal” for apartment buildings


Almost 40 million Americans live in apartments. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic, developers and residents have been forced to rethink apartment living in terms of health, space, and utility.

To capture these reflections and understand the future of multi-family housing, a team from Grimm + Parker Architects, specializing in affordable and sustainable architectural projects, conducted a factual exploration of the challenges and pressures that developers and residents suffered during the health crisis and how these factors are likely to affect the design of the apartments.

Other design firms have speculated on the impact COVID-19 is likely to have on apartment living, but far fewer have provided solutions as specifically as Grimm + Parker.

The following article is based on the report resulting from this company’s exploration, titled “The New Normal and the Future of Multi-Family Housing,” and created from responses from a dozen developers and 91 residents on Washington, DC-Maryland-Virginia markets. This article also draws on comments from three Grimm + Parker design architects: Zak Schooley, AIA, LEED AP BD + C, executive vice president; Julio Cruz, architectural designer; and Lauren Gilmartin, architectural designer — who BD + C interviewed last December.

Storage, movable furniture and more space for physical activities, both indoors and outdoors, could define the apartment of the future. Grimm + Parker Render

The vast majority of survey respondents – 92% – viewed the social and physical implications of COVID-19 to be at least moderate, and in some cases significant. “Quarantine is hard enough, but the added noise from other residents makes it so much more difficult. I hear the doors slam, the cupboards slam, the constant thuds of the neighbors upstairs, the barking of the dogs. It damages mental health, ”said an exasperated resident the report quotes. Download a PDF recap of the Grimm + Parker Multifamily Housing Research Report, The New Normal & The Future of Multifamily Housing.

Schooley pointed out that there have been many concerns expressed about health and safety, as well as the increasing density of apartment projects, which complicates social distancing and the ability of residents to ‘separate’ rooms in apartments for different purposes. uses. And 80% of residents indicated a change in the types of residential units desired, which was a shift in the thinking of the developers.

Common challenges cited by respondents included lack of adequate space while sheltering in place, for living, working and exercising. Only 11% of the residents surveyed lived in an apartment with a balcony, so quarantine made access to the outside difficult. Conversely, those questioned with a balcony were able to adapt this space for, for example, fitness or meditation.

The quarantine sometimes required residents to make purchases, such as paper items and cleaning supplies, in amounts that might otherwise appear unnecessary. Many survey respondents had to find makeshift storage solutions by purchasing shelves or creating “contaminated” storage areas for wallets, keys and bags.


In its report, Grimm + Parker suggested a myriad of design changes for a typical 733 square foot one-bedroom apartment. “With the projected success of work-from-home business models, residents will need their units to become more versatile and adaptable, to provide users with improved technology, spatial flexibility and separation, as well as adequate mental relief through connection to the outside environment and fresh air, ”the report says.

The company highlighted the changes which included five-foot-deep balconies and French doors; larger glazing for natural light; physical areas for activities and recreation; four foot deep pantry cabinets; mobile tables; and additional storage.

Schooley noted that tenants also need places where they can “isolate themselves”, even for a short time.

LARGER AMENITIES FOR Apartment buildings

The report addressed how COVID-19 has altered tenant and developer perceptions of apartment building amenities. For example, 80% of users said it was a challenge to maintain social distance when leaving their buildings. Over 30% cited problems with laundry rooms or cramped parcel collection areas in the building. And 91% said they would change the way they use amenity spaces in the future.

Two-thirds of developers who responded to the survey said they would like to see amenity spaces adjusted to accommodate social distancing standards and improved hygiene protocols. Elevators, lobbies, laundry rooms, and grocery pickup areas were among the most mentioned spaces.

The common public space envisioned by this case study would include more compartmentalization, designated spaces and flexibility. Grimm + Parker Render

Cruz said Grimm + Parker has examined how residents are coping with COVID-19 to maintain a semblance of work-life balance, another key concern for tenants. With that in mind, changes to common public spaces, according to the report, are expected to include more desks and designated computer rooms, flexible seating, an open lobby, pool deck and small lounge. Common areas should also have opening doors that provide the flexibility to size different rooms.

The report highlighted how to make fitness rooms safer by expanding them with an open floor plan. These areas should offer hand sanitizing stations and designated areas for individual and group exercise that include outdoor options. Openable doors would introduce more fresh air into the interior space and allow flexibility to adapt rooms according to use and needs.


The pandemic revealed the inability of apartment buildings to handle the large number of packages they were receiving as a result of online purchases from their tenants. (Digital Commerce 360 ​​estimates that online spending in the United States grew 44% to $ 861 billion in 2020 and represented 21.3% of total retail sales last year.) Gilmartin noted that most of the mailrooms in buildings, before the pandemic, were not large. sufficiently or equipped to handle large parcels or grocery deliveries.

Render: Grimm + Parker

Grimm + Parker plans the multi-family building of the future with electronic refrigerated storage and large parcel collection spaces. The company is also considering mailrooms with tenant boxes that combine with offices and conference rooms for rent. The area, in this vision, would have multiple entry points.

Such an environment could also benefit from individualized mechanics and zoning of the air flow for each space.

Schooley says he could imagine tenants renting space just to get out of their apartment for a while to complete a project, or to give their children locked in the apartment due to quarantine a temporary change of scenery.

RELATED: Download the 2021 Multifamily Development Report


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