Residential Architecture Trends What’s Hot in High-Rises?

Through the ages, architecture and design have been symbols of evolution and change within societies. From the grandeur of the ancient world, to the Baroque and Romanesque masterpieces of the late Renaissance, and to the towering fancies of the modern and postmodern ages, building design reflects trends in civilization, both technological and sociological.

A Few Definitions

While intricately connected, architecture and design are not the same thing. As defined by the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, architecture is defined as, “the art or science of building; specifically, the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones.” As explained by Michele Boddewyn, President of Boddewyn Gaynor Architects, a national architecture and design firm based in New York City, architecture and architectural design concern themselves with both the exterior and interior components of a project. 

Meanwhile, design – or more specifically, interior design – is defined as ‘the design and coordination of the decorative elements of the interior of a house, apartment office, or other structural space, including color schemes, fittings, furnishings, and sometimes architectural features.’ “It’s more concerned with interior space,” says Boddewyn. 

Finally, interior decorating is focused on furniture and finishes. “The main difference is that designers may move walls, or change space,” says Boddewyn. “Decorators don’t.”

Trends in Residential Architecture

What drives trends in residential architecture today? Are these trends more concerned with exterior or interior design? According to Jorge Arias, Principal of Arias Architecture, a New York City-based architectural firm, “Making design statements in building exteriors is still a valid strategy today. Much depends on the development’s financial strategy. Improved amenities such as media rooms, gym, accessible terraces, and so forth have become ‘must-haves.’ Many developers, however, still choose to have the building exterior designed as a statement. That choice will, of course, increase costs, but will generate more attention, stronger first impressions, publication in magazines, and so forth. Those factors may translate into faster sales.”

“Ultimately, what people are more concerned with are the amenities within a building,” says Kenne Shepherd, Principal of Kenne Shepherd Interior Design, who has completed projects nationally, including assignments in Boston, New York, and Chicago. Shepherd explains further: “At the scale at which people live,” rather than the scale on which buildings are built, “residents are concerned with the street level, the lobby, and the path to their apartment. Beyond that, the current trends to increased building heights are only appreciated at a distance.”

According to Boddewyn, “Interior trends can affect exterior design. It depends on a developer’s scenario – how they are trying to distinguish themselves from the guy down the block. Are they trying to make a statement, versus a spec-built, throw-it-up-fast-and-rent-it kind of thing?” Clearly, luxury living is budgeted for and reflected in both exterior and interior design, and the two go hand in hand. The bigger the budget, the bigger the statement. 

Dorothy Somekh, a broker with Halstead Property in New York City, explains the real-life impact of exterior versus interior design on marketability. “The exterior does play a part as one of the many variables a buyer has to consider, but it does not compare to the interior by any means. Of course, that is a general statement. There are architecture buffs that have to live in a magnificently-designed building, or love the old prewar architecture and would not consider a bland boring structure. But if they had to choose between a great interior or exterior, the interior would win, hands down.”

Top Five Features

The truth is, five may not be enough. Arias says, “Responsible comfort, adaptability, aesthetics, sustainability, and cost,” guide his work. “In terms of space and programming, working from home and/or sharing working facilities are a big consideration. Working from home impacts design because more and more people are doing it at least once or twice a week.” In apartment buildings, “You can share certain functions [in a common space] to avoid redundancy and make resources more effective. The byproduct is networking, in a very natural way.” That networking is an integral part of doing business today. 

Boddewyn agrees that on-premise shared workspace is one of the most popular and sought-after amenities in new residential buildings, and says, “[It’s] a seamless blend of home and work. You make work seem like home, and home seem like work. That’s an overall trend.” Many new buildings today, both rental and for sale, feature shared amenity space designed for workstations and meetings. 

Boddewyn says another major consideration today is providing for residents to ‘age in place,’ eventually creating what is otherwise known as a naturally-occurring retirement community, or NORC. (For more on NORCs, visit https://cooperator.com/article/norcs-on-the-rise). Today, many homebuyers purchase homes with the desire and expectation to live out their lives there, and residences, whether high-rise, suburban or hybrid, must be built with consideration for how residents will age – as well as what features need to be incorporated from the beginning to accommodate an aging-in-place population.

When it comes to interior trends, Shepherd says, “Kitchens are very important,” and most buyers are looking for kitchens that open up to the rest of the apartment, creating a natural flow for integrated living, rather than being tucked away or walled off from other living spaces. Bathrooms are also at the top of the list. They have become important as experiential, almost spa-like spaces, a luxurious beginning or end to the day. More than ever in urban areas, closets are huge – both literally and figuratively. “There’s never enough storage space,” says Shepherd. “Today, thoughtfully-designed storage space should rival a retail store.”

Climate Change and Modern Design

Perhaps the most daunting problem confronting architects and designers today is climate change. Architecture and design pros are at the forefront of the fight to mitigate the effects of a warming planet on human living spaces.

Barry Ganek, President of Ganek Architects, Inc., based in Carlisle, Massachusetts, has completed projects throughout New England and specializes in the conversion re-design of historically-designated industrial buildings to residential use. “Generally,” he says, “historically-designated buildings are exempt from energy codes in Massachusetts. That being said, the majority of developers do work to be sustainable in the design and construction of their properties using such things as renewable products. We try to salvage as many of the renewable materials as possible out of the buildings for reuse within them; flooring, for example, and architectural elements that are pre-existing are incorporated. Roof membranes and insulation are as per new construction. We tend to see solar panels across roofs.” 

One interesting and environmentally-conscious component of Ganek’s work has to do with water usage. “The mill properties we work on are generally located along water sources, as that’s how they were powered in the old industrial complex. We often utilize water power by redeveloping the old turbines to produce power again. We even use the water for heat exchange, running coils into the stream beds to take advantage of the temperature differential. Also, we build the units to insure their air tightness. We seal the new construction against the original masonry and timber. This is very important.”

Sarah Marsh, Principal with Marsh Architects in New York City, points out that while sustainability may be more common outside of urban areas, mainly due to the types of building materials used (wood is more sustainable than, say, glass and steel, or masonry) programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED, for short) in urban areas have mandated sustainability as a standard. A certification program focused on new buildings, and which runs on a point system, internationally-recognized LEED provides third-party verification that a building is designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water, and air.

“We have limited resources of clean air and water,” says Marsh. “That is the fundamental underpinning of the LEED project. You are taking care of water use and emissions from your building systems. You take care of energy efficiency by choosing a very energy-efficient ‘skin’ for the building. That might be masonry or triple-glazing (three layers of glass with air pockets between them for insulation and sound-damping). Energy efficiency is the main consideration to be able to heat and cool the property efficiently.”

Shepherd also offers another consideration: “The reality of climate change is huge, and is certainly affecting the design of buildings. Sustainability is tremendously important.” Many densely-populated and highly developed urban areas such as Boston and Miami are likely to be profoundly affected by rising sea levels, “Architects, designers and developers must look at where [floodplains] are located,” Shepherd continues. “One of the key things for a residential building is the ability to maintain power – the ability to have a backup alternative energy source not located in a basement where it can potentially get flooded. It must be on an upper floor. Think about what happened during [Superstorm] Sandy” when rain and storm run-off swamped many basement machinery rooms, shorting out lights, elevators, and other utilities, plunging buildings into darkness and rendering it difficult to reach residents trapped on higher floors. 

“Energy codes are becoming more stringent,” says Shepherd, “so architects and designers are using more energy-efficient sources than ever before. All this is ultimately driven by climate change, but is enacted through municipal building codes.”

Challenges

What about the future? Architects and designers face developing challenges. Their world is anything but static. Boddewyn says one of the greatest challenges “is the cost of construction. It just keeps rising.” And, she says, “Quality has suffered, despite technology. Ultimately, the architect’s goal is to reduce a building’s operating costs through architecture, design and technology.” 

According to Marsh, “Technology is dominant in everyone’s thinking. Systems controlled by phone or tablet. More time and attention is paid to interiors.” As a result, interior design can affect exterior design, specifically higher ceiling heights can result in higher building heights, or limit the number of floors, thereby reducing the number of units – and increasing prices.

Shepherd adds that “dealing with a change of lifestyles in the age of the internet,” is a growing challenge. “Design is a bespoke service. We live in an age where you shop for anything and everything online,” and designers have to keep that idea in the forefront of their projects.

Perhaps Arias sums up the answer best. “Achieving a balance between all the pressing issues of the time has always been the main challenge for architects. In the larger picture, creating meaningful designs that reconcile the possibilities for the individual with sustainable growth for the community, and making everyone represented in the endeavor, is a difficult task.”

But then, isn’t that how the pyramids got built?         

A J Sidransky is a staff writer/reporter for New England Condominium, and a published novelist.

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