Multifamily Market Design Methodologies

Strong activity continues to drive innovative design and impact localities
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By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
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Exterior and Interior Trimmed Panel Designs

The rise in urban multifamily buildings and the marketing influence of younger residents such as millennials has prompted design teams to look at different aesthetics suited to these situations. Favoring more contemporary or even modern appearances on the exterior facade and interior wall surfaces, architects are embracing the market forces that are moving more multifamily buildings in that direction. Urban mixed-use buildings with a commercial podium below several stories of living units have become the vanguard of contemporary, hip locations with carefully articulated facades and surfaces. But the urban contemporary look has begun to show up in a wider range of property types too, including suburban garden/walkup properties (sometimes by the same property developer/owner as urban projects) and even in senior housing as well. The clean lines and modern details of the exterior facades have also spread to the interior spaces of these buildings for not only shared public spaces but also into the living units.

Exterior Panel Trim

One of the better ways to achieve a panelized, modern look on a building facade is to use a lightweight cladding over a framed wall assembly. Commonly, this cladding is incorporated from standard-size panels made from fiber cement, composite material, engineered wood, or even thin composite aluminum panels. It might also include siding of different types made from some of the same materials. Designing with such materials is fairly straightforward, but attention needs to be paid to the way the panels are secured to the building and how the edges of the panels are addressed. Typically, some sort of trim has been applied to accomplish this using wood, composite, or plastic materials. While those are effective and can work well for some buildings, their width, bulk, and ongoing maintenance can make them less desirable for use and detract from the overall facade design.

As an alternative to traditional exterior trim, many architects are turning to the use of thin, extruded aluminum trim systems. The use of extruded aluminum in buildings in general is common due to the versatile nature of the material and its durability. When used to hold the edges of exterior wall panels, it provides architects with a unique means to detail corners, vertical and horizontal joints, and material transitions. It can be specified in common thicknesses and profiles to suit any of the lightweight cladding materials already mentioned. Extruded aluminum trim can even be provided in sizes and styles that work with multiple panels, enabling architects to vary the materiality within their facade designs while still keeping details that will have a similar language. The variety of available extrusion profiles can create a recessed reveal between cladding panels or can project outward to accentuate the lines of the design. Used in any of these ways, it has typically been shown to be less expensive with a more elegant look of clean lines than with other options.

Interior Panel Trim

On the interior of multifamily buildings, similar systems can be used to carry a design scheme inside. Gypsum board or interior panel products can be surrounded by thin extruded aluminum trim, creating similar clean lines and geometric delineation on interior wall surfaces. This can produce clean and advanced details for an otherwise utilitarian product without requiring specialized metal work in the field. Such interior aluminum trim can provide unique profiles within its product category, which helps to take a strong, well-known product in drywall and give architects and designers the opportunity to add new details, patterns, and design impacts. This can include communal or private spaces in multifamily developments, where the aluminum trim can be used to create bold corners or wall bases in addition to delineating wall panel patterns.

Of course, the color of the trim is an important design consideration, regardless of the exterior or interior location. Fortunately, there are many options beyond the standard mill finish aluminum coloring. Extruded aluminum trim can be specified as finished with a paint primer only ready to receive final finish coats in the field of virtually any color. Alternatively, it can be specified as prefinished in the factory, reducing further the on-site labor needs. The prefinished choices vary by manufacturer but typically include durable powder coat paint, conventional wet paint coatings, or anodized aluminum in standard colors. In this regard, the trim can appear to blend in with the adjacent panels or cladding, or it can be used to highlight all or some of the visual lines it creates. This flexibility using familiar and long lasting finish options means that both the design and the performance level can be controlled.

Architects who have used this approach include Russell A. Hruska, AIA, principal and co-founder of Intexure Architects in Houston, Texas. He points out, “Using extruded aluminum trim between panel joints becomes an architectural element and is a way of expressing the joints and defining their deliberate placement. It adds a level of architectural refinement.” From a performance perspective, he adds, “Aluminum trim, when used with fiber cement panels or lapped siding, is more cost effective than stucco and provides long-term durability while achieving our design aesthetic.” Val Glitsch, FAIA, confirms this experience, indicating, “The alternative to premanufactured aluminum trim is wood, which gives a very different aesthetic, is bulkier, and, for water infiltration concerns, can only be used for vertical joints. The best way to get a quality, consistent, properly installed, and cost-effective result is to use extruded aluminum trim designed for that purpose.”

extruded aluminum trim used in multifamily apartments in Huntsville, Alabama

Photos courtesy of TAMLYN

Exterior cladding panels can be held in place along their edges using extruded aluminum trim that also contributes directly to a more contemporary and market appealing facade design, such as at the Artisan in Huntsville, Alabama, shown here.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2018


Multifamily Market Design Methodologies
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