Architecting Change: Design Strategies for a Healthy, Resilient, Climate-Smart Future

[ Page 2 of 5 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 next page
Sponsored by Think Wood

It Takes a Green Village: Weaving Greenspace and Nature into the Built Environment

Along with increasing equitable access to public parks and recreational amenities, urban designers and architects in cities across the country are increasingly looking for innovative ways to weave greenspace into the built environment.

Garden City 2.0: Building Long-Term Resilience and Health

In times of hardship and crisis, city dwellers throughout history have turned to nature for hope and healing. Today, equipped with a growing body of research and compelling data, city builders are beginning to confirm what folk wisdom has taught us—that nature and greenspace woven into the fabric of our urban environments are good for our health. As Will Allen, director of strategic conservation planning at The Conservation Fund in Chapel Hill, NC writes, “...if a post-COVID world can move towards more people-centered social infrastructure investment, with ambitious goals for nature in cities and biophilic design, then our financial investments in nature will be rewarded with less crowded and more resilient cities, which will hopefully also lead to a more equitable and healthy country.” This investment may very well begin with a walk in the park, just ten minutes from home. The concept of a garden city is one practical response to building stronger, more resilient cities.


Along with well-designed equitably planned greenspace, participatory design has the potential to strengthen the health and resilience of communities. A growing number of architects and planners are turning to community engagement—an approach that puts occupants at the heart of the design process. In doing so, they’re creating architecture that connects people and strengthens community, something that is perhaps more important than ever.

Participatory design offers a number of benefits, as pointed out by Participate in Design (P!D). It mitigates the risk of failure and helps a community buy into and own a design solution. It can help reduce resistance to change and encourage realistic expectations of a design while fostering stronger bonds and greater community involvement. And finally, it can boost the overall confidence and resilience of a community.


The Rising Need for Affordable Housing and Mixed-Use Development

For community building and placemaking to thrive, cities need safe, accessible, and affordable housing, inclusive of a broad socioeconomic spectrum of people. This is becoming even more imperative as urban population growth surges. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Outside traditional city centers, urban adjacent suburbs and mid-sized cities and towns also are seeing rapid growth, fueled in part by a shift to remote working in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the demand for affordable housing is outpacing supply, with new multifamily units renting at prices that are cost-prohibitive for middle- and low-income renters.

Without cost-effective housing options—and a diverse mix of units from rental and cooperatives to social and market housing—urban centers risk becoming destinations for “global elites.” In some cases, high-priced investment properties sit empty, as a rapidly rising population can’t find housing. Nearly two-thirds of renters nationwide say they can’t afford to buy a home, and saving for a down payment is out of reach when home prices are rising at twice the rate of wage growth. These challenges, compounded by a global pandemic, have only intensified America’s housing problems.

At the same time, infrastructure, amenities, and mixed-use commercial space are needed to support population growth. But land available for such development is costly and scarce, highlighting the need to optimize the use of existing space in urban centers. And now, these same cities must consider how to adapt mixed-use development for a post-pandemic world. Given all these challenges, how can developers, architects, and contractors boost affordability and reduce multifamily housing costs? How can they make better use of available land and optimize the use of existing mixed-use commercial spaces?

What Impact Can Design Teams Have on Density and Affordability?

To answer these questions, designer and urbanist Hannah Hoyt, Gramlich Fellow at Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, interviewed 30 professionals working in the development sector. The findings? To help make housing more affordable, the report recommends design teams consider multiple strategies that can curb development costs in three categories: land costs, hard costs, and soft costs, with a focus on what savings are within their day-to-day control and can be passed on to occupants.

Land costs refer to the cost of acquiring land, which amounts to approximately 10-20% of total development costs for a typical multifamily project. Examples of strategies to maximize land value include selecting a site that offers economies of scale, considering design solutions for oddly shaped lots or scattered sites, and renovating, converting, or co-locating housing with existing buildings. A standard approach to site evaluations that considers everything from soil and site clearance to grade and zoning can, according to the report, go a long way to identifying scalability and avoiding unexpected site preparation costs.

Hard costs are the costs of construction, which can be divided into four sub-categories: substructure and site prep, shell and structure, and interiors and services. Hard costs amount to 50-70% of total costs. Examples of strategies that can have a positive impact on hard costs include designing units for maximum flexibility and efficiency, investigating new techniques and materials, and investing in energy and water performance to realize long-term savings for a project.

Finally, soft costs include all other costs—financing, design, engineering, permitting, and any impact fees. In this category, engaging general contractors early and as partners can help realize savings, and sharing more information with subcontractors can result in more accurate cost-estimating.


[ Page 2 of 5 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 next page
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2023