CHALLENGING: ARCHITECTURE REQUIRES CREATIVE SOLUTIONS: The radical change of buildable urban land during the past 10 years has challenged developers in new ways.
Developers are increasingly confronted with irregularly shaped lots and those that must be assembled to complete a single project--this, along with the usual need to comply with environmental restrictions, makes development challenging.
Because conventional strategies are often not versatile enough to address unigue site conditions, designers have had to think outside of the box. They must, on a case-by-case basis, determine their needs and develop an efficient and economical strategy. No single strategy template can be assumed to work across all real estate scenarios.
Density = Profitability
As land availability becomes tighter, one key to profitability is maintaining a high resident density. Building heights now routinely hit the four- and five-story barrier, which has in turn led to exploration of other construction types to build higher.
Whereas builders once used steel and concrete, they now look to new wood composite technologies to achieve the desired heights while keeping construction costs in check. These innovative products, which originated in Canada, have made their way to the Pacific Northwest and are pushing the definitions of the building code on wood material. While the engineering works, remoteness creates cost factors in the Central and Eastern regions of the United States that have made incorporating them less feasible in terms of the project budget overall. There also is the hurdle of getting building officials onboard with the technology. That may change in the near future as manufacturers venture into the Midwest.
Developers must balance the economics of multiple small buildings against putting up a few large buildings. The former can be more cost-effective, but it's not always a direct comparison. Many factors are at play. Smaller buildings (three stories or fewer) can be walk-ups, use less expensive structural systems and need less skin on the building. They are less costly to build overall and have no need for cost-intensive structured parking, but such plans often must cede larger pieces of land for parking. Green space should be concentrated in chunks large enough to be useful as recreation areas for residents. Developers want to put as many units on a property as they can to enhance their ROI, but each property is unigue in terms of zoning requirements, topography and location. All these factor into the decision of what to build.
Ideally, developers will come with an idea of what they went--a wrap or podium style building, for instance, but want to look at both options. Designers make suggestions based on the project parameters and how the client wants the development to function in their portfolio, for example, whether they will sell it immediately or keep it for several years.
With unusual topographies, such as hilly sites or those with a lot of fall across them, 90 percent of the effort is figuring out how best to synthesize clients' needs to the site. But designers must be flexible enough to adapt to unforeseen conditions, such as undocumented wetlands, utilities on the site, easements or landfills that pose environmental issues. Obviously, it is best if these are discovered before the drawing process is complete.