We don’t have to look far to find outstanding examples of multifamily design. Some of the most well-known and striking architecture in the metropolitan area is displayed it all its stunning glory in the design of apartment buildings. Rosario Candela, with his many Art Deco masterpieces of the 1920s and ’30s. Paul Duboy and his classic Ansonia on Manhattan’s West Side. Emery Roth and the iconic twin towers of the San Remo.
This isn’t to say that today’s Long Island multifamily developers are matching the designs of these great architects, but we are mindful of the importance of inspiring architecture and functional design in what we do. Admittedly, Long Island apartment architecture has historically been run-of-the-mill. Today, however, we recognize that we are offering our residents a living experience, and aesthetics are a key element of that experience.
Because we take a holistic approach to architectural design, we consider a variety of factors for each new development. First, our internal development team, assisted by outside architects, considers the characteristics of the local community and the surrounding architecture. We want residents to feel that our buildings “belong” in their community, that we recognize the community’s uniqueness, and that we offer an integrated, contextual design.
This means that the developer must solicit community feedback and be willing to incorporate suggestions into the building design in order to fit in. When AvalonBay developed its Garden City community, it recognized the importance of the federal style architecture of General’s Row and incorporated those design elements. Conversely, in areas where our projects are on the cutting edge of economic redevelopment, we are often asked to build something that will stand out.
Second, we look to the tastes and requirements of our prospective residents. Long Island is home to some of the most treasured real estate in the nation. Its residents have high expectations in terms of apartment layouts, common areas and amenities. If multifamily developers are to be successful here, they must understand their customers’ expectations.
For example, a variety of floor plans is a must for today’s apartment dweller. In some communities, apartment sharing by young adults is the norm, so the bedrooms might be situated as far from each other as possible. For “empty nesters,” ample storage is often important, since most have downsized from homes. Older adults frequently look for open floor plans that allow for greatrooms and entertainment space.
A developer may want to design less parking in some communities, or install higher-end finishes. Transit-oriented developments normally don’t require large parking areas, but the design might allow for car-sharing and bike rentals.
Third, designing spaces for amenities and home technology has become an important element of the development process. Residents want keyless entry, third-party entry, device docking/charging stations, smart thermostats and remote security. Common and outdoor amenities also reflect renters’ high expectations. Landscaping that maximizes those amenities and complements architecture is an important part of overall design. Pools, fitness centers, clubhouses, entertainment rooms, kayak storage and pet spas are all design considerations for the current rental market.
Rather than block after block of looming, Queens-like apartment buildings so often mentioned and feared by Long Islanders, multifamily housing here is generally well-designed, equipped with luxury amenities, and consistent with the architectural approach of the neighborhood. And as study after study has shown, multifamily housing does not overburden schools, clog streets with traffic or contribute to crime. Instead, well-designed, architecturally appropriate, luxury apartment communities have had an overwhelmingly positive impact on our villages and towns.
AvalonBay Communities alone has turned a number of contaminated sites into beautiful apartment communities. Avalon Rockville Centre was the result of a decision to build a transit-oriented community on a brownfield site in a neglected part of the downtown. The parcel, an eyesore, had been abandoned for years, although it was well-situated and within walking distance of the Long Island Rail Road. The development was planned to fit in with the downtown area. Architects designed townhouse apartments with appropriate landscaping. AvalonBay demonstrated patience and persistence, working closely with village officials and residents to bring the project to fruition.
Avalon Garden City was another development whose architecture and design uniquely reflect the history of its original Mitchel Field Air Base site and the upscale suburban surroundings. The renovation of Navy officers’ former homes along General’s Row meant the preservation of a group of beautiful center-hall colonial single-family residences. This architecture inspired the development’s other housing options, townhouses and apartments. The designers also preserved the natural landscaping and tree-lined buffer at the entrance of the community.
Successful multi-family builders emphasize contextual design and architecture. Fitting into local communities means paying close attention to choosing, together with residents, an architectural aesthetic that complements the surrounding neighborhoods both now and for years to come.
Christopher Capece is a well-known multifamily developer on Long Island with 15 years of experience at AvalonBay Communities Inc.