Design never sleeps. And, in true form, the design industry has not shut its eyes during the current pandemic. Rather, we’ve taken up a new hobby: speculating about how the design of places and things might change in the post-COVID world. Fueling the speculation have been some intriguing questions and provocative responses. One such query has been: how might we design multi residential environments in the wake of such systemic revolution? Ben Pomroy, principal architect for Rothelowman, places his educated bet on the notion that more thoughtfully designed home work/study, communal and external environments will be key to multi residential design moving forward.
“While we’ve all been social distancing, we’ve become aware our wellbeing is intimately linked to connection – to nature, particularly, but also to each other,” he explains. To an architect’s trained eye, as Ben says, “[being] stuck inside for several weeks, it’s hard not to become acutely conscious of the positives and shortfalls of your own home.” But this heightened appreciation of place, particularly in domestic environments, is not limited to the architecturally educated. For better or worse, isolation has increased everyone’s understanding of place and just how ‘liveable’ our homes really are.
“Developers and architects will need to embrace this enhanced public insight and be better at demonstrating how their projects will answer changing social, cultural and physical needs post COVID-19,” says Ben. And of such changing needs, there are plenty. It’s likely that many of us will continue to work from home or have flexible working arrangements, indefinitely, and the kitchen island bench will no longer suffice as a desk.
Multi residential design trends had been moving away from dedicated study spaces in apartments, but the pandemic has changed all that. “There’ll be new opportunities to design compact but physically separated study/workspaces into apartments and townhouses so you can work and Zoom in private away from the rest of the family,” says Ben. The Rothelowman principal references Babylon, one of the studio’s latest multi residential design developments for Denvell Group, as a case in point for the shift away from open-plan living arrangements. The split-level apartment designs create space for physical separation between inhabitants in a way that goes above and beyond simply delineating public from private areas.
Of course, there is always the argument that a mass shift to remote working will entice the dissolution of high density living – what need do we have for multi residential buildings if our livelihood does not demand geographic proximity to a city? The answer to that is twofold: sustainability and connectivity. “Urban apartment living has huge social benefits, including greater access to amenities, services, and cafés,” says Ben.
Babylon by Rothelowman joins the likes of Nightingale 1 by Breathe Architecture and Clyde Mews by Six Degrees as an exemplar of multi residential design inspired by a sense of community and place. “Communal spaces aren’t just for meeting other residents in your apartment building; they’ll provide another recreational space beyond your private dwelling that’s still within the safety and security of your smaller community,” says Ben. “In Babylon’s case, rather than designing expansive, hard-surfaced areas, a generous softscape creates a space you can experience at ground level and a backdrop to every apartment’s internal experience.”