In addition to hands-on social programming to activate community spaces, designers are finding that deconstructing amenity rooms into one or two larger common areas provides a less cloistered feel while also saving on square footage. “Three or four years ago, the game room was separated from the media room, which was separated from the club room, which was separated from the café,” Anand says. “Now, it’s all one big space separated by furniture and screens and flooring.”
When it comes to specific amenities, the market mantra is to pack them in, but if you’re forced to pick and choose, there are community elements that are quickly going the way of the business center. The latest amenity in decline has been the clubhouse cinema and theater room, as developers move screening areas to outdoor BBQs, pool parties, and rooftop deck gatherings. In general, outdoor screening areas and similar private/public amenity spaces (think gaming stations, pet-friendly areas, HDTV corners) that transition across common areas are the way to go, designers say, rather than the high-square-footage, closed-off rooms such as business centers and theaters. “The trend right now is four-to-one in favor of an outdoor screen,” says Gehman with coffin-nail finality. “Theaters already feel so last century. Nobody does those anymore.”
The Price is Right
Of course, the budget-minded crowd surely looks at dense urban infill with packed-in amenities and sees development costs redlining. And with many shops still vacillating between the “build it” or “buy it” option, pushing for new construction might not pencil out. Not so, say designers and developers already coming out of the dirt. With the multifamily sector alone practically holding up commercial and residential construction, labor and material costs are still at steep enough discounts to make yields on new construction—even construction of denser, downtown product—palpable to number crunchers.
“The smaller the unit, the more expensive they are to build. You’ve got fixtures for kitchen and bathroom plumbing coming up,” McCadden says. “The cheapest square footage to build is always the last foot that you add on.” In general, McCadden and others say that labor and materials costs are down about 20 percent on urban infill deals compared with where they were four years ago, providing an opportunity to build now at a lower basis historically.