Designing for Generation Z
Common areas that take into consideration the group-like behavior of Generation Z are ideal.
By Daniel Gehman
It’s serendipity when disparate trends overlap in harmony. Like the way social distancing and emphasis on small groups combine to suit Generation Z (“Zoomers”— considered those born in 1997 or after), who are coming of age in a strange season. Observe any clutch of early-twenty-somethings and you’ll assess they don’t so much as form households but posses — groups of friends assembled around common interests. While many of this demographic are still living with mom and dad, most will eventually leave the nest for a multifamily community, where they will remain until they partner up, reproduce, and move to the suburbs.
Yet whether at the ‘rents or in a community, their pack behavior characterizes them. While GenZ posses may debate “whose place to meet at tonight,” they will more likely find a third place — neither dwelling nor work site — to hang out. Prior to the pandemic, these locations were public — the gym, the bar, or the coffee shop. With stay at home, the third place needs to be more semi-private. In the multifamily world, whether urban or suburban, this influences the design of common areas.
One strategy to address this behavior is to dis-aggregate shared spaces so that rather than accommodate the multitudes, each can cater to modest-sized groups, with more and varied pockets of space, both indoors and outdoors — call them “posse pods.” If the gathering place straddles the boundary between inside and out, even better — today it’s still preferable to meet in fresh air. An operable wall or sectional glass garage door, plus furniture and equipment that can easily spill outside not only looks cool but is highly functional.
Boundaries between these spaces do not have to be stout physical barriers, as long as adequate social distancing is kept in mind. This applies equally to interior and exterior spaces; interior spaces can be separated by tall planters or decorative non-perforated screens. Within the spaces themselves, user-configurable elements (like furniture and operable walls) are a bonus.
Flexibility is key to the success of these pods — based on the habits of the residents. For Generation Z, getting together may not always be purely about socializing — they may include intermittent working on the laptop/phone. Let’s call that “work-reation,” or moving seamlessly from work to play, mixing in enough personal interface to maintain a quality life balance. If they’re working remotely anyway, workspace is wherever they happen to be (provided there’s screaming fast wifi.) To support that, they will also occasionally want spaces that support work functions in a more structured manner, such as a formal conference room (“Zoom room”).
Multiple pods in reasonable proximity allow random encounters among residents like the chance meetings that take place in a co-working environment. Social networking and professional networking become indistinguishable, and both pursuits are enhanced as a result.
While this strategy of space planning plays to the preferences of the Zoomers and supports their habits, it also encourages physical distancing and the avoidance of large groups of people, particularly indoors. Plus, to have a greater assortment of more varied chill areas will be appealing to a Generation Z when taking a virtual tour of the property.
When we emerge from the current dilemma, how much of this will still be applicable? Popular trends discussed here are not likely to fall out of favor, even when the big group activities and tighter physical distancing are cool again; they’re just a good way to live. Eventually there will be another generation yet to take the place of the Zoomers, but by then, it’ll be time to refresh our properties anyway.
Daniel Gehman, AIA, LEED AP is a principal at Danielian Associates.