Outdoor Spaces: Living the Dream, Inside and Out

Utilizing and implementing outdoor spaces are a must in today’s industry

By Ed Cadavona

Caught in what the industry has dubbed an amenities war, multifamily developers and operators are investing in unique, resort-like amenities to remain competitive and attract new generations of residents who prioritize experience and community in their search for an apartment. Outdoor spaces such as interior courtyards, rooftop decks, pool and spa areas or community plazas are key in creating an attractive living experience, especially in regions that benefit from year-round warm weather. The COVID-19 pandemic and the slew of indoor restrictions it has prompted have only accelerated the focus on outdoor spaces. Case in point, a recent report by Fixr shows that 63% of construction experts anticipate future outdoor living areas will be bigger than before the pandemic.

Creating placemaking through outdoor spaces

For the past decade or so, placemaking has been informing the way architects approach every project – whether residential or commercial – with the ultimate endeavor of creating spaces that promote socialization, happiness and well-being. The principles of placemaking are key in the design a successful multifamily development, allowing residents to think of their communities as home, and not just a place to live. Inviting outdoor spaces that combine attractive amenities with creative and thoughtful landscaping are key to strengthening the connection between residents and space. With units typically limited in size, outdoor spaces can serve as an extension of renters’ living spaces, where people can play, relax or even entertain by hosting barbecues and sports viewing parties in outdoor sitting areas. Outdoor spaces can also foster a sense of community among residents with activities that lend themselves to socialization, such as lawn games and community gardens. 

By designing common areas with seamless indoor-outdoor flow, architects can reinforce the perception that outdoor spaces are a natural expansion of a dwelling unit. An example of this is Park & Paseo, an 18-acre multifamily community comprised of three apartment buildings (Broadstone Arden, Archive, and Atlas) surrounding a spacious community park and plaza featuring a collection of shops, cafes and restaurants. Totaling 1,221 units, the three properties enjoy access to a suite of premium outdoor amenities that promote health and wellness, including a CrossFit-style gym with sliding glass doors that open to outdoor basketball courts, a rooftop spa and pools. Each building also features a resident clubroom with a full kitchen, plus an outdoor kitchen and dining area that overlooks the central park where people can gather to enjoy a concert or watch a movie under the stars.

Roof decks, the shining star of outdoor amenities

Taking cues from the hospitality and restaurant sectors, many multifamily communities are now incorporating rooftop decks to wow and delight residents with sweeping vistas of the cityscape and posh amenities that promote a luxurious living experience. Several key factors must be addressed to create safe and attractive amenity-filled rooftop decks, such as rainwater management, wind uplift and weight. Another key consideration is building code compliance, which typically requires adding building elevators that can function on emergency power and oversized stairways with safe, easy access for occupants to evacuate safely in case of an emergency. While roof decks are typically a costly investment and come with their own set of design challenges and code issues, their widespread popularity guarantees a great ROI.

Wrap buildings afford great opportunities for the design of amenity-rich rooftop decks placed atop the centrally located parking structure, adding value and excitement. With optimal views and sunlight, rooftop decks deliver an upgraded experience with swimming pools, barbecue areas, outdoor living and more, enabling developers and residents to reap several benefits including maximizing the leasable area and freeing up space within the residential structure. Additionally, the elevated amenities provide an instant wow-factor that upgrades the level of service and draws the attention of potential residents.

An interesting example of this trend, AO designed Cloud House, a five-story, 321-unit wrap development in Stanton, California, poised to be the largest aerial playground in Orange County. An audacious 17,500-square-foot sky deck crowns the complex, offering a carefree urban getaway without leaving home. The vibrant spaces are outfitted for alfresco entertaining, evening fireside cocktails, poolside movie nights, lounging and relaxation. Terraced staircases offer premium views of the pool and jumbo movie screen, as well as casual seating for intimate chats.

Many people relied on outdoor spaces to improve and maintain their physical and mental health during the pandemic, whether for working out, relaxing or safely socializing. New habits were formed that will likely endure as people slowly return to normal. Now more than ever, multifamily developers should continue to prioritize outdoor spaces to engage residents and establish a sense of community. 

Ed Cadavona is a managing partner at design and architecture firm AO. He may be reached at Ed@aoarchitects.com or 714.639.9860.