The Quiet Place

Finding the balance in building for both constant connectivity and serene silence

By Rick Haughey

The apartment industry will have to build at least 4.6 million apartments by 2030 just to keep up with demand for apartment living, according to recent research. At the same time, there are revolutions already well underway in everything from demographics and consumer behavior, to transportation and employment that will greatly affect what, where, and how we build.

Put simply, what we’re building today is unlikely to satisfy the renters of tomorrow.

Therein lies the challenge for the development and building community. Our long product delivery time means we’ll have to be much more anticipatory about what tomorrow’s renters are going to want and need.

To that end, our team at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) developed an interactive digital platform to explore how multifamily design can evolve and to help minimize the drag from the disruption happening around us.

We looked at what we know about future apartment demand, what more than 272,000 apartment residents told us about their preferences, and what we learned from a recent national survey of broad attitudes toward housing to identify how multifamily design may have to change going forward.

Not surprisingly, the research highlighted that residents want strong cell service, WiFi, and smart home amenities that support sustainability and energy efficiency. Smart developers realize that connectivity will be the backbone of our communities in the future, not only providing residents with the latest tech, but also creating efficiencies with community facilities and infrastructure.

However, an interesting counter-trend has emerged. As much as residents want to be connected, they recognize that the connected world has taken a toll on their psyche and they want more time and space to disconnect. This creates something of a connectivity conundrum for apartment developers who must create connected apartments that include peaceful places for residents to disconnect and recharge.

So, while the 2018 blockbuster horror film “The Quiet Place” describes a world none of us would choose to live in, the quiet apartment may be just the ticket for the resident of the future.

A feeling of being constantly oversubscribed and rushed is contributing to a redefinition
of health and wellness. When we asked our survey participants whether they agreed/dis- agreed with the statement, “I am working to achieve a healthy lifestyle,” three out of four agreed. But for tomorrow’s renter a healthy lifestyle isn’t just a good BMI; it’s really about achieving balance.

But what does that mean exactly? It means that there is a growing emphasis on 360-degree health, or health for mind, body, and soul.

One element of that balance—contrary to conventional wisdom in today’s digital world—is human connection. Two-thirds of our housing insights survey respondents said that face-to-face interaction is essential for a good life. 82 percent said having a space that facilitates those get-togethers is important.

There’s also the more spiritual and emotional side of health. In other words, people are seeking out ways to turn “off” in a world that otherwise wants us to always be “on.”

In fact, 93 percent of our survey respondents said having a place to unplug or unwind was important. While people want and need active engagement and connection, the need for retreat, rebalancing, and rest is also growing in counterbalance.

Rest was a particular desire among survey respondents. More than half (57 percent) of our housing insights survey participants said they wished they had a better sleep environment. Not sleeping has become the new smoking.

The challenge for apartment developers is to figure out how to help their future residents achieve this delicate balance between digital connections, personal connections, and dis- connecting.

In addition to thinking about how to incorporate retreat spaces like meditation gardens, spas, or quiet floors, today’s developers should be thinking about some of the basics, like sound attenuation. That desire exists today according to our data. Nine out of 10 of the renters participating in our renter preferences survey expressed interest in more soundproof walls.

To that end, the NMHC Innovation Committee will be launching its first Innovation Challenge in the summer of 2018, asking everyone in the industry and outside of it the simple question: How can we make apartments quieter? Hopefully the challenge will produce solutions that will help make the apartment of the future not only connected, but also quiet.

For more research, trends, and cool, interactive designs on the apartment of the future, visit www.nmhc.org/disruption.

Rick Haughey is the Vice President of Industry Technology Initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at rhaughey@nmhc.org

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