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Our Insights

Suburban Space or City Convenience?

How design plays a role in where we choose to live

The pandemic has made us more mindful of where and how we want to live. A shift to working from home is leading to tenant expectations for more space, security, convenience and movement. As designers, we are balancing the spectrum of walkable communities, optimizing the use of available square footage, developing healthy buildings through sustainable design and managing new space standards.

How do all these factors impact how we design purpose-built rentals? Will transit oriented developments become more popular? Is the 15-minute city the new norm? Will suburban densification outpace urban densification? Are micro units a thing of the past? Get the answers in this roundtable with Bruce McKenzie, Vice President as he gets perspective from integrated Residential team members as part of our 2021 Insight Series

How has the pandemic coupled with a rise in remote work changed the demand for rental units?

Bruce McKenzie, Vice President

The pandemic has afforded remote workers with more options. As people search for more space and realize they may not need to live close to work, we’re seeing a rise in the suburban rental and condo markets, specifically for multi-family units due to affordability. With space at a premium in urban centers, developers are seeking options for investment in purpose-built rentals in the suburbs with proximity to transit.

Jan Steingahs, Principal

Some people are realizing that being stacked on top of one another in condensed urban settings may not be the best-case scenario for their mental health and physical well-being, especially during a pandemic. But the drive to the suburbs does not mean abandoning city life. The emergence of the 15-minute city means you can live your life within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from everything you need including transit to the city core. These TOD (transit oriented development) plans encourage mass transit and more space, two design elements in high demand in Canada, the US and UK.

George Sorich, Principal

The pandemic has shifted how we think about creating healthy environments, and where we live is no exception. We are designing healthy buildings that focus on air quality, ventilation and 7 other actionable foundations that improve a resident’s quality of life. With the expectation that city cores will become more densified as a vaccine is distributed, it’s even more important to design a building that is compliant with healthy building standards like WELL and Fitwel that focus on the health of the occupant.

How is design responding to the new tenant expectations?

Reagan Brown, Senior Interior Designer

There is an emphasis on providing as much space as possible, even in micro units. That includes increasing storage and accounting for a desk. More people spending more time at home also means more noise. We’re seeing a shift to LVT materials to help soundproof units and adhere to stricter STC (Sound Transmission Class) ratings. With a struggling economy, we are attempting to be as budget-conscious as possible while still making the space feel like home. Part of that is also safety. Advanced technology like keyless entry to the building and your personal unit is becoming standardized as value-adds for tenants.

Bruce McKenzie, Vice President

Amenities are the great equalizer when it comes to space. Despite the pandemic, there is still a demand for luxury amenities like rooftop decks, coworking spaces, entertaining units and spas but there is also a demand for services and spaces that increase convenience and security. Dog wash stations, package delivery and video intercom systems have become staples in urban condo development. Offering the right amenities can impact a person’s decision to stay in the city.

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How is NORR reacting to the demand for more sustainable designs?

Simon Bell, Director

By 2025, the UK won’t be constructing any new homes heated by gas in a bid to tackle emissions. NORR is at the forefront of this innovation to develop environmentally-friendly solutions to heat new homes, including a ground-breaking social housing project that will design and deliver new homes on a single site utilizing different fabric techniques including timber, masonry and polystyrene blocks filled with concrete, and different heating solutions to enable cost-benefit analysis of each technique. Studying these materials and mechanical solutions will provide valuable insight for the future of sustainable homes.

Adrian Todeila, Principal

From an engineering perspective, the emergence of the central plant is promising from an economical and sustainable standpoint. These combined heat and power units can serve multiple buildings and potentially sell energy back to the power grid. It’s a large capital investment, but one that can be amortized over the life of the project. Clients are also focusing on using more sustainable building materials like timber to reduce our carbon footprint.

George Sorich, Principal

Another innovative project we are working on is a collaboration with Tesla on a residential building that is powered by Tesla’s state of the art powerpack technology. This infinitely scalable system is fully integrated with several applications to promote smart energy consumption. There are also benefits of connectivity, like being able to use an app on your phone to call your car out of the remote parking garage. We are consistently exploring new ways to design and power smarter homes.

What considerations are being given to solving the global affordable housing crisis?

Bruce McKenzie, Vice President

We must continue exploring real solutions to the affordable housing crisis. It is estimated that by 2025, around 440 million urban households will occupy crowded, inadequate and unsafe housing. NORR is committed to addressing the overwhelming need for more affordable housing, especially under the cloud of a global pandemic. We are working closely with not-for-profit organizations that acquire public funding for specialized needs housing alternatives including custom design projects for specific end-users. This spans the entire age spectrum, from seniors to youth.