Health and wellness features have come a long way since fitness centers first started emerging in multifamily communities. In 2018, 76 percent of renters participating in the National Multifamily Housing Council’s 2018 Consumer Housing Insights Survey said they were working toward achieving a healthier lifestyle, a sign of the growing demand for spaces and amenities that foster wellness. That trend also brings a new challenge for developers, designers and managers: staying a step ahead of the latest wellness-related offerings that residents are looking for.
Meeting those needs goes well beyond familiar features like an outdoor grilling and lounge area. Nowadays, prospective residents are more educated on the benefits of health and wellness and are looking to live in a community that offers more than the traditional definition. Spaces should be curated not just for equipment but for multiple uses, offering residents a more dynamic space created with the end user in mind as well as a more transitional experience when technology and design trends change.
In large part, the evolution in wellness strategies coincides with a transformation in ideas about home. Rather than the conventional view of a residence as a four-walled environment with spaces to eat and sleep, the new model for home embodies a larger sense of community that promotes quality of life. Whether the development is big, small or somewhere in between, the project team has options for creating spaces that cater to health and wellness needs.
Demographic and economic patterns are helping to shape the trend, as well. “Nowadays there are more renters by choice,” said Bob Thollander, president of development at The Bainbridge Cos. “The reason for that is convenience and how fast they can access these opportunities. Residents are less likely to work out if it’s not convenient.” Bainbridge incorporates pedestrian connectivity into such signature Florida developments as Bainbridge at Nona Place in Orlando and Bainbridge at Westshore Marina in Tampa. Both communities are located on the waterfront and offer trails that cross the property. “Whatever building you live in, you can walk out the door and take a sidewalk that connects to all other amenities,” explained Thollander. “We made crosswalks with brick pavers to cross the street so there is strong walkability throughout the entire community.”
A key to Bainbridge’s wellness offerings is offsite amenities that function as an extension of the communities’ onsite resources. The waterfront locations provide access to alternative forms of exercise and relaxation spaces by means of activities that range from swimming and fishing to kayaking and paddle boarding. Moreover, health and wellness measures must promote not only physical fitness, but also mental and social stability. Eighty-three percent of respondents to the NMHC Consumer Housing Insights Survey believe it is important to have space that evolves with different stages of the resident’s life, while 78 percent said that it is important for a community to offer space that can be transformed to meet different needs.
Out with the Old, In with the Zen
“What we’ve seen lately is a greater interest in trying to connect residents with green spaces,” said Luca Baraldo, senior associate at COOKFOX Architects. Examples include Zen gardens, outdoor lounge spaces, nearby walking and bike trails, community gardens and dog runs. Baraldo mentions that these features “explore the concept of biophilia, which is defined by biologist Edward Wilson as people feeling good when they are connected to nature. Science shows that it reduces stress, improves mood and increases cognitive abilities among children.”
Community gardens are a unique way to incorporate green space into a property, as well as promote social interaction. These can take the form of an offsite extension of the community or be incorporated into a rooftop space. For Arbor 18, a Brooklyn, N.Y. community developed by a joint venture of CGI Strategies and Adam America Real Estate, the inspiration was nearby Prospect Park, a 585-acre Brooklyn landmark. Like Central Park, its famous Manhattan counterpart, Prospect Park is an urban oasis that mingles natural settings, recreational opportunities and public gathering spaces. “We wanted to bring green space into the building and throughout, incorporating it into different rooms,” said Brendan Aguayo, senior vice president & managing director at Halstead Property Development Marketing, whose team handles leasing for the property. “It’s important to create an environment going from the street to an outdoor space, creating a decompressed experience.”
Arbor 18’s first-floor amenity spaces are collectively dubbed the Arboretum. The centerpiece is a landscaped courtyard designed by Steven Yavanian that serves as a visual centerpiece. Residents experience the courtyard as they walk through the Arboretum level’s spaces, which include the lobby, lounge, private dining area and library. One floor up from the Arboretum level is the Sanctuary level, which combines a variety of health and wellness features: a state-of-the-art fitness center and yoga studio, a meditation room and an infrared sauna.
A takeaway from the project is the value of drawing on a community’s surroundings to create a comprehensive wellness experience, much as the Arbor 18 team was inspired by the rambling woods and meadows of Prospect Park. Spaces should be curated not just for equipment but for multiple uses, offering residents a more dynamic space created with the end user in mind as well as a more transitional experience when technology and design trends change.
In the development of a community that emphasizes wellness, the choice of building materials is just as important as the features themselves. “It’s important to design with materials that don’t pollute the environment. You should think about including natural patterns, woods, stones, that remind us of a natural environment,” said Baraldo. Finishes, for example, should aim to suggest the patterns of nature. Sustainably manufactured, toxin-free materials should be incorporated as much as possible.
To determine which materials to use and how to develop a property with health and wellness in mind, it’s important to consider the square footage available for creating multi-use spaces. If you have a smaller footprint to build on, then building up, rather than out, might be the best choice. Options include two-story fitness centers, rooftop terraces or community gardens, and tall lobbies that may include plant walls and floor-to-ceiling glass to utilize natural sunlight.
“All spaces will work, as long as there is that idea of developing an overall sense of community, no matter how small or large a room is,” Aguayo asserted. “Bringing green space into a building creates a high sense of quality of life in the neighborhood.”