Good Design is Good Business

Good design finds a way to navigate all its unique challenges and incredible opportunities to create a sum that is greater than all its parts. Here, we explore this idea through Multi-Family Housing design.

Since 2013, we’ve been involved in the design of several multi-family housing projects, totaling over 1,000 units, 1,540,699 square feet, and $179,600,000 in investment. Three of these projects in downtown Fort Wayne demonstrate a thread that is common with every project success. They are the result of a successful client-architect collaboration resulting in thoughtful, healthy, and unique places. In short, they have proven that good design is good business.

Spend Money Where You Make Money

Skyline Tower is a city-changing, twelve story, mixed-use development focused on providing a place for residents to live, work, and play in our growing downtown. The first level hosts a large restaurant, with corporate offices for First Merchants Bank on the second level. Levels three through twelve are residential, with 123 apartments ranging from studio to three-bedroom units.
Early on, the project differentiators identified were that residents are able to enjoy some of the best views in the city, live in the heart of downtown, and have access to a private, one acre rooftop greenspace (the largest in Indiana at the time; we’ve since designed one larger at the University of Notre Dame) complete with walking paths, fountains, and lawn space.
However, the design needed to do more than leverage these differentiators. A collaborative relationship with the client and contractor led us to drive two components that are true on every multi-family project – focusing spending in a way that maximized return on investment.
One of the key construction challenges (and costs) related to the tight urban site. In response, we worked hand-in-hand with the client and contractor to meticulously seek out every opportunity to fabricate items off-site, minimizing the construction schedule and maximizing the contractor’s ability to manage the schedule. In this case, good design resulted in solutions that maximized off-site fabrication and relieved pressure in a tight urban site. From standardized kitchens that decreased fabrication time to unitized wall panels that could be constructed off-site and just needed to be delivered and lifted into place, these construction savings in the areas you can’t see allowed this development to maintain top quality finishes and amenities.

Maximize the Unique Differentiators

The Harrison is an upscale residential and retail/business complex. It offers 43 beautifully appointed apartments on levels three and four, each with direct views of either Parkview Field or downtown Fort Wayne. The retail/office/residential de­velopment is also home to Carson law office, 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, and several restaurants. Now hailed as a catalyst for much of the new housing in the city, The Harrison has enjoyed nearly a decade of success and continues to maintain a waiting list at nearly double their capacity.
Despite nearly 300 apartments being added within two blocks of this property, they continue to thrive because their design leverages the unique differentiators that no other property can compete with. It offers a front-row seat to every home game, concert, and community event offered at Parkview Field, and is an elevator ride away from dining in the heart of downtown. Close collaboration between the client and architect allowed this projects design to leverage the unique aspects of the site into marketing differentiators that have allowed this property to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.

Addressing Unique Challenges as Opportunities

This exciting housing project adds 163 units to the growing demand for new, dynamic housing options in downtown Fort Wayne. CityScape Flats was designed to be a contextually sensitive bridge between the neighborhood surrounding the site and the ballpark. It creates density with a scale and architectural language that allows it to integrate into the surrounding neighborhood, appealing to both young professionals wanting to live downtown and traditional home owners looking to add new amenities to their lifestyle.
While this unique site was destined for success, the degree to which it would succeed wasn’t always clear. This was because it was the first large housing project in downtown Fort Wayne since the 1970s. This unique challenge was addressed with two key design approaches – minimizing construction costs and creating an adaptable design that could scale based on its success.
In close collaboration with the client and contractor, the design leveraged owner contacts and relationships early on to bring construction partners to the table as early as possible in the design process. This allowed building components to be designed to each sub-contractors strengths and efficiencies. This interdisciplinary approach to the design created high-quality living spaces at below $100/sf construction cost.
Another key design component was to create a design that could be completed in phases. This not only allowed the project to adapt based on its leasing success, but also allowed apartments to begin leasing while other phases were still under construction. In the end, the strong market response led to a decision to develop 14 for sale townhomes on the site, rather than additional rental units.
 
In short, every project is a kit of parts. It has a budget, a schedule, needs to be efficient, and needs to maximize return on investment. Good design finds a way to navigate all its unique challenges and incredible opportunities to create a sum that is greater than all its parts. Ultimately, this meticulously unrelenting approach to design at every level, experience from past successes, and collaborative client-architect partnerships results in projects that differentiate themselves in the marketplace, but don’t cost more. This means they lease quickly, stabilize sooner, and allow us to start designing more cool projects.

Nathan Woods AIA
Senior Associate, Registered Architect