The H Street project in the emerging H. St. corridor in Washington D.C., might not have been something Arlington, Va.,-based AvalonBay Communities would have pursued in the past.

The area is as much of a gritty, transitional neighborhood as you’ll find in the nation’s capital—not a good fit for the high-end, luxury Avalon brand. 

But when the company developed its new AVA brand, things changed. With floor plans emphasizing studios and roommate configurations, the brand is a new concept for the company to appeal to Gen Y renters who want social opportunities and an urban lifestyle but don’t have the budget to afford the signature Avalon apartments. 

When the company began targeting that demographic, Jon Cox, senior vice president of development at Avalon, knew the H St. corridor was suddenly fair game for the company. He secured the site for H Street in late 2010. Since then, he’s developed a project that will ultimately be a flagship for Avalon’s new AVA brand.

Cox and Rohit Anand, a principal at KTGY, took some time to talk with Multifamily Executive about how the project has evolved. 
MFE: What were you looking for from the architectural team?
We were looking for something different and edgy and a team that understood D.C. and its idiosyncrasies. 
MFE: What distinguished the design you chose?
It had very clean lines. It had secondary surface that popped out from the building. We were looking for something contemporary and something that hadn’t been built in D.C. because everything is so traditional, but we also wanted something that we felt was simple to build.

Anand: Out of the five schemes we came up, three or four were quite on the edgy side with screens with mural motifs with colors and so on. We wanted the edginess and hipness factor that we understood Gen Y was looking for with a product of this type. At the same time, AvalonBay was concerned about doing something that was so trendy that it would look dated in two years. They were also looking for a timeless quality to it as well. 
MFE: How do you add a timeless quality to it?
I think there were good comments that come from their investment committee. We took out some bold colors that were there and simplified it some so it had a little more elegant quality to it.

Cox: We went from a four- or five-plane façade to a three-plane façade. We did get a little more rhythmic in how the façade is articulated. It’s all external. 
MFE: How did the project evolve?
The brand is about the whole experience. The experience is from the way you see the building on the street to the way your unit lives. You’re trying to hit a lot more design elements within the unit than traditionally has been the case by any apartment developer. We had prototypical units that we asked KTGY to build the building around, and then we had envelope constraints with that building because of the size of the site and set-back requirements. The envelope requirements required the units to be tweaked and modified. So after multiple iterations, we ended up with the building footprint the way we want it and the units the way we wanted them. 
MFE: How did the research drive what you did?
We had units defined that we gave to Rohit to try to plug into this footprint. There two major things we learned. First, this psychographic profile is very socially minded. The amenity to them is the not their apartment or the building they live in but the neighborhood. It’s about trying to find locations that would be edgy and attractive for young people to live. It’s more about the neighborhood than the product, although the product is what closes the sale. Secondarily, we think we know that they can generally afford less than the typical Avalon customer. We were looking for cost advantages that would help us deliver a product at a lower rent than the prevailing market rate. With the AVA product, the units got smaller. We’re trying to compensate with high design. As we tested with focus groups, we found it’s not really age related. It’s more about the person’s sense of style or design. It’s how they would perceive themselves in the world in relation to design. It’s more contemporary.

Anand: it’s very strongly tailored to the research that’s being done by AvalonBay on this group of renters. The product is more closely aligned to what this renter is looking for than what anyone else has done out there.

Cox: We’re trying to get really focused on what we think is important to them. Their possessions are important to them. Having the possessions visible within their apartment is not a bad thing instead of off in closest. It’s OK to see that. 
MFE: Rohit, how has this varied from other projects you’ve done?
Avalon had done a lot of research. They knew exactly what the renter was looking for. Along with them, we focused on taking concept units and making them more appropriate for this marketplace, while trying to keep the spirit of the concept.

A lot of what we’re doing on this is groundbreaking and there’s a budget that we’re trying to hold it to. Some of the spec'd items that we had were different than anything that we have spec’d before. So we worked pretty closely with the construction team and their brand people to make sure that what was being spec'd met the budget and the AVA brand guidelines as well. The program and our resulting design achieves a product differentiation that is unique in rental market