Creating and designing a multifamily project may have previously been relegated to the small acreage it sat on. Now, the approach begins by thinking about an entire ecosystem that involves technology, resident demographics, mobility, and energy sources.

That’s exactly the approach Humphreys & Partners Architects used to design the Apartment of the Future project presented at the International Builders' Show in January.

Walter Hughes, the firm's vice president of design, explains that the high-rise concept was envisioned as two towers on the Manhattan waterfront. The group started the development by thinking about the future of living, shopping, and human interaction, each of which will change, even in the next few years. Each of these factors, too, is integrated with the other, a consideration that was carefully planned into the Apartment of the Future's design. (The National Multifamily Housing Council and architect KTGY also recently revealed their own version of the apartment of the future, which looks even farther afield.)

Here, a short video shows the features of the Humphreys project.

Hughes breaks the project's design–creation process into demographics, technology, sustainability, construction-cost, and mobility issues.

“What we created was something to showcase everything that we see happening and how we see things playing out in the next few years,” Hughes says. “It should be complex so it has everything, to showcase what the issues are.”

The first issue addressed is shifting demographics. Changes in traditional family living, Hughes says, mean changing unit sizes and amenities. Along with increasing numbers of boomers retiring, for example, we're working differently today.

The Apartment of the Future also factors in affordability for the younger demographic by offering a much smaller place to live. Hughes shares a 200-square-foot micro unit that becomes a functional living space with mobile furniture. A central furniture unit will be able to house a bed, TV, and closet and transform the space with the touch of a button.

Next, Hughes addresses technology, struggling to wrap his arms around the advances in artificial intelligence that will affect design even as soon as a couple of years from now.

“A lot will happen in the next two to three years,” he says. “It will affect everything from leisure centers to even kitchens. And it will be available in the next 12 to 18 months.”

Hughes envisions robotic leasing agents that could greet tenants 24 hours a day and take on a huge percentage of work. The robots would operate using facial recognition, which Hughes says is a big reflection on how the team at Humphreys thinks about future design.

The thoughtful design of the project incorporates the next dimension of sustainable energy performance. Not only are developers and designers more aware of the environment, Hughes says, but so are residents. Tenants are demanding solutions they can feel good about and that have a lower impact on the environment.

Units in the Apartment of the Future feature photovoltaic glass to save energy in both summer and winter by more than 30%. The building is made net positive by using solar panels, an energy storage system, wind turbines, and tidal power from the Hudson River. The project's sustainability features roll over, as well, into vertical farms that are irrigated with graywater and new LED lighting technologies that produce a whopping six harvests per year versus the more conventional two.

Construction Costs
Hughes also addresses construction costs, which not only affect the speed at which new product can come on line, but act as a key influence on the rising cost of rent. In designing the Apartment of the Future, Humphreys approached rising construction costs by focusing on the advancing technology of modular construction.

The units for the Apartment of the Future will be preconstructed and shipped to the jobsite, which is expected to cut construction time by a third along with facilitating design flexibility and better energy efficiency.

Ideas about urban design are evolving almost as quickly as technology and are being influenced by innovations, such as drones and autonomous vehicles, that just three years ago weren't part of the conversation, Hughes says. Future designs won't need as much parking, since many people will be sharing cars or using autonomous vehicles and vehicles will be stored in places where land costs are much less than they are in urban areas.

Hughes also sees local maps changing with streets that are narrower and sidewalks that are wider. Cars won’t need as much space to drive because they won’t have the human error factor and will be better at driving themselves. The design also includes automated parking systems, full-service bike stations, and energy-generating walkways.

“Drones and robots will be taking [up] space and will need sidewalks to work,” Hughes says. “Pizza will be delivered by a small robot instead of by a 4-by-4. We'll be reclaiming the driving space for public space.”

But, truly, the bottom line remains the same: Whatever its sustainability or technology features may be, the place must be somewhere people want to live.

“There has to be a sense of place. It has to feel like a home,” Hughes says.