Bringing real intent to outdoor space design

How outdoor spaces are transforming today’s multifamily properties

The Orchard at Lincoln Commons - Chicago, IL
Caption The Orchard at Lincoln Commons - Chicago, IL

What’s the Point?

Multifamily developments emphasize intentional design of outdoor spaces that support convenience, community and multigenerational wellness. Advance planning ensures a design that is purposeful, thoughtful and intentional, resonating with people of all ages.

People come alive outdoors

Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is one of the most effective ways to improve happiness and health. In addition to lifting spirits and overall mental health, proven measurable impacts include lower blood pressure and heart rate. Spending just 20 minutes in a park is enough to improve well-being, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health.

Well-designed outdoor spaces in multifamily environments have never been more important. Hines has partnered with CID Design Group to bring many of these spaces to life.

Get the Point

Subscribe Now

For more industry trends and insights, check out The Point

“We find so many opportunities to bring an elevated quality of life to people living in multifamily residences,” said Principal and Director of Design at CID Design Group Jenn Zella. “The most successful projects bring a truly bespoke design for both the location and the intended users. And this does not necessarily mean deep pockets are required. What you do need is a creative approach.”

Early planning brings success

Historically in new development, planning outdoor amenities took a backseat to architecture, civil engineering, interior design and even landscaping. Now, with a greater emphasis on community and wellness, injecting a creative placemaking and ground plane amenities strategy early in the site development plan is a must-do.

“We seek to design spaces for how people will move through them,” added Zella. “This means conducting a deep dive into how people enter, what they do when they are there, and confirming the infrastructure can support all of those different uses. It is also important to really understand the market, its people and culture to make sure a bespoke design reflects those important nuances.”

What people want now

Suburban developments have the benefit of leaning into all the flexibility their green spaces have to offer, as land is more available. In urban locales, it is about maximizing available space with elevated rooftops, flex lawns and courtyards.

No matter the location, how do you bring the right outdoor amenities to a multifamily property so they inspire and engage people from different generations? CID’s Zella recommends starting with a deep understanding of what residents want to make the day not only better, but easier, and then carefully designing the crossover between function, wellness and entertainment.

Aside from today’s more standard-fare offerings like pools, firepits and outdoor kitchens, here are top outdoor features to consider in a new multifamily development:

  • Dog friendly. Residents place high value on areas designated for our canine friends. Particularly in urban areas, a secure space for evening walks checks two boxes — safety and convenience.
  • Subtle yet powerful tech. No matter the climate, outdoor spaces need to support today’s remote and hybrid work preferences. Boosted wi-fi and hidden power in benches, planters and tables ensure residents won’t drop from their important Zoom call or fight with a dying laptop when their battery life plummets. Power anchors an experience in a way that wasn’t required just a few years ago.
  • Comfort for short or long stays. Furniture in outdoor spaces needs versatility and comfort to support everything from a quick tableside conversation to a long workday on the patio to a child’s poolside nap. Flexibility to move and reconfigure furniture is an added convenience, and miniature versions of adult-designed chairs serve up new functionality for the space.
  • Adaptable green space. Whether at ground level or on the roof, green spaces that can easily shift to accommodate everything from a small group game to a large community event lend an air of excitement, as the property experience can be different every day.
  • Music that sets a tone. From ambient to upbeat, music plays an important role in a property’s vibe. Whether it is poolside jazz or reggae for a farmer’s market, music brings the community together and the experience is always better with a soundtrack.
  • Fresh air. Balconies and windows that open rank high on people’s residential requirements. And abundant plantings lend a beautiful and welcoming appeal to the property. The role of plants in promoting health and wellness is long documented. Not only do they replace carbon dioxide with fresh oxygen, but they reduce stress, help with mental relaxation and relieve depression and anxiety.
  • Nature, wellness and play. There is no need to install a primary-colored playground designed for a limited “under six” audience. Nature playgrounds, boulders, benches and outdoor exercise stations hold equal appeal for young and old alike. When designed right, these areas do double and triple duty for sitting, playing and exercising for children, parents and elders.
  • Permanent or rotating art. Art that is meaningful to a community—whether that means featuring a particular style or artist—adds a beautiful aesthetic and a highly expressive nod to the locale.
  • “Heartbeat” space. This is perhaps the most critical— and most often overlooked— feature of a multifamily property. People need a place to gather, whether on a small or grand scale. In large mixed-use properties, a thoughtful look at programming a core central meeting space early on—and ensuring it has the adequate power and flexible features it needs—will prevent headaches and added cost later. This is especially true when the public is invited in.
Atlantic Station anchors a mixed-use development in Atlanta, GA
Caption Atlantic Station anchors a mixed-use development in Atlanta, GA

Connected spaces keep the experience going

An intentional outdoor design is about making a purposeful and seamless connection between spaces—from indoor to outdoor, and from outdoor to other site buildings. This is particularly important in a large, mixed-use development like Fenton, Hines’ 2.5 million-square-foot mixed-use project near Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. Here, natural pathways, alleyways and sidewalks were designed to be experiential and serve as a destination in and of themselves. Even single-building properties can, for example, turn an ordinary walkway into a wellness amenity, programmed with signage and fitness equipment.

Creating communities where people feel at home

The value humans are placing on whole body-mind-spirit wellness and community building cannot be understated, and outdoor spaces play a starring role in that evolution. The best designs maximize space in a simple, understated way, while making both young and old feel right at home.