Building Design for Growing Suburban Centers


Even though many members of the younger generation state that they want to live in urban centers, the cost of housing in the city is prohibitive. This issue means that by necessity, many people and businesses are moving to the suburbs, creating a surge of growth in these areas as companies scramble to offer what's needed and the housing sector finds themselves short on inventory. As a result, the things that millennials love about urban centers are coming to the suburbs, creating more complete communities where people's needs are met within a short radius.

If you're a building designer or thinking about retrofitting an older building, here are some things to keep in mind that make sense in the 21st century.

1. Build Smaller Houses

Building Design for Growing Suburban Centers

Sixth and Willow Residences by Michael Green Architecture

Experts predict that the suburbs will look more and more like city centers in the coming years. People no longer want big houses. Instead, they want experiences, which means they're willing to buy a smaller house so that they have more disposable income. It's also thought that as millennials move to the suburbs to start families, they'll rent rather than own in order to gain flexibility. In fact, about 58 percent of people moving to the suburbs will rent instead of owning, and they want a professionally managed property.

One reason people are renting is that they're getting short-term assignments rather than long-term employment. In one study, researchers found that 62 percent of respondents sought temporary assignments in order to move to new locations that worked better for their needs. When workers are in a temporary position, they want temporary housing options instead of long-term commitments.

Building design in the suburbs needs to adapt to a desire for smaller footprints, and builders may increasingly consider properties with multiple units. If you add amenities to the property, it will become more attractive to millennials and seniors alike. Suburban design may become an interesting hybrid of amenity-filled but low-cost building in a growing market.

2. Design a City Center

Building Design for Growing Suburban Centers

Boxed Quarter in Christchurch, New Zealand

As mentioned above, suburban centers of the future look more like urban centers. Developers should consider working with others or on their own to develop a mini-city for suburbanites. That might mean a city block that features apartments, entertainment, dining and shopping. Some apartment complexes, especially those for seniors, are implementing this concept on their own grounds. The complex might include restaurants, a theater, bars, a small grocery store, a pharmacy, a gym and other establishments that residents can frequent on foot.

3. Retrofit Older Neighborhoods

Building Design for Growing Suburban Centers

Caulfield Campus Green by Taylor Cullity Lethlean

In recent years, developers have begun to look at how to redevelop existing neighborhoods to help them meet the needs of today's citizens. Some of the features added to suburban neighborhoods include foot and bike paths and better infrastructure for things like higher-quality internet and more sustainable living. For example, some developers are using old buildings in new ways, such as taking a warehouse and turning it into condos. 

Developers also look to make suburban centers more sustainable by adding green areas, resetting parks to ecologically complete units and adding alternative energy options like solar and wind. In this environment, greener built homes will create a community all about reducing residents' carbon footprints.

4. Think Multi-Use

Building Design for Growing Suburban Centers

One North by Holst Architecture

If you're reworking an old building into something better-suited for today's suburbs, think about how you can take one property and create multiple uses for it. This type of structure is common in urban areas and is filtering out to the suburbs. Think "live-work-play" for the community. This concept means a larger retail space, such as an abandoned shopping mall, may turn into retail, apartments and offices all in a single location.

The single-family homes all in a row and all looking alike are a thing of the past as diversity comes to the suburbs. People are looking for different sizes and types of homes. Think about the various kinds of people likely to move into a neighborhood and how you can best meet their individual needs.

The Changing Suburbs

Changing the grid system of the suburbs isn't an easy task. More streets may need to be connected to allow for better pedestrian traffic, for example. However, making small changes to create a better version of the things we love about living out in the burbs is worth the extra effort. The best way to change the suburbs and continue to grow them is to change them one building and one neighborhood at a time.

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