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Healthy, Well-Designed Multifamily Projects Can Also Be Affordable

Woodlawn Station, a collaboration by Skender, Gensler, Nia Architects and POAH

At Woodlawn Station, residents have access to a computer room, a roof deck and a community room. On the first floor, 15K SF of retail will play host to local businesses. The complex's design is modern, with metal panels on the exterior, exposed ductwork, white concrete ceilings and kitchen islands made from recycled materials. 

Some of the apartments even have a view of Downtown Chicago.  

This isn’t a Class-A apartment high-rise cropping up in one of Chicago's wealthiest neighborhoods; it is a mixed-income development set to revitalize the Woodlawn community in Chicago's South Side. 

Woodlawn Station, and similar projects across Chicago and the U.S., have started to embrace designs that go beyond simply providing a shelter for an underserved population. They are creating amenities that improve the well-being of the communities the developments serve. For Skender, which served as the base building and interior construction manager, Woodlawn Station is a testament to how smart design and efficient construction practices can improve how developers approach affordable housing projects. 

Woodlawn's design follows principles set forth in affordable housing design guides, like the one issued by the New York City Public Design Commission earlier this year. The practices speak to a growing shift among developers and city officials to design housing that is equitable and complements the local landscape in terms of scale and community engagement.

The guide touches on six areas that can be improved for better affordable housing design: site planning, the form and size of the building, window and door placement, and ground-floor conditions.

Well-designed multifamily buildings should respond to the existing neighborhood map, adjacent infrastructure and activities. Its size should feature variation in height and setbacks, and visually connect to adjacent structures and complement a neighborhood’s character and scale. Properly sized buildings can help make a large residential building interact with residents and the community on a pedestrian scale.

The placement of windows and doors can also promote visual and physical connections between the interior and exterior, and help scale a building to human level while improving access to light and air. At the ground level, developers should design spaces that not only welcome residents but also engage with street-level activity.

At Woodlawn Station, the ground-floor retail space engages local entrepreneurs by offering lower rents and tenant improvement packages. The complex is also transit-oriented, located steps from the Cottage Grove Green Line station.

Woodlawn Station

A catalyst behind the shift in thinking about affordable housing design has been the rise of cost-cutting initiatives in both the financial and construction phases of projects. On the construction side, builders have embraced more sustainable materials as well as nontraditional construction methods. For Skender, one strategy has been modular construction.

Modular building methods will revolutionize urban multifamily developing,” Skender Project Executive Joe Pecoraro said. “Projects can be able to be delivered faster, with better quality and more cost-effectively than traditional methods.”

Instead of being constructed on-site, buildings can be built in a controlled factory environment. The steel framework, mechanical, engineering and plumbing systems, interior finishes and the architectural facade are all assembled and inspected with the highest quality standards. The uniformity of modular construction also eliminates design flaws, making the units safer and longer lasting for tenants.

Each modular unit is then transported by truck to the project site, which was being prepared in parallel, then stacked and bolted on top of the pedestal foundation or parking garage.

A manufactured building looks and operates the same as a traditionally constructed building, but with exacting standards, minimal waste, high design, quality materials and a skilled labor force working safely and efficiently in a controlled environment.

Modular buildings are also built up to 50% faster than traditional buildings and offer from 5% to 15% project cost savings.

Skender just announced a modular factory in Chicago to further its own efforts to proliferate the use of modular housing. It is part of the firm’s commitment to leading the industry in lean construction methodology and leveraging cutting-edge technologies to improve the efficiency of the construction process.

Skender blended its award-winning, core construction business with exciting new design and manufacturing capabilities. With a robust team of designers, builders and engineers, plus a new modular manufacturing factory in Chicago, Skender is providing customers with a fully integrated, high-efficiency solution to solving the affordable housing shortage.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and Skender. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.