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Architects Are The Quarterbacks Of A Project Team. Find Out How One Firm Is Leading Its Clients Toward A Post-Pandemic Future

A DSGNworks project

Even as the U.S. starts to turn a corner in the coronavirus pandemic, there are several hurdles standing in the way of multifamily developers who are hoping to get projects done on time while meeting shifting tenant demands. Chief among these hurdles are rising construction costs and changing amenity needs. 

The national average for construction costs, including labor, materials, and general contractor and subcontractor overhead costs and fees, rose approximately 2.03% between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, the construction labor shortage continued to grow, with 81% of construction firms surveyed by the Associated General Contractors of America reporting that they had trouble filling both salaried and hourly craft positions.

Adding to these difficulties, Americans spent an unprecedented time at home between 2020 and 2021 and began to look for new things from their amenity spaces — moving away from gyms and indoor pools in favor of patios, roof decks and other outdoor areas. 

“Keeping up with amenity and design trends is a challenge in the best of times, but it can be especially tough when you’re dealing with rising construction costs and a growing labor shortage,” said Kevin Wallace, founding principal of DSGNworks, a Texas-based architecture firm. “The right architect can help solve both these issues.”

Wallace views architects as the quarterback of a construction and design team, shuffling the various disciplines around in a way that they can best fit into a project. He and his team at DSGNworks have been keeping their eyes on the latest design and amenity trends, paying close attention to what is happening with construction costs and searching for creative ways to address these issues. 

With the costs of construction materials skyrocketing, DSGNworks is collaborating with general contractors, tradesmen and material suppliers, searching for innovative and budget-conscious construction options. Wallace said wood has tripled in cost year-over-year. In response, DSGNworks has been working with a cold-form metal plant that rolls its own metal to create a replacement for wood with light-gauge metal steel studs. 

This plant not only forms the metal, it also uses it to create prefabricated walls that can be assembled on-site. 

“This method is called panelization, and it solves three issues,” Wallace said. “It solves the labor shortage, because 80% of the work to construct the building is now done inside a plant instead of on-site, it solves the cost of materials issue and it can reduce the timeline of a project by two months if you’re working with the right general contractor.” 

He said that this particular fabricator makes the transition to metal easier by bending its own studs to match wood stud nominal dimensions. Its hybrid panels have also been assembled to allow the use of plywood floor decking under a poured gypsum floor. By utilizing this hybrid method, the construction type code remains Type V and is not bumped up to the Type II construction requirements. 

DSGNworks has been working hard to help its clients cut down timelines in other ways, too. The company has developed relationships with skilled contractors who can help their clients meet their goals. This has been especially important as developers work to meet changing amenity demands. 

A DSGNworks project.

Wallace said the pandemic has created a growing demand for touch-free spaces — elevators that can be controlled without touching a button, automatic doors — and DSGNworks has been incorporating these into its designs. 

“There is a growing demand for touch-free spaces, which can be difficult to create,” Wallace said. “We connect our clients with subcontractors and suppliers who understand how to create a seamless, touch-free experience for residents. For us, It’s all about finding a team that understands the engineering, the design and the importance of helping developers meet their bottom lines.” 

He added that the pandemic has driven multifamily tenants to demand more outside spaces, and developers are struggling to come up with ways to provide more direct access to the outdoors, especially since in the past 10 years there has been a push to reduce the size of outdoor spaces to reduce costs and build out more units. 

Now, DSGNworks is finding ways to create additional outdoor space by making more intentional use of every square inch of a property. Land in between parking lots and buildings, which would once be left untouched, is now being turned into lush green spaces. 

Wallace said the pandemic has made people much more conscious of their need to feel connected to the outdoors, not just for the fresh air but from the wellness benefits gained from the sights, sounds and smells of nature. Consequently, more tenants are looking for units with views, operable windows and spacious balconies. He added that there will also be a demand for more outdoor spaces where people can work and be connected to WiFi outside. 

Looking ahead, Wallace has been in contact with three modular construction plants to discuss how he can get their modules into the multifamily market. He believes this will be key to helping developers cut costs without sacrificing quality, and get back on track in a post-pandemic environment. 

“It’s our goal to help developers make their communities more marketable,” Wallace said. “We use a team approach to help people get there. We design the right type of space and connect developers with the contractors and panelization experts that can help them.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between DSGNworks and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to