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Adapting Building Types for Optimal Density

Updated: Jun 14

Knox Apartments in Lynnwood is an example of a Slab-on-Grade 5-Over-1 which keenly balances density with cost-effectiveness.

Architects and developers must get creative in today’s economic environment to achieve a high enough density without driving up construction costs. These 4 hybrid building types take elements from costly but dense urban podium buildings and more modest suburban garden style apartments with surface parking to help maximize sites in innovative ways. 

Wrap Building “Texas Donut” 100-125  du / acre 

While more common in other parts of the country, wrap buildings are relatively rare in the Puget Sound region. It consists of a simple above ground parking structure that is “wrapped” in 5 story wood frame apartments. Because the parking structure is typically very simple and entirely above ground it saves cost over a typical podium building while achieving similar densities. 

Pros: High density, little to no excavation, parking access on each residential level 

Limitations: Needs a large site to work 

Slab-on-Grade 5-Over-1   60-75 du / acre 

This type still provides some structured parking for increased density, but that podium is greatly simplified compared to urban infill. Instead of maximizing the podium to fill the site the podium can be the exact width of one parking aisle to maximize the use of the space and simplify the structure. Additional surface parking is provided as needed to remove the need for additional below grade parking levels and expensive excavation.  

Pros: Simplified and efficient building structure, relatively high density 

Limitations: Needs a 65’ high minimum zoning code height limit 

Double Loaded Townhomes 

Typical 2 or 3 story townhomes are grouped back-to-back to share a party wall which decreases the cost by halving the number of buildings in a typical townhome complex and fitting in more units by reducing area between buildings. While this does reduce the number of windows because light now only comes from one façade for each unit, it is still more light than a typical apartment, and still retains many townhome benefits like individual street entrances, and the option for front porches, individual roof deck, or individual garages on the ground floor. Also 100% of the interior of each building is now rentable space since there are no common stairs or corridors. 

Pros: Individual street entrances to each unit, 100% rentable interior space 

Limitations: Similar density to typical walk-up apartments

Garden Style Podium with Private Garages 25-30 du / acre 

The difference between this building type and a typical walk-up is that some of the parking is located within the building in the form of individual garages so the density is slightly increased over typical walk-ups since less surface parking is needed. This also leads to a nicer, more urban feel to the complex. 

Pros: Higher density and more urban feel compared to walk-ups 

Limitations: Increased cost to build private garages at base of walk-up buildings 

About the Author

Dylan Draves is a LEED accredited Architect, Interior Designer and educator, with expertise in multifamily architecture and tenant improvements. Dylan is guided by the principle that good design can positively impact a user’s overall experience, and in essence, make life better. He is most inspired to create spaces where people work and live, whether the goal is to enhance productivity at the office, or to transform a residential unit into a functional home.

At Tiscareno, Dylan applies his expertise in multifamily projects, having worked on Solera, Modera South Jackson, Modera Bel-Red, Leeway, and 14540 5th Ave and 164th Street Apartment in Lynnwood.

Dylan has been an adjunct professor at several universities. He received his Masters of Architecture from Washington University in St. Louis, and his undergraduate degree in interior design from the University of Texas at Austin. He has been published in the Daily Journal of Commerce.

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