The Potential Impact of COVID-19 on Multifamily Design

by Brad Shapiro
Shapiro & Company Architects

As I am preparing to be a panelist on BISNOW Nashville webinar to discuss some of the impacts of COVID-19 on the Nashville multifamily market, I recently brainstormed with my team possible impacts that might be worth considering with your team in the design of new or repositioned communities.


Interior Finish Material Selections - Not only do these selections have to be beautiful and balanced with costs but now selections will need to consider the following:

  • Durable finishes due to the use of strong cleaning agents
  • Are antimicrobial interior finishes an option to use?
  • Voice-activated concierge vs touch screens
  • Being flexible and having multiple finish options may be needed due to the tightening of manufacturing and shipping
  • Touchless door and elevator controls
  • Automatic public entry doors


The notion of sheltering at home has also led to an increased interest in healthy home topics:

  • Passive Radon control
  • Low VOC paints and furnishings
  • Possible reduction or elimination of carpet. If a carpet is used, use Low VOC material.


Engineering considerations- We will no doubt see the increased use and manufacturing of these components not only for the multifamily segment.

  • Touchless toilets, sinks and soap dispensers
  • Motion-activated lights
  • Increased fresh air exchange
  • Air filtration systems
  • The strategic location of supply vents and increasing return air vents

Amenities- Are an all-important consideration before COVID-19 but rethinking some of the amenities might differentiate your community from the competition.

  • Provide UV light stations to kill germs on keys, phones, and tablets
  • Enhance and/or increase outdoor amenities that facilitate social distancing
  • Chlorine vs saltwater pools
  • Relocate exercise equipment to provide more separation
  • Provide integrally  designed hand sanitizer station-entry doors, breezeway, elevator, public spaces, near trash chutes, outdoor locations & mail area
  • High-speed internet service in units as well as common spaces and surrounding outdoor spaces
  • Increased home delivery options & storage (refrigerated and non-refrigerated)


 General considerations- Other issues to discuss may include:

  • Should your project have more usable private balconies for the units?
  • Should there be a slight shift in the unit mix?
  • Quality of natural light is critical to creating a positive environment and now with the added concern for fresh air, possibly add more operable windows and increase the number of windows.
  • Due to ever-changing manufacturing and shipping issues, specifications may need to allow more substitutions or allowances that provide alternative avenues for the contractor to help meet construction schedules.
  • Owner / Contractor agreements may also need to include special provisions for providing strategic scheduling practices so that the contractor spends more time managing and monitoring the fulfillment of materials and rethinking possible order of work to help facilitate construction.


While much is yet to be learned and it’s not time to overreact, one thing is clear- with the fluid impact of COVID-19, evaluating the design and construction-related issues that were previously thought as the standard practice might prove valuable.