Staying Creative – Design Lab

DESIGN BRIEF | June 2020

Staying Creative – Design Lab

As we work from home, MV+A has created its own in-house “Design Lab” to remotely discuss the evolution of apartment living due to COVID-19. While it would be easy to say COVID-19 will be overcome and things will eventually go back to normal, there is not a definition of what “normal” might be. Instead, we view COVID-19 as a forcing mechanism that can greatly accelerate certain trends while discontinuing others. The purpose of Design Lab is to identify what these trends are and how they might affect apartment living, with the goal of sketching potential living experiences that we could legitimately see being implemented in projects. Whether it is façade design, multi-family life, or the future of mixed-use, MV+A will be ready to adapt and change design to accommodate tenant safety concerns and lifestyle changes. The following apartment building features were the MV+A team’s primary thoughts during our first Design Lab meeting on Microsoft Teams.


77 H Deliveries

77 H Street, Washington, DC

As working from home becomes more normalized, buildings can expect a significant increase in mail and package deliveries, especially from Amazon and grocery delivery services such as Amazon Fresh or Instacart. Innovative ways to manage the flow and placement of deliveries will be a necessity to limit the amount physical contact with others and minimize outside contamination. Once a new delivery system is in place, there may also need to be a change to the size of mailboxes and lobby package areas for residents. There is already a trend in smart electronic locker systems, and this amenity in package rooms can be a starting point on how to update delivery safety standards.

Unit Design

A potential change in unit design can start right in an apartment entrance. Mudrooms and decontamination zones can be more thought out and regularly integrated as this would be a significant help right now to essential workers not working from home. Bicycle storage areas within units, instead of building common areas, might also be considered. Once a tenant enters their apartment, there should be a consideration towards sound within a unit. Wood versus concrete acoustics can be evaluated as more people work from home during the day and need quiet spaces to focus.

Rodin Square Unit Design

Rodin Square, Philadelphia, PA

This leads to a probable change in the size and layout of standard one-bedroom units. If tenants know they will be working from home more, a one-bedroom unit with a den will become more desirable. Working from home all day also presents an opportunity to create more natural lighting and add private balconies to get some fresh air. One way to facilitate life in smaller units can be achieved through multi-functional furniture and built-ins. It is a more efficient use of space and allows more convertible capabilities for work. This can include built-in desks, cubbies, recessed cooktops, etc., along with more robotic features such as murphy beds.


77 H Amenities

77 H Street, Washington, DC

Rather than one large amenity space, amenity spaces on every level of a building would allow for better distancing between tenants while still promoting a sense of community. The same thing can be said for courtyards and roof decks. Building configurations might be reimagined to allow courtyards to open to the street, providing more air and a sense of space to encourage their use. Roof decks can also be a viable option to allow tenants to go outside within their building complex.

Rodin Square Amenities

Rodin Square, Philadelphia, PA


Building circulation will need to be reimagined as a key component in creating balance between security and freedom. Creating alternate points of building access to allow freedom of choice in getting to units for tenants would be helpful and address safety concerns. Additionally, how stairways are designed to be more usable and reduce dependence on elevators can create more efficient circulation while maintaining safety.

As Architects working with developer clients, we need to keep in mind the space limitations in already crowded cities and the high costs that go with them. Despite high rents for urban multi-family units, there may be some pressure for larger unit sizes, and it is our challenge to find ways to accommodate them within project budgets.

With this first Design Lab discussion, our team is working to sketch vignettes showing how unit designs can improve the work from home environment. What will post-COVID-19 apartments look like for one person? A working couple? A working couple with children? MV+A intends to stay in the forefront of mixed-use residential planning for our post-COVID-19 lifestyles – looking at the future of apartment building design.