5 Urban & suburban building trends - Everything Property

5 Urban & suburban building trends

These features are being implemented now or are gaining momentum. Which are here to stay in architectural and urban design?

TEXT Kim Maxwell PHOTOGRAPHS Shutterstock, Tétris

Designers are rethinking how buildings can embrace people-centred design so future spaces can enhance the experiences that connect people and organisations. Expect these urban catalysts of change:


Developers typically design to utilise as much of a building as possible. But what future do parking garages have if vehicle demand keeps decreasing? Traffic engineers are projecting that the US may have already reached peak parking. The architectural answer is future-proofing – designing a garage with flat floor plates and slightly taller floor-to-floor heights so a garage could become the framework of future occupiable space. Today’s parking garage may be tomorrow’s office or apartment.

Urban designer Joe Pobiner of the design firm Gensler calls the parking garage the “bones of city 2050’s mixed-use building”. He recommends that clients future-proof new garages by building flat floor plates with a height of at least 3,3m for future residential buildings, and aim for 4,5m to accommodate conversion to residential lofts or office spaces. He says if local zoning regulations were to follow decreasing car ownership and/or use and the rising popularity of car sharing and on-demand ride services, on-site parking demand will drop.

The property developer Amdec Group is building parking super-basements and abandoning multipurpose garages in its South African developments. These costly super-basements are time-consuming to develop, but facilitate a growing residential trend worldwide: compact apartments. More parking means more residents in apartment units. Also, some parking spaces can then be used for storage, creating more living space in these compact apartments.

On the basement levels of The Yacht Club, Amdec’s development on Cape Town’s Roggebaai Canal, versatile spaces offer bicycle and stand-up paddleboard storage on wall-mounted hooks and shelves in a secure environment. The group is also exploring the viability of parking bays with secure storage units above parked vehicles.


More and more property developers are looking at green lungs in urban areas – that is why buildings and homes close to parks attract significantly higher rent and property values. With many people moving to smaller urban apartments, smart developers are designing projects with open spaces in mind.

Tétris South Africa senior designer Rachel Andrews says biophilic design is a hot topic in the building and design industry. It is all about increasing occupant connectivity to a natural environment. Creating a living wall is one way to bring nature indoors. Rooftop gardens are becoming more popular in offices and residential developments, too.

“A major challenge for developers is to create more green urban spaces and less concrete jungle,” says Amdec Property Development MD Nicholas Stopforth. “We look to trends around urban gardening initiatives, vertical gardens and rooftop gardens, plus parks for dog walking or simply enjoying the outdoors.”


Mixed use is here to stay. These developments make it possible to do everything on a daily basis within a conveniently small radius. Downscaling, access to culture and dining, no-maintenance residences and less reliance on driving are all incentives.

Businesses based in the suburbs are also impelled to redevelop in mixed-use fashion in order to attract and retain employees. Redeveloping functioning mixed-use neighbourhoods that are sustainable is key to their longevity.

Instead of wasted time in traffic, an urban mixed-use lifestyle offers everything on foot: work, restaurants and gyms. Creating healthier mixed-use buildings is also gaining traction. Stopforth says the benefits are not limited to feel-good factors – there are advantages for business too. These include significant savings in operating costs, as well as the asset-value increase of a new green building versus a traditional one. “There is a strong case to be made for building green from the outset, as the Amdec Group believes in doing versus having to retrofit, which often proves costly,” he says.”


Convertible and functional are the keywords: Spaces are being redesigned to maximise use as needs change. Take Thirty Keyes, a new apartment development in the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The architectural and interior design is based around a reinvented courtyard living concept that offers privacy, security, natural light, ventilation, thermal regulation and spatial circulation. “The courtyard remains unchallenged in its ability to span interior and exterior settings seamlessly,” says StudioMAS Architecture partner Pierre Swanepoel. He modelled the Thirty Keyes design proportions on a typical Amsterdam city block. Situated near an art museum and galleries, the development “draws on classical precedents of open-air arcades, atriums and colonnades, for residents to escape the urban bustle into a lush shared space”.

The first 55 units are due to be completed in 2020.


The community around the corner is a constant consideration in modern urban and suburban builds. According to the Gensler Research Institute, single-use spaces are becoming obsolete. Why not have a studio or showroom that links with a solo apartment?

Future design aims at creating urban catalysts – flexible, multipurpose venues to house year-round activity, opening up additional revenue opportunities and spurring on hospitality and retail development. Sports facilities and convention centres can anchor and revitalise urban neighbourhoods.

Pobiner says experience has real dollar value. Franchise architecture and cookie-cutter designs are gone. “Now it is all about experience – how buildings and the spaces between them are treated in relation to human-scale design,” he says. “Malls will evolve to include residential units, hotels, offices, even high schools and college campuses. Experience brings customers back, not only for retail offerings but also for the sense of belonging and ownership.”

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top