Responding to Residential Trends: The Great Uniter

February 26, 2020
Sari Lehtinen Associate, Senior Architectural Designer

With a goal to enhance communities and elevate human experiences we at MA specifically pursue research, in order to improve our design tools. As part of MA’s Research and Innovation incentive, my colleagues and I recently presented our findings on trends and insights in Residential Design for 2020-2021.

As the concept of home continues to evolve, so does our responsibility as architects – designing and building spaces that meet the needs of residents. In today’s authenticity recession, where depression and anxiety levels have increased in parallel with smartphone use, people’s greatest need across generations has incarnated as a craving for human connection.

As we explore how living scenarios and home habitats are changing, trends are pointing towards the need for communities which support the greatest needs of residents, among generations and demographics. Community is the great uniter as the greatest immaterial object of desire throughout all generations. It can be enhanced through mindful design of the built-environment to draw people together.

Designing Community

New developments are beginning to build a feeling of a wider sense of home, integrating the neighborhood spirit from the ground up, extending home far beyond four walls. While the definition of community shifts among generations, there are strategic universal design approaches, like activating the outdoor spaces and common areas to encourage human interactions. This provides a strong foundation for places that people will want to invest in, choosing to call these spaces home. Our firm’s international trend forecasting tool, WGSN, reports, “Larger place-making developments are mixing communal facilities, residential areas and commercial amenities to create a dynamic hub for locals, with plenty of green space mixed in.” Residential developments focusing on a tailored identity can enhance neighborhoods and communities. Progressive developments are even surveying residents to strategically place them with like neighbors, enlisting commonalities to drive connection and increase residents’ satisfaction through a sense of belonging.

Embracing the Expanding Definition of Amenity

Long-term research is proving people are gradually spending more time at home. Americans spent an extra eight days at home in 2012 compared to 2003, with 18 to 24-year-olds spending 70% more time at home than the rest of the population. For instance, we have more delivered restaurant experiences in the home with the advent of Grubhub, Postmates, and UberEats. Overall, bringing out-of-home activities into the home drives convenience and a closer-knit community, meeting the needs of residents and providing a place attractive to owners and renters alike. The Boomer generation is willing to invest in amenity spaces that allow for offerings like privatized dining and demo kitchens, with programming that includes curated cooking events. Research demonstrates Millennials and Gen-Z are more prone to host friends than go out to a bar, and therefore are drawn to utilize spaces that foster gaming or entertainment.

They also are re-discovering analog connections, in an effort to disconnect from technology: playing actual board games, and participating in programming with social responsibility and volunteerism. Amenity spaces are no longer about just one typology or offering, they need to be flexible and aligned with the building’s identity. Just implementing something “out-of-context-cool” will likely not resonate with residents who are looking for a sense of belonging and a place that manifests an identity. A successful amenity must now be programmed, and not just created within the available space.

Building Less, Providing More

Considering the amount of time spent at home, people have an increased desire to invest in their homes. This has an impact on what residents buy and how they want their spaces to look and feel. Pioneered by Millennials and since adopted by other generations, this homebody mentality in smaller units leads to the need for elevated design. High quality finishes, impressive views, and thoughtful design and decor draw residents into calling a space home, as they invest more time and effort into showing it off, sprucing it up and making it feel like “them.” These spaces are now considered the early status homes for Millennial and Gen-Z generations, as it is difficult to enter into the traditional single-home market in today’s economic climate. Also, the responsibilities and restraints associated with homeownership do not appear attractive to these generations engrossed in shared economy and dependent on the ease of social-media-based services. The smaller personal footprints drive the need for more shared, communal amenity spaces—as an extension of one’s private dwelling unit, available for hosting or experiencing a night out, at home.

As a firm committed to innovative design, our research leads our path towards designing and building human-centric projects. Considering how the concept of home is changing, we are constantly looking for significant trends, always keeping in mind versatility. As housing developments continue to soften and become more homelike, we are designing with a focus on spatial interaction and relationship-building, motivated by the end users’ desire for community. We look forward to a future of building spaces where people feel truly at home.

To hear more about our tops trends for 2020-2021 and how they help form a community, reach out to our Research + Innovation leader, Mark Bryan at