In this article, one of six in ARCHITECT's 2021 "What's Next" feature on post-vaccine architecture, contributor Gideon Fink Shapiro speaks with Kate Davis Campbell, director of business development at the Washington, D.C., office of HKS. With 15 years of experience, Campbell works with HKS teams and clients on pre-development planning and strategies across multiple markets and regions.

If working from home is here to stay, how will apartment layouts accommodate that?
Campbell: We’re looking at flexible unit design, access to balconies and other outdoor spaces, and how spaces make people feel from morning to afternoon and evening. Working at home can get monotonous. Your dining table can’t be everything.

How do you design for that flexibility?
Sliding doors and screens are multifunctional—you can have views instead of doors everywhere. You can screen off the kitchen when you’re working. It’s like a reverse Murphy office where you slide the partitions open or closed. The problem with most home offices and dens in a tight layout is that they don’t get daylight. We have developed options for a bedroom office where, instead of a wall, a curtain screens off a work area so you have access to sunlight and privacy. A mudroom or gear wall at the entrance to hang bikes or other equipment is another idea since people working from home may also be outdoors more.

Home office configurations for a studio apartment
images courtesy HKS Home office configurations for a studio apartment
Home office configurations for a one-bedroom unit
images courtesy HKS Home office configurations for a one-bedroom unit
Home office configurations for a two-bedroom unit
images courtesy HKS Home office configurations for a two-bedroom unit

How will the pandemic affect the “amenity wars,” in which developers vie to provide the most attractive shared spaces?
We’ve been talking about ways to create community within a mixed-use environment or a multifamily environment by dispersing the amenities. For example, instead of one roof deck, you have a series of smaller roof decks. Each floor could have a swing space, for hosting a meeting or dinner party, or even just for privacy. These dispersed or distributed amenity spaces aren’t new, but [pre-pandemic] they had fallen away in favor of big, massive amenities. In a pandemic world, the distributed spaces are safer because they can be reserved for personal or small-group use. And because they’re on each floor, you don’t have to take the stairs or elevator to reach them. They’re cleaned and maintained by the building, and they can be rented as an additional source of income for the developer.

What about multiple entrances so people can avoid concentrating together?
Multiple entries can be appropriate, particularly for larger buildings. It could mean having several smaller lobbies. I’ve certainly walked through large buildings or hotels where I’ve gotten lost or felt like I couldn’t get out. So in the long run, it may be nicer, not just safer.

How will you balance the need for isolation and the desire for open space and community?
That’s the trickiest thing. We’ve always done a good job of providing outdoor and amenity spaces. Now the question is, “How quickly can you get access to it?” You can be safe in your own space, and we can upgrade all the HVAC systems. But if you have to go down a long corridor to take an elevator and then a penthouse elevator to reach the roof garden, it’s not ideal. In addition to rooftop access, we may need individual balconies and a dog run or a community garden right outside. Residents should have many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

What’s an example of a current HKS project that offers a variety of outdoor spaces?
We’re working on a residential tower at 5600 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. It is designed with stepping terraces so every resident has access to a localized outdoor gathering place, because the site doesn’t allow for a garden on the ground.

Aerial, residential tower by HKS at 5600 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
courtesy HKS Aerial, residential tower by HKS at 5600 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
Entrance plaza, residential tower design by HKS for 5600 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
courtesy HKS Entrance plaza, residential tower design by HKS for 5600 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles

Are you working on affordable housing developments?
In Richmond, Va., we have a Citizen HKS (the firm’s social impact initiative) project, The Benefield Building, which is 100% affordable. Working with the local nonprofit Boaz & Ruth, we engaged the community in the design process. Good design isn’t just for the wealthy. Mixed-income development is another great route for building community and equity. If the developer can make the financing work without separating the affordable from the market-rate units, then everybody seems to do better.

What’s the next big idea in multifamily residential architecture and planning?
Co-living is a big deal, especially with the rise of remote work. In a post-pandemic world, a lot of professionals, if they don’t have kids, will take the opportunity to live somewhere new for a few months in a co-living scenario. It’s not an Airbnb—it’s a community. It’s an actual apartment building with a coworking office. It’s not going to be effective for everybody, but some of the same layout elements and distributed amenities will also work for regular multifamily housing.

courtesy HKS

Retrofits are having a moment. Are clients coming to you about redeveloping certain types of spaces?
Absolutely. There is market demand. Some office buildings are turning into multifamily, coworking, and co-living spaces; we’re retrofitting and updating a series of garden apartment complexes. We’re researching the right layouts and the right amenities to fit the building and the market. Many older apartment buildings have one line of units—the same unit on each floor—that isn’t that great; it doesn’t lay out well and almost feels like leftover space. Those units would be converted into dispersed amenity space. You take that unit away, but you give amenity space to that floor.

Have you noticed any shifts in program in terms of retail tenants?
Access to health care in the building, like a CVS Minute, is now seen almost as another type of amenity. And we’re looking at putting Amazon distribution centers in some projects. It brings in revenue for the developer, but it doesn’t tax the building staff because it’s separate.

This would be a local distribution center serving the neighborhood?
Yes, it’s servicing the neighborhood, but residents of the building can drop off their packages at the loading dock instead of the front desk or lobby. Other people can choose to have their packages delivered to one of these shipping centers rather than to their home.

HKS balcony diversity study showing a mixture of uses, including individual live–work and event spaces
courtesy HKS HKS balcony diversity study showing a mixture of uses, including individual live–work and event spaces

You’ve talked about balconies as quasi-social spaces, where you could wave to your neighbors. How would that work?
A balcony is your private space, but it could also be a social connector. I love balconies—once you live with one, you can never go back. Usually they’re stacked on top of each other, so you never have any relationship with your neighbors. But that great video of the Italians singing from their windows and balconies during the early days of the pandemic got us thinking of different ways to stack or configure balconies—not only to help articulate the building facade, but also to create these pleasing spaces where you could sit, have a cup of coffee, and have a friendly moment with a neighbor. Ideally the balconies are not right next to each other, so you’re not staring at someone, but they’re syncopated throughout the building. You could talk up or down to somebody. And you can have screens to create more privacy.

It looks like you're sitting on a real balcony right now, or is that a simulated background with palm trees?
I'm in California and this balcony is doubling as an office at the moment. Balconies give you space to take a call or to take a break from whatever is going on inside.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.