Apartments in the city get design reboot for pandemic living

BOSTON — In recent years the Boston real estate market has sizzled as condos shot up all along the waterfront and neighborhoods like South Boston and East Boston were seemingly transformed overnight. But the pandemic is turning that trend around as many people are questioning the future of city living.

Open space and quiet streets are some of the characteristics that helped give the suburbs a reputation for being boring. But now the quest for fresh air is making them a hot destination. A North Shore resident visiting Boston told Boston 25 News the real estate market is booming there because "people just didn’t want to be confined to these small spaces.”

Jenny Shen and Wyatt Kormarin, Harvard graduates and founders of Primary, a design/development firm understand many people are rethinking the advantages of living in a city in a post-Covid world. They had plans to develop a 47-unit apartment building along Washington Street in Jamaica Plain, but the pandemic sent them back to the drawing board.

Shen said they reduced the total number of units to 43 and gave each unit additional square footage with room for a desk separate from the bedroom to work from home, and more units with balconies.

Kormarin said the goal of the updated design was to create a win-win situation for residents by introducing aspects people might be looking for in the suburbs in a smaller space along with all the benefits of living in the city.

Vickie Alani, a principal at C-B-T Architects who specializes in multi-family housing and urban design, said leaving offices and working from home has created "this big social experiment.”

Alani said the shift to working from home created seismic changes in what people need. “Apartment units need space to work from home. Anybody who has been sitting in a 450 square foot unit with a partner and a 4-inch opening in their window has gone crazy. So that has to change.”

There’s also the recognition that people are cooking more. “We’ve squeezed down our unit’s kitchens really to almost be too small. So, everybody’s got to rethink that. More full-sized fixtures and appliances and a little space to put your groceries,” Alani said.

Although the thought of refitting buildings sounds prohibitive, Alani says it’s often not as hard or costly as one might think. She’s bullish about the future. “I am all in for people coming back to the city and urban conditions. We cannot duplicate what we get out of the cities.”

Many people agree with that, but still, there’s a little hesitation about coming back right away.