Pandemic Puts a Premium on the Outdoors

Landscape architect explores new way to create outside spaces that provide apartment residents with comfort and safety.

Weeks of sheltering in place reintroduced many people to the outdoors as a place of respite. That rediscovery—along with changes to the way people live, socialize and work in the foreseeable future—has quickly captured the attention of apartment developers, said Casey Case, president of Gates & Associates, a landscape architecture firm in San Francisco. In short, the availability of green space and how it is laid out could be a big differentiator among apartment developments moving forward.


“Just in the last few weeks, a lot of clients have been chatting with us about new projects or even revisiting some of the plans we’re currently working on,” she said. “They are seeking ways to facilitate safe outside socialization in a multifamily setting, and I think there are a lot of opportunities there.”

Gates & Associates provided landscape architecture services for the new 808 West apartment project in downtown San Jose, Calif. Photo courtesy of Gates & Associates

To the extent developers have utilized available outdoor space, they have typically created recreational common areas that feature barbecues, game courts and swimming pools. While acknowledging that those outdoor areas will still have value in the future, Gates & Associates is exploring alternatives to provide residents with a greater sense of safety in the age of social distancing, Case said. Strategies include incorporating clusters of courtyards where a small group of residents can feel comfortable gathering, and creating outdoor areas for remote work. The firm also continues to emphasize the use of loop roads, which give residents out for a walk a sense of security.

“For a while green space was kind of looked at as a leftover in site planning,” she added. “But beginning before the pandemic and even more so now, it is making its way into the discussion earlier.”

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Read the June 2020 issue of CPE.

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