Millennials Building for Millennials
The age of social media, video games and virtual living is opening the minds and designs of a new generation of architects that is creating today’s housing choices.
Rather than designing via more traditional methods, Millennial architects are inspired by what they’ve seen on their desktops, phones and tablets. Architecture industry leaders believe that the generation known for self-expression and social awareness are destined to change the future of architecture.
It’s already showing up outside the classroom.
New ideas go beyond traditional boundaries
Darrick Wade, an instructor and director of external programs at the Texas Tech University College of Architecture, says the heightened creativity of younger architects is producing designs and approaches beyond conventional boundaries. He left a 13-year private practice three years ago to teach because he’s invigorated by the fresh, exciting culture of new designers.
While Texas Tech does not specifically teach multifamily architecture, a graduate student usually will design one or two apartment communities or a hotel during their studies. But no matter the project type, today’s students can reach deeper into their imaginations for inspiring designs because of the digital world they know. That gives them, in some cases, and advantage over the established guard of architects.
“The younger folks can go beyond what we older guys could because of the tools available today,” said Wade, a second-generation architect. “I still use a drafting table to get my ideas out there, but I can only go so far with it. When I’m teaching my students, we’ll start by sketching on a napkin and they take their ideas further using software they’ve learned. It’s a vocabulary they use that folks my age didn’t have, and didn’t learn because it’s a different language.”
Sometimes the means for delivering the message is pretty far out there, which is testament to a generation that also is characterized as confident and open to change. Last semester, one student used gaming software to present an intricate office project to the class.
“He decided since it was so complex, he’d overlay it into a game software so that the users could use the hand-held gaming devices and walk through the project,” Wade said. “He had a big TV set up next to his project, and passersby could pick up a hand-set and walk through the project. You could go from one level to the next, turn yourself around, look at the views and look at the furniture.
“That kind of thing alone helps a person experience something. Rather than look at drawings, they can actually place themselves in the environment. With the advent of (technology) you can actually see textures, all the way from glossy to rough. It’s pretty incredible.”
Far better than the then-revolutionary tool Wade began using soon after getting his architecture license in 1990 – a probe that could be snaked into scale cardboard models and take interior photographs. It was the best option at the time to create interior perspectives without detailed construction.
Millennial architects expand horizons through social computing
Northwestern Associate Professor Liz Gerber, who has taught Millennials for more than a dozen years, said in a 2013 article published by the Journal of the American Institute of Architects that many students are invested in human-centered design careers, which has broadened their ability to go beyond traditional practices and mentors.
“The Millennial generation has grown up with social computing, which has made it possible for them to connect with people throughout the world, learn about problems and solutions, and do so independently and—in many cases—independently of traditional authority figures like parents, teachers, bosses,” Gerber said in the article. “Social computing raises awareness of the importance and urgency of problems to be solved and lowers the barriers to resources to solve them. When Millennials see their peers making a difference through design, they ask themselves, ‘Why not me? What’s stopping me from directly engaging with the world’s problems?’ ”
Tyler Washburn, a 28-year-old Texas Tech MBA graduate, has designed for multifamily, senior living, healthcare, hospice and hospitality properties for almost five years. The youngest designer at Dallas’ PRDG, LLC, he is creating new, seamless outdoor and indoor senior and multifamily living experience. He’s among several Texas Tech graduates who have landed jobs in the Dallas area and are leading innovative design for not only their generation but baby boomers.
Growing up in a digital world has enabled younger architects to understand the cultures of both older and younger generations while not always having to live the experience. That, Washburn says, helps Millennials design for older and younger residents.
“A lot has to do with exposure,” he said. “It seems like we’ve been exposed to more. Rather than relying on personal past experience in creating something, like the older generation may do, we think of the places we’ve been, all the video games we played, all the pictures and Instagram posts we’ve seen. We have all these ideas in our head gathered from hundreds of different sources, and we pull from that rather than the projects we worked on 20 years ago.”
Unlike many of his classmates, Washburn has to create plans for an older generation that is transitioning into retirement and senior living. But, along with his classmates, he strives to find a balance between meeting traditional needs and creating something new and refreshing.
“It’s very different me doing senior living compared to the typical age of someone doing senior living design,” Washburn said. “I have a lot of friends who do health care work at some of the bigger firms. Even the way they approach things is different than it’s been done.
In describing one project, Washburn mentioned a seating arrangement where seniors could have a cup of coffee and read a newspaper, not the online version. With his spin, the seats are positioned such that the resident has floor-to-ceiling view of the outdoors, which opens to a spacious tiled common area that is anchored by a coffee shop. Not in a corner next to a fireplace in a small living room covered in thick-pile carpet tucked off the building’s entrance.
Young architects designing for today with the future in mind
Wade, whose son is enrolled in Tech’s architecture school, likes the idea that the younger generation understands the needs of baby boomer and senior residents. While Millennials are the next frontier for housing, the aging boomer population at about 76 million strong. .
“There is still this big bulge of baby boomers working their way through,” he said. “They’re still spending money, still buying places, renting places. A lot of us are moving from houses to apartment living.”
Ultimately, designs must not only meet today’s needs but be futuristic. After all, Millennials will live in the multifamily, commercial and healthcare properties that they design. They’ll be rubber-stamped with the mark of younger, creative architects who are creating more spacious multifamily common areas that encourage gathering.
Washburn said to expect that trend to continue and others to emerge as more Millennial architects emerge.
“The ideas are much different than what’s been done in the past,” Washburn said. “Across the architecture industry as a whole, even the U.S. as a whole, this huge generation shift, all these Millennials, are starting to get jobs at these firms. The idea is changing and changing fast.”