Thomas P. Cox explains that the millennial generation is seeking outdoor and gathering spaces.

LOS ANGELES-TCA Architects has won two Grand Awards from the National Association of Home Builders for multifamily projects the firm designed in San Diego and Glendale, reported in an earlier story. The awards recognized the firm’s innovation in designing buildings for the millennial generation. sat down with TCA Architects CEO Thomas P. Cox, AIA, LEED AP, to discuss some of the major design trends attracting this generation. What are the major design characteristics that are attracting millennials?

We are seeing a propensity of clients who are looking for these micro units. It is a real challenge for the architect to create an inhabitable environment that doesn’t feel like you are being crammed into a shoebox. We are finding ways to eliminate closet space and we are creating hanging racks. As we compact these spaces, we have to be more innovative about storage spaces, the cooking and eating experience and places for electronics. Those are the major trends in floor plan design, but there is also a trend toward personalization. Apartments 10 years ago would have had one color scheme, and now we are offering three or four color schemes in a variety of units. In the complex, we are taking the spaces that we formerly allocated to a clubroom or movie theater, and we are dispersing those throughout the project in a series of opportunities for people to gather. We’re seeing a lot of outdoor opportunities. We are putting roof decks on virtually every project, and sometimes as many as four roof decks. On the ground floor, we’re putting some of the amenity spaces, like complete bike shops for the residents and creative office, which I think is a relatively new trend. How will these buildings service the millennial generation as they get older and begin to have families?

The generation that we are talking about is 80 million strong, and they are moving through the pipeline over a period of 10 to 12 years. Currently, on Wilshire and La Brea, we are creating a 500-unit multigenerational building, which I think is the answer to your question. You could not effectively lease-up 500 micro units, so we are doing 25% micro units with gathering space opportunities on each floor. The rest of the units are market-rate. We are also looking at the micro units as being adaptable. In ten years as the millennials move through the system and there is a higher demand for one- and two-bedroom unit. The ability to take two micro units and potentially combine it into a one-bedroom or even two-bedroom unit is part of what we are designing into these buildings. Have these changes forced you to adjust the way you approach designing a building?

As a firm, we have had to evolve. I am a baby-boomer and we have three generations of partnership in the firm. We mine our younger staff’s brains for ideas, but we also have had to do a lot of research. The research that we do and the people we reach out to have changed the way we do our design work immensely. What we think is the right thing for this generation is one thing, but if the client doesn’t understand it, then we are at a brick wall. What are some of the biggest design challenges you face?

Cities and planners demand an activated ground level for the projects that we do, and not every piece of property is on a main street and will accept a retail activated frontage. It is a struggle with every single project.

Millennials are certainly one of the major driving forces of the multifamily market. In fact, the generation was one of the key talking points at the USC Casden Multifamily Forecast this year. In an earlier story, reported that this generation is leading the urbanization of America.