The amenities arms race was at a fever pitch at the start of 2020, as each new multifamily property tried to raise the bar of over-the-top enticements to lure prospects to their community.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Now, instead of touting gleaming gyms, demonstration kitchens, and group-focused event spaces, operators have had to pivot to help residents feel “alone together,” without actually bringing them within 6 feet of each other. The result has been a rethinking of the amenity calculus that operators had applied to their properties for years, and a shift in their engagement strategies they now say will last long after a majority of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Another extension of that outdoor theme is exactly that—balconies and outdoor spaces, both in common areas and apartments themselves, that let residents breathe easier while enjoying a connection to nature.

Just look at the ARO rental tower in Manhattan, where a multilevel podium with ample room for social distancing allows residents to relax, and balconies give space to spread out. That outward focus is already changing how multifamily communities look, another aspect that observers say is here to stay.

“Interest in balconies, terraces, courtyards, and roof decks has skyrocketed in the past year. It’s no longer an afterthought,” says architect Cetra. “It’s likely that from a design standpoint, we’ll start to see a more seamless integration of balcony spaces into the façades of multifamily projects.”

That draw to the outdoors is even strong in chillier climes. Look at Optima Signature, a 57-story luxury tower in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood, where an expansive 1.5 acres of amenity space connects residents to the open air.

“People want to connect to the outdoors, even in winter,” says David Hovey Jr., president of developer Optima. “We just put in new heat lamps so residents can continue to enjoy the fresh air by spending time outside and cooking dinner on our grilling stations even as the thermometer drops.”

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