Why all those new apartment and condo buildings look the same

And not just here, but across the country. Bloomberg explains.

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What Bloomberg Article Missed

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Some items to worry about were not even discussed in the article, since it was more about the exterior features more so than the internal.

There is almost no sound mitigation in those buildings. Without concrete slabs between floors and units one will doubly curse their neighbor with the laminate hardwood floors and no carpets on them. Even with some acoustic baffling on floor joists and other connections, there is still going to be serious noise transfers between units.

The structures are overly flexible. While this is great in an earthquake, it's not so good in windstorms. And if people in one unit are having vigorous intercourse, their neighbors will all be getting seasick.

The structures are not built to last. Here in Boston, most of the 3-5 story apartment buildings built with masonry are over or close to 100 years old. And likely to last another hundred years or beyond if well maintained. It reminds me of older TVs or appliances that lasted dozens and dozens of years, where now they are deliberately given short half lives so they break down within 10 years or less.

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longevity

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The structures are not built to last. Here in Boston, most of the 3-5 story apartment buildings built with masonry are over or close to 100 years old. And likely to last another hundred years or beyond if well maintained.

Of course the flimsily built structures of the past are no longer here, so by definition, any 100-year-old building still here was built well.

There are numerous wood-framed single-family houses and triple-deckers that are 100+ years old, so what is intrinsic about a wood-framed larger building that would make it not last, assuming it is maintained? You're comparing a building to an appliance: on the latter, a circuit board could fail that would effectively render the appliance useless. What would fail on an wood-framed apartment building that a concrete- or steel-framed building would not face?

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Wood

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Wood buildings are edible
Wood buildings are flammable - especially balloon construction
Wood buildings are easily blown down by wolves

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Agree on the Noise Issue

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But most of the triple-deckers are made of wood and also 100+ years old.

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3 decker noise meter

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nana. she would call upstairs and tell us to take out shoes off if she was watching her programs.

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3 decker noise meter

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nana. she would call upstairs and tell us to take our shoes off if she was watching her programs.

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My triple decker experience

In non-renovated triple deckers you can clearly hear just about any movement above you. In one that was renovated they had kept the original floors in the bedrooms but had renovated the rest to make it open concept and put new flooring above the old (I'm assuming with an insulating mat though I couldn't verify without ripping up the floor). There you couldn't hear anything below the double flooring unless it was a serious thud but you could in the bedrooms. In fully renovated ones the new flooring usually mitigates the noise very well. Of course it depends a lot on the quality of the materials and the construction technique so YMMV.

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TVs ... break down within 10

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TVs ... break down within 10 years or less

Personally, I wish my 10-year old TV would break down so that I have an excuse to buy a new one with HDR 4k and streaming apps built in.

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noise is the #1 reason I'd

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noise is the #1 reason I'd never live in a new building. but then, noise is the #1 reason I'm ready to sell my first floor condo in an old triple decker and buy a single family.

I'm all for density and urban development but builders need to realize that when you build dense more mitigation needs to happen or people drive each other nuts.

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Weighty considerations

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It reminds me of older TVs or appliances that lasted dozens and dozens of years...

I'm pretty good with tools and stuff, can fix almost anything. Many years ago I pulled a small window air conditioner out of a window -- the thing must have been at least 40 years old, and was still working! -- although it had become less effective. I replaced it with a new unit...

I was surprised to discover a few things: the new unit was exactly the same outer dimensions as the old one had been, despite being a different era and different brand. (After replacing another, much larger old AC years later, I realized that its replacement's dimensions were also identical -- the outer sizes -- not the BTUs -- had become standardized and "stuck in place" for some reason.)

The other thing I discovered (in both replacements) was that the old AC's, for the same outer size, weighed at least twice, maybe three times as much as the new ones. The old coils were heavy tubing, the new ones like tin drinking straws. The old ones had sheet-metal interior parts, the new ones had interiors made partially of styrofoam, looked like cheap packing materials but it was structural. The new stuff was built like cheap-junk toys. (Old refrigerators and stoves are also much, much heavier than new units of the same size.)

On the other hand, the new units are much more efficient electrically, and much cheaper to buy in inflation-adjusted terms.

On the other other hand, I could repair the old AC's much more easily; the new ones tend to be "glued together" so to speak, no screws inside, and just fall apart if you try to work on them.

...now they are deliberately given short half lives so they break down within 10 years or less.

Maybe, or maybe they just build cheaply because consumers don't know the difference and won't pay for better construction? And getting back to the original topic... how many potential renters know what the construction of a building is, or how noise-resistant or fire-safe, or even think about such things until after they've already moved in?

Which is why we need government-mandated standards. Capitalists only care about money, the rest is all marketing BS; and consumers can't look out for their own interests adequately (in AC's or apartments or food safety or whatever) if they don't even know what the technical issues might be.

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Even if there aren't minimum

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Even if there aren't minimum requirements for things like soundproofing, there really should be official standards and third-party certification.

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2 takeaways:

In the U.S., stick framing appears to have become the default construction method for apartment complexes as well. The big reason is that it costs much less—I heard estimates from 20 percent to 40 percent less—than building with concrete, steel, or masonry.

Sure sounds premium and/or luxurious to me! /eyeroll

Also, the TL;DR is these were proven to be fire-fueling death traps over 100 years ago. But, through a combination of science and special interest lobbying, we’ve got that pared down to fire-welcoming death challenges.

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Hold up

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I'm not a fan of the 5-story-stick, but they do have sprinklers, fire exits, operable windows, multiple stairwells, modern wiring, and a variety of other features that mitigate the death-trap-nature of wood buildings 100 years ago. Hell, some of them are no-smoking buildings, nixing one of the most common causes of house fires in the first place.

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That's not what the article said

The article specifically pointed out that once completed these buildings have not had the same fatality rate as the versions of 100 years ago that lack today's modern fire safety provisions.

Everything comes at a cost. Stick buildings are cheaper and provide lots of housing. Mandating concrete and steel makes prices higher. There is no such thing as completely safe, well build, uniquely designed buildings which also house hundreds of people and are affordable to those making middle class wages. There are lots of trade offs.

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Developers could still make

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Developers could still make plenty of profits building with more costly materials and labor. They just choose not to in order to maximize those profits at the cost of communities being stuck with shitty buildings. I'm not going to excuse somebody's cheap ass building because they wanted to make 2 million instead of 1 million off it.

It also means less jobs are created and maintained by this type of construction.
Perhaps carpenters are just thrilled about the current trend [maybe] but ironworkers and bricklayers and masons, not so much.

The ultimate goal should not just be increased density. But increased density while doing whatever we can to de-commodify real estate. Housing should be a right, not a privilege. And these developers are not using decreased construction costs to lower housing prices, but just to increase their gain.

Even with sprinklers and exit signs, these modern versions of the stick are still deathtraps. Their interior spaces between walls and floors lack proper fire breaks and sprinklers [which only cover hallways]. And many use the same, dangerous cladding that caused the Greenfell fire in London to be so horrific.

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Nothing happens in a bubble

You can't regulate profits. If the cost of building goes up, the cost of units rises too and/or the number of new units built goes down.

I don't love cheap stick construction either but if you think mandating steel and concert can be done solely at the expense of the developer, you are dreaming.

Also, they aren't deathtraps. The article states they have a good track record once built. (During construction is another thing.) The old 2 & 3-family wood buildings with no modern safety provisions are far more dangerous in a fire because they don't even have sprinklers to slow the spread or multiple methods of egress.

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Exactly. Balloon framing - or

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Exactly. Balloon framing - or Chicago framing - is especially susceptible because by design the stud bays are open all the way from the lowest floor to the roof so fire spreads very quickly. But modern code - like retrofit firestops between floors, thermal break in front/around combustible materials, and requirements for smoke detectors - have increased the amount of time you're able to get out and therefore decreased the chances of casualty.

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New housing could look like

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New housing could look like the Taj Mahal architecturally and the Boston NIMBY contingent would just find another reason to oppose it. This is not a good faith argument about design on their end.

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The Taj Mahal...

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does not match the CHARACTER of **MY** community.

Enough with these gentrifying palaces!

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A Pointless Life

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It's almost as if these condos are part of a greater conspiracy to squeeze as much work output from millenials as possible by making their home lives unfulfilling and miserable. They rope them in with promises of convenient access to nearby decrepit public transportation and "luxury living" - i.e. the units have a balcony, fancy lighting, and a few pieces of fitness equipment in the common area. But your existence in one of these places quickly becomes misery.

Imagine burning a decade or two living in one of these units? There is practically zero interaction with your neighbors. The highlights of your time spent in such a place will be: organizing with your friends to find the best burrito/coffee/cupcake in the area and posting about it, your annual fantasy football draft party (if you are a guy), weird hobbies or habits developing over time (if you are a guy), countless brunches and tinder dates and if lucky culminating with an only child in the waning fertility years (if you are a woman), and no matter who you are - Internet Posting - LOTS of it.

You really have to hate yourself to choose such an existence. Unfortunately many people just get suckered into it (that will be another post).

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Sir,

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This is a Wendy's

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Huh?

Did you think the tenement buildings of the past had no problems? There's a reason why people "escaped" to the suburbs in the 1950s onward.

A new generation of people doesn't want to live in a suburban home where you need to drive just to get a coffee nor do they want to live in apartment buildings from 100+ years ago with inconsistent heat, no AC, warped floors, and shared laundry. For these people, the "cheap"wood framed mid-rise buildings are fine.

And FYI, the single family suburban homes are also cookie cutter, square, and boring too.

Rich people live in well made, interesting homes/condos/apartments. Everyone else has limited options. Life goes on.

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Good post

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Yes, I agree you have to be rich or will likely toil away in mediocrity. Life does indeed go on, especially here.

It wasn't covered here but a post on suburban living will be forthcoming.

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e.g. the Clampetts

Lived in peaceful, happy, obscurity, hunting their food and eating granny's vittles, became rich, moved to a bland environment, harassed by Mr. Drysdale, do you not think that they didn't sometimes reflect on this and yearn for their simpler life? Money does not buy happiness.

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Spare us the forthcoming, tangential,

unrelated and ridiculous post. You're making a hell of a lot of assumptions here, including that there's some grand conspiracy between developers and companies that employ office workers. There's no conspiracy - they're all acting to make as much money as they can, period.

I'm definitely a lefty, but it sounds to me more like you're projecting your own misery onto others.

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Neighborly interaction never guaranteed

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There is practically zero interaction with your neighbors.

Unless you're living in some kind of commune, interaction with your neighbors is never guaranteed, even in a triple-decker or a single family home. How much you interact with your neighbors probably depends a lot more on how outgoing you and your neighbors are rather than your housing type - I've lived in apartment buildings where I knew my neighbors well, and SFHs where no one in the neighborhood ever talked to each other.

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Imagine 100 years in the

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Imagine 100 years in the future when people are trying to preserve this period architecture.

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Peg legs and concrete furniture

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Will always be a thing if you have upstairs neighbors.
Not a fan of shoddy construction/property flippers
running off with their loot. Any housing structure needs to be held at rather high standards today. Hope this is happening and along with good fire prevention. Too many stories in that regard!

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Developments today

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are nothing more than glorified housing projects that suckers pay big money so they can say they rent or own in Boston.

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