HOUSTON – The multifamily market in Space City currently is awash with apartments – and the sector is expected to deliver even more units in the coming 18 months. What’s ahead for the multifamily sector in Houston? What will happen to those units? What will design firms do instead of creating new multifamily buildings? And what are some of the innovative designs now being undertaken in the multifamily industry as well as office sector? Realty News Report chatted with Scott Ziegler, principal in charge, Urban Residential Studio at Ziegler Cooper Architects (ZCA) to find out. Ziegler Cooper is one of the city’s most innovative design firms and according to the Houston Business Journal is the 10th-largest architecture firm in the Houston area, based on its estimated local billings of $26 million for 2015. Today, the firm has 120 design professionals and last summer acquired the half century-old Hall Barnum Lucchesi Architects, which focuses on civic, educational, religious and residential projects. At that time, ZCA said the acquisition would allow it to better serve clients in the design of worship, educational and community facilities.
Realty News Report: What’s the latest news in Houston’s multifamily market? Some say the sector is overbuilt. Is that what you’re experiencing?
Scott Ziegler: We are winding down from the rapid pace of multifamily development over the past five years, when Houston was adding 15,000 to 20,000 units per year. Later this year, urban infill developers will be delivering projects that have been under construction for the past two years. This will leave a three-year bubble in the supply chain of new urban infill apartment projects because it takes 36 months to design, permit and construct new projects. For this reason, we are seeing a flurry of new activity taking advantage of softening land prices inside the loop and lower construction costs as well.
Realty News Report: There are a lot of new multifamily projects and hotels under construction in the central business district. How do you see downtown changing in the years ahead because of this? Is living downtown getting more popular still?
Scott Ziegler: ZCA Urban Residential Studio currently has several high-rise buildings under construction in the CBD. Downtown, multifamily design is a little bit different. The point tower, with a mixed-use retail component, makes the most economical sense. Point towers are designed to enhance the pedestrian experience at the street level and typically house 275 to 325 units with upscale amenities. Hines’ Market Square and Marquette’s Catalyst, the Sovereign and Camden Conti are good examples of point towers.
Realty News Report: If the Houston market has too many units and not enough renters, what’s going to happen to all the apartments that have been built? Will they just remain empty?
Scott Ziegler: Markets adjust. We could see developers and owners offering several months of free rent as they did the last time we had an oversupply of multifamily units. Most of these projects were started when Houston was creating upwards of 100,000 jobs a year; now the city will probably create 10,000-20,000 jobs, if that. Houston will work its way out of this oversupply. It always has and no doubt, the city will come back even stronger. It is also interesting to note that the multifamily apartment demand is not entirely dependent on Houston job growth. For example, many of the empty nesters have become renters by choice and are choosing to relocate to the inner city from suburban communities like The Woodlands, Kingwood, Clear Lake and Sugar Land to experience the cultural and entertainment activities of the urban life. These renters have no connection to job growth and simply are looking for a lifestyle change. As a result, many of ZCA developer clients have chosen to cater to this market segment by building larger size luxury apartments.
Realty News Report: It looks like construction in Houston is winding down, so what will architecture firms do now? Try other sectors like medical or education? Design buildings in other cities?
Scott Ziegler: Be innovative and creative. With 8-10 million square feet of sublet office space on the market, landlords are intent on keeping their buildings in top shape with some even repositioning them to better serve the current market. ZCA is working to renovate many of Class A buildings, upgrading lobbies and public areas and a whole host of new amenities including: VIP and tenant hospitality lounges with barista bars, upgraded food service facilities and electric vehicle charging stations.
Realty News Report: Anything else?
Scott Ziegler: Another sector that is very hot right now, and that Ziegler Cooper is actively serving, is the worship facilities and educational market, which is greatly under served at this time. Houston grew at a torrid pace from 2000 to 2014 adding approximately 100,000 jobs per year and the school and church market did not keep pace with that explosive growth and they are playing catch-up right now. ZCA is working on the master planning, design, and construction of over 25 different campuses needing education or worship facilities.
Realty News Report: What are some of the latest design trends in Houston?
Scott Ziegler: Creating urban village environments; ZCA is also working on several mid-rise projects that are part of an urban village environment where a combination of urban residential, boutique office, retail and entertainment make create an inviting urban lifestyle. As Houston continues to densify, the pedestrian lifestyle becomes more attractive and residents are freeing themselves from the automobile. Among our urban village environments are One Lakes, an edge midrise adjacent to Hughes Landing in the Woodlands. In addition to the eight-story residential midrise on Lake Woodlands, we also designed three new Class A office buildings on Lake Woodlands for Warmack Investments at Research Forest Lakeside and a new office building for CB & I.
Realty News Report: There’s a lot of talk about ‘creative’ office space. What is it? Can you provide an example?
Scott Ziegler: Employers are designing their workspaces with future employees in mind. The way Gen Y/millennials and iGen/Gen Z learn, work and collaborate is reshaping the way the workplace is organized and how work gets done. This group has high expectations for a work/life balance. They seek better opportunities for training and mentorship from senior leadership. Architects are being tasked to create spaces that allow for chance ‘run-ins’ to foster and allow for career-building mentorship and enhanced learning. This equates to larger break rooms with a varied mix of social seating and collaboration work-style furniture to blur the social/work lines. We’re seeing increased focus on creating different types of workspaces for different types of work modes. It is all about variety and having options to choose from. In addition, working mobile does not necessarily mean working from home. Businesses want to give their employees the option of unplugging their laptop and re-docking in a focus room when necessary. Statistics show that employees are more satisfied with their job/employer if they perceive they have control over how and where they work. This goes hand-in-hand with increased technology such as Wi-Fi, laptop docking stations, power/USB connections and video conferencing capabilities that are readily available at a variety of different type of work settings, from single person focus rooms to huddle rooms with four to six people to larger conference rooms and even hard-wired break room furniture. Reception areas becoming more communal and multi-functional and adaptable — a place to grab coffee, meet with clients and guests, take a personal call, or as an alternative to working at a desk. In addition, more and more the receptionists are doubling as baristas for the office and becoming “receptionistas.”
Realty News Report: So encouraging collaboration is the key motivation for in the ‘creative’ space trend?
Scott Ziegler: Today’s workplace is being designed to bring people together to collaborate and socialize, not to separate them. The lines of work-life and home-life are blurring. Many companies see employees are working longer so they are incorporating amenities to help balance their lives such as community rooms, wellness facilities, and/or various meeting rooms that are destination driven. These spaces express a lot about company identity and culture; the newest generation of workers are increasingly driven more by a company with a purpose and a strong sense of culture and community. We are seeing more and more personalization of spaces through environmental graphics, murals, and objects with materials that relate to the company. Technology continues to allow mobility and flexibility. The office landscape is being stripped away of the typical one-size-fits-all methodology and being replaced with a landscape that supports different work styles and work settings throughout the day.
Realty News Report: What do you see in the Houston real estate market later this year? In 2017?
Scott Ziegler: The suburban sprawl model is broken. Freeway congestion continues to drive people back to the inner city so they can regain control of their lives in an urban setting. We are in the early stages of urbanization and densification in Houston driven the desire of Millennials to live in the inner city. Empty nesters are cashing out from their low-debt homes and leasing luxury apartments in urban areas so they can attend cultural events, performing arts, sporting events, and dine out at all the new foodie restaurant options.
Realty News Report: Anything else you’d like to add?
Scott Ziegler: The trend towards urban living is pervasive throughout the large urban areas in America. ZCA Urban Residential Studio is busier than ever, and we are working actively in other markets. In Dallas and Austin, we have five mid-rise buildings under construction. In the Denver market, we currently have six large-scale mid-rise and high-rise residential projects in design or under construction, and in the Tempe/Phoenix/Scottsdale market we have three large scale mixed use projects in progress. We continue to be as active as ever.
Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by Ralph Bivins.
Aug. 13, 2016