When it comes to creating and executing cost-effective design strategies for new developments, experts at the AHF Live conference this month agreed that turning to simple designs that allow unit flexibility is best.

“Simple site floor plans do not strain infrastructure,” said Margaret Kavourias, residential studio director at RDL Architects. She added that two-story simple garden projects work quite well. “When you go up higher, there are more coding issues.”

Along with more strain, developers must consider the extra cost of larger features and amenities. After working in one city, for instance, Kipling Sheppard, president and CEO of Wasatch Advantage Group, found that the construction of one staircase in the center of a breezeway as opposed to two separate ones saved about $10,000. With garden apartments, it’s a no-brainer to eliminate those extra stairs, he said.

The beauty in a simple design, they agreed, is the value in simplicity and repetition as it leaves less room for error and is easily adaptable. “It prevents developers from getting caught up in irrelevancies,” Kavourias said.

While market-rate designs offer flexibility to design a bevy of different unit styles, developers of affordable units are smart to design the most accessible one first. Then you create similar counterparts that are stacked on each floor for continuity, she said. Additionally, having multiple specialized public rooms in your building can strain resources.

“We used to have a room for every amenity, and that’s not efficient,” Kavourias said. “Keep everything to one floor, the common area. It helps with maintenance.”

But some preparedness is still key before settling on a design. 

“You want to come out of your meeting with a concept design,” said Kavourias. “It saves time versus going through e-mail.” With new developments at RDL, she describes going through a mini-charrette process that spans the course of one or two days. The meeting includes clients and designers who will sketch out ideas immediately.

Additionally, she hinted that having a general contractor on board as soon as possible can help cost dynamics, as they have the best planned cost analysis. That and a mechanical engineer should be brought on ahead of time to cut costs.