The Opportunities and Challenges Rooftop Amenities Bring to Your Project: A Conversation with DLR Group

The Opportunities and Challenges Rooftop Amenities Bring to Your Project: A Conversation with DLR Group

DLR Group is an integrated design firm specializing in elevating the human experience through design. They solve problems by employing design thinking principles — leading to community centered results. 

To kickoff our Interviews with Architects, Loft Six Four met up with Josh Doss, a mixed-use architect and senior associate at DLR Group to get his perspective on the opportunities and challenges rooftop amenities bring to his work. In the first part of our conversation, we discuss:

  1. Rooftop Amenity Trends
  2. Rooftop Amenity Design Challenges
  3. The Amount of Space Needed for Rooftop Amenities
  4. How Rooftop Amenities Fit into the Overall Design Narrative

Learn how a thoughtful design approach and narrative can bring more value to your rooftop and outdoor amenity projects.

Loft Six Four: What are some trends you’re seeing with rooftop and outdoor amenities?

Josh Doss: Trends can vary based on geographical location, but we’ve seen a huge shift towards more hospitality-centric outdoor spaces across the board that allow guests to relax and entertain. In the Midwest right now especially, there’s a focus on new and unique amenities and it’s really become all about the pool.

Tetra Marriott Autograph Collection and AC Hotel Silicon Valley – DLR Group

Designing Resort-Inspired Multifamily Properties 

Pools continue to be a very popular amenity across the board. We’re seeing a demand for resort-style pools that are bigger and include more features. The hospitality aspect of these spaces continue to push the market. When looking at specific features, the Baja shelf, bubblers, infinity edges, and private cabanas really give these spaces that resort feel that residents are wanting.

People want to live like they’re on vacation and enjoy luxury amenities and unique experiences. Bringing fun environments to these residential buildings have become very popular. Offering a day club experience with private cabanas, food and beverage and towel service is currently trending on the amenity side. 

Loft Six Four: We’re seeing a very similar thing. We have a client in North Carolina that said, “It’s all about the pool, the pool and the pool.” So can you tell me a little bit more about hotel service and the different level of expectation there? 

Josh Doss: Providing private cabanas that can be rented out on the weekends is a great offering for residents to have a dedicated space for gathering with friends for special or everyday occasions.

Monetizing Outdoor Amenities

Large outdoor kitchen and hosting areas are also trending. They’re usually adjacent to the pool, maybe somewhat separated, but it’s a full outdoor kitchen with counters, built-in grill, with a pergola shade structure and has the ability to be rented out. Everyone wants to be at the pool during the day, on the weekends and sometimes in the evenings during the week, but having those amenities built in — that can be monetized. Sometimes it’s just on a reservation system, but sometimes on some of the more premier properties, they’re actually charging a fee to rent those cabanas and enhance that luxury-style offering. 

At the next level, some properties have added in a food and beverage service. Typically, the club space may have a bar area that’s self-serve for residents to use. During the warmer seasonal months, programming an outdoor bar that offers service is a great way to add additional revenue to your property at a low cost that attracts more people to gather and spend time utilizing these resort-style offerings.

These amenities create a sense of community for residents and allow property owners to maximize their return on investment.

Loft Six Four: When offering a food and beverage service on weekends, can this be open to the public or is it exclusive to residents?

Josh Doss: It’s really on a case-by-case basis. These amenities are exclusive to residents and their guests, so it’s not typically open to the general public. There is a mixed-use tower project we’re currently working on that’s both a hotel and residential. In that case, there have been discussions about opening these amenities to the public to appeal to a greater audience. For rooftops that have a bar component and are in close proximity to the pool, there’s also an opportunity to offer memberships that allow more people to enjoy these offerings.

Loft Six Four: That’s such a great idea. 

Tetra Marriott Autograph Collection and AC Hotel Silicon Valley – DLR Group

Rooftop Amenity Design Challenges

Loft Six Four: What are some of the biggest challenges you and your developer clients face while designing rooftop and outdoor amenities?

Josh Doss: Cost and space are typically the first things that are discussed. It’s important to identify what the priorities are and how it can fit within the space.

Loft Six Four: Where are most rooftop and outdoor amenities falling short and how can we design them better?

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

Josh Doss: Right-sizing the amenities for the space and the audience is our first priority. It’s important to be intentional about how the spaces can and will be utilized. Residents want to feel relaxed and have enough space to enjoy their surroundings. By right-sizing, we can offer comfortable and hospitable spaces that allow residents to come together authentically.

Green Space is Vital

Green space is becoming essential for rooftop spaces. It adds to the ambiance of a space and makes guests feel comfortable while providing a connection to nature and the outdoors.

How Much Space Do You Need For Rooftop Amenities?

Loft Six Four: How do you determine how much space is right? Is that driven by the client? Is it driven by the design and just the amount of space you have and sometimes there’s a void left over that just happens to be the rooftop space? 

Josh Doss: It depends. Sometimes it’s driven by cost and how much they can afford. More often it’s driven by the site constraints and what type of outdoor space is available to be used.

Currently, we’re working on a project that has a courtyard with about 15,000-square-feet, but we really only need 10,000-square feet for amenities. So, what can we do with the extra 5,000-square-feet? The solution was to program this extra space to feel like an oasis with a dry creek riverbed and added in landscaping and berms to allow it to feel right-sized for the activity zones. 

We want to make sure activity zones are intentional and feel lively. It helps foster a sense of community amongst the residents and feels like you want to be there because if it’s too spread out, it doesn’t really feel right. Incorporating little niche areas like fire pits that are built into the berms are also a great way to right size spaces that have extra room.

AC Hotel Vancouver – DLR Group

Loft Six Four: How do you factor in demographics when you’re designing these spaces? Is there a different strategy depending on the target demographic?

Josh Doss: Well, we always try to design with purpose and create a story that offers a sense of place and adventure throughout. This story transcends throughout the property and is intentionally created through the integration of architecture and interior design. There is a common thread that subtly and cohesively weaves through the design that allows guests to connect the dots and uncover new pieces of the story as they move through each space. 

Crafting the Design Narrative

Loft Six Four: How do the owners react to this narrative you create? Is that something you involve them in the beginning stages? Is that something they drive or is that something you’re driving and presenting and helping them understand and get on board with?

Josh Doss: Typically, we always host a vision kickoff meeting where we set the goals from the start. This is the time we can really understand the clients’ values, intentions and goals for the project. It’s during these initial conversations where we can really challenge our thinking, uncover how their development can stand out and push the boundaries of what’s already on the market.

Think Differently for Successful Projects

Loft Six Four: Would you say that sets DLR apart from your competition, that way of thinking?

Josh Doss: As an integrated design firm, we’re able to draw inspiration, learnings and perspectives from every corner of the industry. For example, my background is in hospitality, but this experience has allowed me to apply new ways of thinking to mixed-use and retail design. Our approach is elevating the human experience through design, we are always challenging ourselves to think differently, from new perspectives and that’s what allows us to stand out.

Loft Six Four: You mentioned earlier that sometimes you have a hard time getting the design narrative cohesive while working with outside consultants. How can other design consultants improve their design process to work better with you as an architect?

Design Tension Leads to Innovation

Josh Doss: Design tension is good. There’s the right level of tension that makes a project better. Engineers and others, historically, can be hesitant to consider some ideas. We like to work with engineers that say, well, that’s a good idea. How can we make this happen and support the creative process? More is more, right? Choosing the right team from the beginning that’s on board with the idea of testing some stuff, that breeds innovation. 

We try to avoid the thinking of, “this is how it’s always been done.” Innovation can’t happen unless you continue to push the boundaries. Construction costs and the volatility of the market are among some limiting factors, but I would rather be a dreamer and be told no rather than continue doing the same things each time.

Loft Six Four: We have a client we work with a lot, and this is basically what they say. And every time they go through the project, they acknowledge that they should have spent more, implemented more and not taken stuff out. But they say, “we’d at least rather start with the best idea and VE from there versus starting with a bad idea.” 

Get further insights from part two of this conversation here.

Josh Doss, AIA, is a Senior Associate and Mixed-Use Design Leader at DLR Group. Josh specializes in the design of mixed-use, housing, hospitality and retail facilities, a role that allows him to work closely with clients to create interesting spaces where people live, work, and relax. He approaches every project as an opportunity to transform a client’s vision into a unique destination that fosters a sense of community and attracts visitors from around the world. His extensive mixed-use portfolio spans across the Midwest, including high-end residential properties The Rocks in Roeland Park, Kansas and Lux Living – 14th & Wyandotte Mixed-Use Tower in Kansas City, Missouri. Josh’s hospitality design experience includes multiple AC Hotels by Marriott, a lifestyle brand targeting travelers who prefer an authentic experience with local dining and entertainment options.