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Explained: The Common Look of the Contemporary Mid-Rise Apartment Building

Last week's urbanism social media landscape was dominated by discussion of an article that digs into the historical and technical origins of the contemporary mid-rise apartment building type.
February 19, 2019, 10am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Look familiar?
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Justin Fox writes on a controversial topic familiar to planners—the general uniformity of new buildings around the United States.

These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.

Fox also fins evidence that mid-rise buildings are being built in greater numbers than ever—or at least since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972.

The conversation about the aesthetic characteristics of contemporary architectural styles (the kind built at large scale in cities all over the country, and not the signature pieces by international starchitects) is a familiar one. Patrick Sisson wrote on the subject most recently in December 2018, identifying a name for the style, "Fast-casual architecture," and connecting contemporary style to the contemporary housing crisis.

Fox digs into the stick construction techniques that these buildings have in common—wood framing that can save massive amounts of money for developers compared to concrete, steel, or masonry. Fox also traces the origins of the wood-framed building as the status quo of American apartment construction to the Uniform Building Code, first issued in 1927. Far from a damning critique, Fox points out the positives of wood construction before also mentioning the fire danger presented by these buildings before fire and life systems are added.

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Published on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 in Bloomberg BusinessWeek
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