The Rise of 5-Over-1 Apartments aka “Stumpies”

Bloomberg has an article that helps explain the rise of the “5-Over-1” apartment buildings that have proliferated over the last 20 years. From the article:

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.

They really are everywhere, I discovered on a cross-country drive last fall, and they’re going up fast. In 2017, 187,000 new housing units were completed in buildings of 50 units or more in the U.S., the most since the Census Bureau started keeping track in 1972. By my informal massaging of the data, well over half of those were in blocky mid-rises.

These structures’ proliferation is one of the most dramatic changes to the country’s built environment in decades. Yet when I started asking around about them, they didn’t seem to have a name. I encountered someone calling them “stumpies” in a website comment, but that sadly hasn’t caught on. It was only after a developer described the style to me as five-over-one—five stories of apartments over a ground-floor “podium” of parking and/or retail—that I was able to find some online discussion of the phenomenon…

The boom has also been shaped by zoning that sometimes leaves downtowns and suburban commercial districts as the only practical spots for new housing. Ordinances requiring a minimum number of parking spaces per apartment unit factor in, too: Where minimums are relatively high, as in Texas, the best solution can be wrapping the building around a parking deck, a style known as the Texas doughnut. Where they’re lower, the ground-floor podium will do. City planners also often require developers to devote street-front podium space to shops and restaurants.

If you’re interested in why apartment construction has trended in this direction, you really should read the full article; it helps explain the impact that building codes, zoning and regulation can have on what’s built and where it’s built.