Multi-Family Design in Type V/III Podium vs. Type I High-Rise Construction

When:  Nov 6, 2017 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM (ET)

Learn the design, economic, and policy issues in high-density multi-family housing design in podium (light wood frame over concrete) construction and high-rise construction.

In many of our growing cities, there has been a proliferation of medium to high density housing production.  The form of the new housing is typically five to seven stories with a mix of Type I concrete podium at the base and Type V or III light wood construction above.  This construction type is often referred in the multi-family development world as “Podium Construction”.  In Los Angeles, a debate emerged as the city and community started to express concerns of this new housing type and a policy aimed towards prohibiting podium construction was introduced.

The primary concerns for these new mixed-use multi-family buildings were lack of design and construction quality.  The buildings were often designed as boxes maximizing the site boundaries with stucco as the primary material which the most abundant and cost-effective material available in Southern California.  When construction resumed in 2012 after a long halt from the recession, many of the ambitious high-rise projects that were proposed pre-recession never came to fruition.  In their place came 7-story podium mixed-use projects.  The main drivers for the changes were based on market feasibility and lowering risk for the developers and investors.

On the economic side, the cost to produce podium housing is about 30% lower than a Type I high-rise.  The projected rents reflected the savings and developers were able to provide new housing units at $2,000 per month for a one bedroom apartment.  Compare that to a high-rise building in the same location in Downtown Los Angeles, the expected rents for the comparable unit was about $2,800.  For the developer, betting on renters to pay $2,000 vs $2,800 was on easy one.  The renter demand for market rate housing was much greater than the high-rise luxury product.  Given the option to build Type I high-rise vs. Type III podium, the investment community opted for podium projects that came with less risk.  The downside was that the buildings were formulaic and perceived to be cheap in quality.   

As more and more of the same housing types were being constructed, the design community, media, and the city started to take notice and started questioning.  In 2013, Downtown LA’s Councilman proposed an Interim Control Ordinance to prohibit podium buildings in key areas of downtown.  The Councilman wanted to preserve land for high-rise developments and hotels.  The proposal was challenged by the downtown community and the business community and did not move forward.  Los Angeles Downtown News wrote an article in August of 2014 titled “Why Are So Many of Downtown’s New Housing Complexes So ‘Ugly’? to express the negative public sentiment toward podium projects.

In many U.S. cities, podium housing is causing similar concerns.  This presentation will inform the audience on the difference between podium and high-rise construction in multi-family housing using project examples.  The comparison will comprise of design, economic, and policy issues that may provide insight on the challenges and opportunities for architects interested or engaged in design and production of high-density housing.


Earn 1 LU


Learning objectives:

  1. understand and describe the design challenges and opportunities in designing high-density housing in podium and high-rise construction

  2. understand and describe the economics of producing high-density housing in podium and high-rise construction

  3. discuss the potential policies that may impact housing production

  4. understand and describe the basics of multi-family real estate development



Simon Ha, AIA | Steinberg

Simon Ha, AIA, LEED AP, is a partner and urban mixed-use practice leader at Steinberg in Los Angeles, chair for the National American Institute of Architects Housing Knowledge Community, Past Chair for the Downtown LA Neighborhood Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, and a member of Re:Code LA Zoning Advisory Committee for the Los Angeles Department of City Planning.

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