Constructing Communities

The build-to-rent sector is growing fast, but architects must tune into its particular challenges – and opportunities, says Dipa Joshi


Dipa Joshi

With over 86,000 build-to-rent homes in the current development pipeline, the next 18 months will be a crucial time for this type of scheme. By understanding the structures that buttress this sector, architects can better interpret developments’ design requirements and connect them to their surroundings.

Backed by institutional finance, developers and operators are concerned to keep developments operational for longer, which filters into design considerations. Aspects such as the longevity of building materials – both internal and external – as well as the efficiency of the scheme’s layout are major considerations. Successful schemes are operationally efficient, meeting residents’ demands and expectations while minimising the running costs of maintenance, repairs and operations. This requires a critical relationship between the back-of-house areas and front-of-house facilities.


Assael’s Old Brewery Gardens scheme for the former Boddingtons Brewery site in Manchester comprises 556 homes (of which 181 will be for sale and the remaining 375 for rent) alongside ground-floor retail and a range of amenities for residents including a gym, lounges, rooftop terraces and a large communal garden, which will be used as an open-air cinema and an outdoor yoga studio.

Build to rent is a design-led, consumer-focused product, meaning that the residents’ interaction with the building is integral to its success. The accessibility of a large-scale professionally-managed community should be considered with regard to the four key zones. Welcoming interior design, natural lighting and wayfinding are all aspects that architects should consider in such projects. There is less focus on incorporating private external and internal amenities and more on the design of shared space.

It’s not about over-providing area – it’s just a shift of emphasis. Residents should feel that they are renting the whole building, not just their apartment, and this should follow through with active usage of the facilities.

Bringing the natural exterior world inside a development has long been a favourite of architects, but for build-to-rent, it’s often more important to tie schemes in with the urban surroundings, aesthetically and in terms of human interaction and community engagement. Those choosing this new rental product want more than just a home; they want a community. The dynamism of these schemes must bleed into the surrounding area, with public realm and green spaces made available for both residents and the wider public. Management can provide an anchor to support community uses with low economic value but high social value, offering significant regeneration benefits.


In designing build-to-rent projects at Assael we have experienced first-hand what they can do for their environment, helping to drive regeneration and creating opportunities for the incumbent residents and those flocking to the area. Flexible design, which allows ground floor spaces to be set aside for workspaces or retail spaces, is a vital consideration for creating a sense of place, a sense of community and – most importantly – pride in the place you call home.

This was central to our approach at Old Brewery Gardens in Manchester, where we are in the process of turning a historic site of regional significance into a development with a healthy mix of 181 market-sale units and 375 homes to rent, alongside shops, green spaces and public realm. The scheme has set aside 40,000 square feet for flexible commercial and retail purposes, bringing investment and activity to an area that has not lived up to its potential for over a decade.

The build-to-rent market is an exciting opportunity for architects to experiment with design and spatial configurations, especially in fast-growing regional economies like Manchester. The resident’s experience is at the heart of the Old Brewery Gardens scheme, which provides a central green space, much needed in the harsh urban context of the adjacent ring road. Managed amenities chosen for wellness include a residents’ gym, lounge and rooftop terraces for use as outdoor yoga studio and open-air cinema – encouraging a new community to thrive, and in turn contributing to the wider locality.