Ten multifamily residential developments capitalize on waterfront locations.

Bodies of water remain a coveted amenity for multifamily housing, despite impending sea-level rise and the increasing frequency of storms. Proximity to water promises cooling breezes, recreational opportunities, and striking views. As developers and municipalities continue to transform industrial and underused waterfront locations, land grows scarcer, requiring inventive infill strategies as well as resilience measures.

The following 10 projects—all completed during the past five years—include a complex designed to blend into a riverfront park, a pair of residential towers that embrace a music venue, a river­side mill’s former warehouse repurposed as a mixed-income community, an affordable housing development that takes cues from the decorations of barges in an adjacent canal, and a fjord-side series of buildings shaped like waves.

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture and urban design writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.

(Andy Ryan)

1. Arlington Point
Lawrence, Massachusetts

The Spicket River once supplied power to the Arlington Mills textile manufacturing complex. One building, built in 1919, produced yarn for wool and flannel, then switched in the 1950s to manufacturing packaged breakfast cereals and military rations. After a period of vacancy, the building was adapted by Trinity Financial of Boston to serve as a mixed-income community. Boston-based ICON Architecture reconfigured the four-story warehouse to house 100 apartments, a lounge, a fitness center, and children’s play areas; the original two-story incinerator building now contains two townhouses.

The design team retained exposed brick masonry walls, the steel-and-concrete interior structure, and exposed wood-plank roof framing. A rooftop photovoltaic array meets part of the building’s electricity needs. Loft-style units range from one to three bedrooms, with large windows granting views across the adjacent Stevens Pond. A pedestrian bridge links the complex to the Spicket River Greenway. Opened in 2019, Arlington Point units are available at different rent levels to households earning 30 percent or less of area median income (AMI), 60 percent or less of AMI, and 61 to 80 percent of AMI.

(©Sarah Mechling/Perkins Eastman)

2. The Channel
Washington, D.C.

Part of the first phase of the District Wharf redevelopment along the Washington, D.C., Southwest Waterfront, the Channel combines two 12-story residential towers with a four-level, 6,000-person-capacity music venue and multiple levels of retail space. The 501 apartments include micro units, one-bedroom units, and two-bedroom units. Residents have access to gardens, a communal lawn, and rooftop amenity spaces with views of the Washington Channel, which parallels the Potomac River. Parking is tucked underground on two levels.

Flanking the music venue, the two L-shaped towers are arranged to preserve views to the river from nearby Banneker Park and L’Enfant Plaza. Ground-floor shops and residential lobbies wrap the performance hall to enliven the pedestrian realm on all sides. The building incorporates double-walled concrete masonry unit enclosures and floating slab floors to help shield apartments from concert noise. Habitable floors are elevated above the 100-year-flood stage.

Completed in 2017, the building is a short walk from two Metro subway stops and a water taxi. Local architecture firm Perkins Eastman DC designed the Channel for local development team Hoffman-Madison Waterfront.

(Max Touhey)

3. Greenpoint Landing
Brooklyn, New York

In 2005, New York City–based Park Tower Group acquired a former lumberyard along the border between Queens and Brooklyn, where Newtown Creek flows into the East River. The plan is to create 5,500 residential units—of which 1,400 will be affordable—as well as introduce new public open space, a new public school, and shops. New York City–based Brookfield Properties developed the first phase, which includes five residential and mixed-use buildings designed by the site’s master planner, the New York City office of Handel Architects. Three of the towers, completed in 2017, contain a total of 294 affordable apartments, and two towers, completed in 2018 and 2020, contain a total of 766 market-rate apartments.

The buildings take cues from the area’s industrial heritage with red brick, painted black metal, and divided light windows. The New York City office of James Corner Field Operations designed Greenpoint Landing’s open space as a series of terraced promenades configured to protect the development from storm surges and to absorb runoff.

(Rasmus Hjortshøj—COAST, Cobe and Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects)

4. Krøyers Square
Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen’s Christianshavn neighborhood occupies several small artificial islands across the inner harbor from the city center. As industrial uses withdrew from the neighborhood, residences sprang up in their place. But one site, a gap in a row of historic red-brick warehouses along the water, remained a bone of contention. Neighbors rejected various residential development plans for more than a decade. Stockholm-based housing developer Bonava and local architecture firms Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects and COBE succeeded by gathering extensive input from the community on building height and materials.

Kroyers Square’s buildings reinterpret the vernacular of nearby warehouses, keeping building heights similarly low at five stories, with similar red brick and tile cladding. Angled building forms and pleated roof planes add a contemporary touch. Ground-floor shops bring activity to the public realm. A new wooden waterfront promenade with landscaping weaves through and around the complex, which was completed in 2016.

(Metropolitan Workshop & Edmund Sumner)

5. Mapleton Crescent
London, United Kingdom

A small triangular stretch of land bounded by a shopping mall, a power substation, and the River Wandle remained undeveloped for decades because of site constraints. Local developer Pocket Living turned to modular construction to create a 27-story tower with 89 for-sale units, 60 percent of which were earmarked for local first-time buyers and sold at a discount of more than 20 percent. Owners of the discounted units are themselves required to apply the same discount when selling their units. Dwellings range from 430 to 870 square feet (40 to 81 sq m).

Three types of terra-cotta panels—folded, ribbed, and pleated—lend variety to the exterior. The local studio of architecture firm Metropolitan Workshop collaborated with local artist Loraine Rutt to give the terra-cotta tiles a teal glaze that matches the color of the nearby river. Completed in 2018, the three-sided tower includes lounges for residents, a rooftop terrace, and a riverside terrace.

(John Horner Photography)

6. Marginal Housing 3.0
Boston, Massachusetts

Marginal Housing 3.0—so named because it is the third multifamily building designed by local firm Merge Architects on Marginal Street facing Boston Harbor—takes design cues from a variety of elements in its marine environment, including the corrugated steel of the industrial shipyard structures to the west, the curves of barges and sailboats, and the clapboard texture of neighboring dwellings. Set within a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain, the building holds seven condos—two duplex units, two flats, and three townhouses.

Stacked on pilotis above covered parking, the duplex units face the street, set at different angles to provide the balconies with privacy from each other. The flats occupy the middle of the site, with small sun balconies that offer harbor views. The three-story townhouses at the rear of the site, above the floodplain, have at-grade entries and open onto private backyards. Marginal Housing 3.0 was completed in 2019 for local firm Air Safe Contracting.

(Hufton+Crow)

(Hufton+Crow)

7. One Thousand Museum
Miami, Florida

On Miami’s Biscayne Bay, next to Museum Park, One Thousand Museum rises 62 stories, its sinuously curved concrete supports flowing continuously from the podium to the top. The concrete exoskeleton provides structural support, with the curves offering diagonal bracketing to resist hurricanes and Miami’s powerful wind loads. The white glass-fiber reinforced concrete formwork was left in place after construction, creating a low-maintenance exterior that contrasts with the black glass of the curtain wall.

The 83 dwellings include four townhouse units, 70 half-floor apartments, eight full-floor apartments, and a penthouse. The building’s top level has a double-height aquatic center with an indoor pool. Lower floors have balconies at the corners; upper-floor balconies are placed between corners. Perforated walls at the building’s base shield the parking garage from view. The roof of the parking garage supports an outdoor swimming pool and a garden. London-based Zaha Hadid Architects with architect of record O’Donnell Dannwolf & Partners of Hollywood, Florida, completed the tower in 2020 for local developer 1000 Biscayne Tower.

(©David Sundberg/Esto)

8. Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn, New York

On a site that once contained cold-storage warehouses, Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge combines 106 condominiums with a 195-key hotel in a linear complex that extends 1,000 feet (300 m) along the East River, sandwiched between Brooklyn Bridge Park and Furman Street. To link the park with the city, the New York City office of Marvel Architects incorporated vegetated roofs and terraces that rely on the same planting palette as the park and provided public walkways through the building. The west elevation facing the park is clad in limestone; the east elevation presents a metal-and-glass facade to the street.

Completed in 2017 for New York City–based Toll Brothers City Living, the complex rises from four to ten stories. Residences are configured as duplexes to give each a view of the harbor. All units have east and west exposures to facilitate natural ventilation. To protect the complex, the designers raised the ground floor above the floodplain and placed mechanical equipment on the roof.

(Tim Crocker)

9. Victoria Wharf
London, United Kingdom

As part of its goal to build 1,850 new affordable homes by 2023, Westminster City Council redeveloped a small, derelict site bounded by Grand Union Canal, a bridge, and a cul-de-sac to accommodate 22 units for one-person households. Local firm Child Graddon Lewis configured the housing into two brick buildings to work around an existing gas main at the site’s southern edge and leave room for a central courtyard. The design draws on the traditional decorations of canal boats, with a green-glazed brick wall uniting the two buildings, blue and gray bricks on the facade, and colorful brick walls on the inset balconies facing the water.

Sliding balcony screens of perforated aluminum feature a diamond motif and help mitigate solar heat gain. The dual-aspect units facilitate natural cross-ventilation. The only parking on site is for bicycles, but each tenant receives a free car-sharing membership. A communal roof terrace overlooks the canal and includes a small gymnasium. Victoria Wharf was completed in 2018.

(Henning Larsen, ©Jacob Due)

10. The Wave
Vejle, Denmark

The town of Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula is unusual for its rolling hills, rare in Denmark. To embody this distinctive geographic feature as well as the waterfront location, local developer Bertel Nielsen and Copenhagen-based architecture firm Henning Larsen conceived a complex of five multifamily towers shaped like waves along the Vejle Fjord. The curving, interconnected white terra-cotta tile roofs double as facades, punctured by narrow horizontal windows arranged in an irregular pattern. Staggered balconies add rhythm to the glazed east and west facades.

Visible from the train and the nearby Vejle Fjord Bridge, each wave contains 20 units that range from 1,100 to 2,100 square feet (100 to 200 sq m) as well as a two-story 2,700-square-foot (255 sq m) penthouse. The living quarters are raised 10 feet (3 m) above sea level. The Wave includes a public pier and a waterfront promenade. Construction of the first two buildings was finished in 2009; after a delay caused by the 2008 global financial crisis, construction of the remaining three was completed in 2018.