POV: Point of View

Wood Podiums Make a Comeback

May 2013

Last year we completed our first wood podium project for AMCAL in San Diego. Mission Apartments is an 85-unit workforce/affordable family community that capitalizes on a rare “Smart Growth” opportunity to provide transit-oriented development where workers can take advantage of existing mass transit facilities located literally next door.


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Now, what does a wood podium really have to do with this? Wood podium is basically tuck-under apartments on steroids. On paper, wood podium construction is an extension of what designers have been doing for years—parking cars away under units in one-space depths directly off concrete driveways. The driver is cost savings: approximately $9500 per parking space versus $15,000 for concrete. The potential trade-offs may be worth it in areas where developers can’t get more than $2 per square foot for rentals. If land costs aren’t affordable, the only way to make a prospective project work is by cutting construction costs.

From 2000 to 2005, when both condo and real estate values were much higher, the market was willing to pay the extra cost ($20,000 and up) for concrete podiums. But sales and market values decreased to the point where the higher costs of concrete podiums didn’t work anymore.

However, renters still need parking spaces, and the industry is looking at every possible cost-savings scenario. In fact, wood podium is just another form of Type V, one-hour construction. Take away the rebar and forming required of concrete, and the builder can shave almost five months of construction time off his project.

Of the four typologies used by designers, on-grade, walk-up apartments with open parking are the least expensive. However, wood is not the solution for every builder. This is especially true for owners who may be holding onto these buildings for 40 or 50 years.

Nonetheless, given the success of the wood podium solution on the Mission Apartments, we are certain to see more developers pursuing them as costs continue to be a driver in development decisions. A few million dollars can make the difference between building and not building much needed housing.

Parts of this post were excerpted from "What to Build Now" by Mike Russo in the January 2012 issue of Multi-Housing News which was based on an interview with Dan Withee.