Building Typology Masterclass: Podium

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According to Multifamily Executive, Podium construction is “[…] five stories of Type-3 wood-frame construction on a concrete substructure. In most circumstances, this concrete “podium” comprises one-story above grade, with two or more parking levels below grade. The concrete podium, in addition to containing building lobbies and parking, often contains ground-floor retail space. […] Many jurisdictions allow two stories of concrete construction above grade, for a total of seven stories. As a result, two stories of concrete construction above grade with five stories of wood on top supported by subterranean parking has become the definition of the “mixed user” in many cities.”

Learn how to design a podium construction product in Giraffe with this easy step-by-step guide.

Consider the Requirements

Podium structures are popular since they combine wood-frame construction with a concrete or steel base structure. The wood-framing is often easier and cheaper to source, build with, and subcontract. The concrete or steel podium allows for a taller building. Where most jurisdictions limit the height of a wood structure to only 4 stories, podium builds can reach 7 stories.

Research the allowable height and materials for podium buildings in your jurisdiction, and find out if there are any other requirements that could affect the cost, timeline, and ultimately the feasibility of the project.

A podium building, due to its height and scale, is best suited for mid- to high-density neighborhoods. Consider the impact of the design by comparing comparable properties in the area, and also permitted buildings yet to be constructed. Your project is more likely to be successful, especially if you need a zoning variance to complete, if there is a precedent for that scale of structure nearby.

Consider loading in Layers that demonstrate neighborhood information. Search your municipality’s open data resources to find applicable layers by Importing Non-Native Data Into Giraffe.

Design the Building

A podium build contains multiple typologies, structural materials, and usages. Plan your project’s details to ensure success.

Giraffe connects the geometry you draw with the data you see through the concept of a Usage.

Giraffe comes with some default usages such as Residential, Road, Basement Carpark, and Annotation, and you can create your own and copy them between projects.

Some suggested Usages for a Podium development are:

  • Parking
  • Residential
  • Retail/Commercial
  • Community
  • Amenity

Some of these usages exist already as part of your standard Giraffe template. Edit them to fit your project’s assumptions.  You can also add as many custom usages as you need.

Identify the Floor Plate

It may be helpful to create an outline to align your building shape with a polygon, especially if the planned shape is irregular. This can help you keep your building aligned floor to floor.

Use the General Drawing Tools Polygon to create your building outline on the map.

Create your custom polygon by clicking at desired points.

Click on the original point again to close the shape and exit the tool.

There is no need to apply a Usage to this shape as it is purely for guidance.

Consider Multi-Use Floors

Outline each usage area within the floor.  Hold down the S key on the keyboard to snap corners to your polygon outline or to other Usage geometry. Hold down Shift to snap to an orthographic angle.

The properties for the Usages in your project may have different floor-to-floor heights. This is not an issue when each floor has a different Usage, but on mixed-use floors you will want all of the Usages to share the same height.

You can accomplish this in 2 ways:

Edit the Usage

Edit the Floor-to-Floor property in the Usage editor using the up/down arrows or by typing in a value.

NOTE: This will change the floor-to-floor height for all Geometry using this Usage.

Override the Feature Properties

Select the Geometry you wish to edit

Add either the Floor-to-Floor or Height properties to the feature from the left-hand tool palette.

Consider the Podium Level

The podium level is the support structure of the building, but it also serves as the ground-level connection to the street. The podium is a great opportunity to incorporate community spaces, amenities, and a lobby for your residents. Depending on the scale, it can also provide additional income via retail and commercial frontage. Public and semi-public spaces create a connection with the street and enhance the walkability of neighborhoods and contribute to neighborhood character.

💡 Be sure to be aware of the allowable setbacks.  Review ✉️Solving for Envelope and Set Back Requirements for guidance.

Consider Parking

Podium developments often incorporate on-grade or underground parking. Access the Transportation menu (Car Icon) in the Draw Palette at the bottom of the app window.

For a rectangular garage, select “On-Grade” or “Underground” parking. Each parking usage type has additional special properties. You can also switch the parking usage type once drawn if you change your mind.

The number of parking spaces is an important metric for many developments. Use the Generate bays tool to adjust the parking to meet your definitions.

  1. Click Generate Bays
  2. Adjust bay width and depth
  3. Adjust road (drive lane) width
  4. Choose whether you need islands, where, and the island width
  5. Select the parking bay angle (beta feature)
  6. Set the lane axis to adjust the direction of travel in the parking lane
  7. Select “Open Corners” to allow the parking bays to extend into the corners
  8. Add an Exclusion Zone if you wish to block out an area of the parking geometry (good for representing ramps or adding landscape).

Analyze for Success

There are two ways to analyze your project.  Use the Urban Tab for high-level metrics, like FAR, GFA, and more. Use Analytics to build out a custom proforma that matches your assumptions with geometric data from the project to forecast performance.

Check for Parking Requirements

Research your municipality's zoning code requirements for parking. Is it based on the area? The number of units? The number of residents? Are there ways to negotiate for fewer spots by adding other amenities like bike parking, electric vehicle charging, or rideshare pickup locations?

Your company may also dictate a larger number of parking spaces based on your strategy or product type. Giraffe does not read the zoning code to dictate parking requirements to you, so it is easy to solve for any minimum parking assumptions you wish to employ.

Once you understand the requirements, update your Usages to reflect them.

  • Add the “Parking Required” property to any Usage that you need to calculate parking requirements based on area.  This might be for retail, commercial, or community Usages. Put in the number of spaces required per square foot/meter depending on your code.
  • For residential usages, adjust the parking requirements per unit type.
  • If the code requires one spot per unit, add the number 1 to each unit type in the carparks required field.
  • If it is based on residents, adjust carparks required to match your assumptions about residents per unit.
  • If it is based on area, override the unit parking requirements by adding the Parking required property and setting the unit-based parking properties to 0.
  • The performance of your parking provided against your assumptions displays in the Urban tab!

Check for Jobs and Tax Impact on Community

It is important for the existing community that any new development, especially one of mixed-use, will add to the neighborhood.  Demonstrate your understanding and care for these needs by analyzing the impact using Analytics.

💡 You may choose to start with the Zoning Analytics template if your main goal is to analyze for impact.

Some Measures you can add to analytics to solve for impact:

  • Total Output: Value of dollars put back into the economy
  • Multiply Dwelling Total Residents by the assumed average spend per person for your area.
  • Total Employment: Number of Jobs created
  • Update the Jobs per Area properties for the applicable Usages. IE, if you will have on-site staff, parking attendants, pool lifeguards, or dedicated property managers and leasing agents.
  • Total Earnings: Compensation paid to employees
  • Multiply the annual compensation by the Jobs per Gross Area for applicable usages.
  • Taxes generated per dwelling or sqft
  • If it is a for-sale product, calculate the property taxes per unit based on your current tax assessment assumptions
  • If for rent, calculate the taxes you expect to pay annually and add as a Constant

Check for Profitability

The goal of most development projects in the private sector is to generate profit for the developer.  Your own internal calculations for IRR or other return metrics can easily be built out in Analytics. If you need help, please schedule time with our customer success team and we can get you started!

💡 You may choose to start with the Build for Rent or Build for Sale Analytics templates if your main goal is to solve for profitability.

Some measures you may want to include:

  • Hard Costs of both the Podium and the Wood-Frame structure
  • Soft Costs
  • Land Cost
  • Net Potential Rent for residences and retail/commercial spaces
  • Vacancy Rate
  • Fees
  • Carrying Costs and Other Financing

You can be as general or as granular as you need to be to feel confident with your project. Once you build out the perfect Analytics schema, save it to your workspace’s Templates library to use again and again.

Quick Links

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How to Draw Buildings in Giraffe

Mixed Purpose Floors


Winters, Patrick, AIA. 2016. “Designing Density in Today’s Urban Environments.” Multifamily Executive. September 9, 2016.

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