Tod Elkins

Principal and project manager at UrbanWorks Architecture

As the son of an art teacher and an urban planner, Tod Elkins may have seemed destined to become an architect.

Elkins spent the first eight years of his career working on the coasts before settling in Minnesota in 1988. He worked for a couple of Twin Cities firms, including the Cuningham Group. He and colleagues left to launch Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture in 2005. The firm specializes in urban design and is active in the dynamic multifamily housing market. In the recession, UrbanWorks diversified into public design work.

His work ranges from designing Rainforest Cafes at Disney World to a floating casino in the Gulf of Mexico to apartments in the Twin Cities. The firm also designed the new Minneapolis School District headquarters.

Q How much of your work is multifamily?

A Probably three-quarters.

Q What are some cool apartment amenities?

A You're seeing smaller units in general, so there are more gathering spaces with the idea of hospitality amenities like gorgeous lobbies. There's also more inclusion of pets, so you might have a dog washing/grooming station. We're also seeing service amenities -- dog sitting, dog walking, dry-cleaning, grocery delivery, concierge services and "hour (rental) cars."

Q Has multifamily always been a niche?

A When we left Cuningham, we were sort of the housing and urban design studio. We left at a time when the market was extremely strong. We had a lot of repeat business. We found ourselves not needing to really market -- naively.

Q What happened when the recession hit?

A All of a sudden, new projects weren't coming in and the projects that we had under contract, the developers were having financial struggles. ... That hit us pretty hard.

Q But you survived.

A Yes. We're smarter and also very cautious and conservative on predicting future work. What we realized is we know housing..., but we needed to diversify and started working with public clientele.


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