Season 1:

Episode 4

American Building Podcast: Martin Ditto | Hosted by Michael Graves Architecture

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Overview

Our fourth guest of the American Building series is Martin Ditto. Martin is the founder and CEO of Ditto Residential, an award-winning development firm based in Washington, DC. We are talking about OSLOadmo, an 8-unit residential development in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. It was completed just over a year ago and is the 3rd in his series of OSLO-branded co-living properties in urban infill locations. Martin is committed to developing new ways of living and is looking to branch into a larger residential platform that we will be talking about as well.

Atif Qadir: Interview Questions

1:23 – Let’s take it way back. You were born in Jackson, went to college in Nashville, and started your career in Baltimore. These are all mid-size cities that have significant historic architectural heritage. How did they influence you and your career path?

2:09 – Your first real estate venture as a developer was the Spinnaker Bay development. What did you take away from that experience that eventually set the stage for you to start your own firm?

3:15 – Tom Bozzuto said, “When we founded the company, our primary goal was to eat and keep the lights on.” Did you have a similar experience after you founded Ditto Residential?

5:20 – You describe your mission in this way: “We create world-class residences with livable spaces that are so powerful they can inspire and change the way people live their daily lives.” Is this statement in sync with what you are describing as a platform for change?

7:14 – OSLOadmo is the 3rd of your OSLO co-living buildings, after OSLOshaw and OSLOatlas. Where does the name come from and what does it mean?

8:27 – Would you say that there is an element of Nordic design aesthetic that flows through all of your buildings?

9:10 – Admo in OSLOadmo refers to “Adams Morgan.” Why did you decide to build in that neighborhood?

9:55 – This site used to be an empty parking lot, which is different from other Ditto projects that have been focused on redevelopment. What was going through your head when you saw it? Love at first sight or something that had to grow on you after researching?

10:54 – Co-living properties are often thought to have significantly greater density than surrounding buildings. That sounds like the makings of a pretty difficult approvals process. What had you learned from your previous two projects in the OSLO brand that helped color your strategy in the entitlements process for this project?

11:50 – Was OSLOadmo on a public parking lot?

12:12 – What final constraints were you were left with that before you were going to proceed forward with the design?

13:14 – Could you talk about the other team members outside your firm as well as within your firm who had key roles on this project?

14:55 – In the more traditional projects like OSLOadmo, what is your role as Principal of your firm? It seems like you give substantial leeway to your design team.

16:03 – When you say innovation, does that mean the products and changes that really tailor the experience for the user? Is that the idea?

16:49 – This project has 8 units ranging from 2 to 4 bedrooms each, for a total of 24 bedrooms. Most bedrooms have their own bathroom. Washers and dryers are in the units. There is a common courtyard often programmed with activities. Has this structure and strategy evolved over the course of the various OSLO properties or have they been there since the very beginning?

19:17 – Given that there is a level of transience inherent with co-living, did you decide to furnish the properties and, if so, what was the extent of furnishings that you provided?

21:31 – Is there a hand that the firm has in selection and pairing tenants in case someone is interested in OSLO but does not have a group of friends to rent an apartment with? How does that process work?

23:58 – It sounds like the particular type of people who would be interested in living in a Ditto co-living property are likely different from those who would be living at competitors’ properties that focus on more flexibility and shorter terms. Do you find that the people living at your properties are actually interested in staying for longer than they would at a traditional rental building?

25:15 – In terms of operation, do individuals sign a lease with Ditto Residential or do multiple people get together and sign a lease as a group?

25:36 – From your perspective, do you see that, with this approach, you are providing a lot of the programming, layouts, and amenities of co-living but with a much more substantial long-term perspective on how you operate it? Do you see a coming together in the way that you regard your apartment buildings and your co-living properties? They essentially seem like two different options that someone can go for, but are actually quite similar in many regards.

27:21 – From the revenue perspective, you are pricing OSLO at $1300 per bedroom. How did you decide on that pricing and what are some of the premiums that you charge for some services or ancillary amenities?

28:44 – When you compare your OSLO properties versus traditional rental buildings, how do you see the business models differing?

30:17 – Have you found that your tenants appreciate that amount of design that goes into your buildings versus trying to compete in the amenity war and tacking on as many amenities as possible?

31:41 – The premise of co-living goes like this: spend less money in exchange for less personal space. In your mind, what is the case for co-living?

32:28 – A neighbor of a co-living property developed by one of your competitors in DC called it “a glorified rooming house” and “way too big for the immediate context.” Would you say that OSLO tried to take a more nuanced approach at fitting into the local environment?

34:48 – The percentage of single-person households in the US is now 30%, up from 15% 50 years ago. Concurrently, there has been a decline in earning, with 60% of 20- and 30-somethings now regularly receiving money from their parents. Is co-living just obscuring the reality that a generation of American adults can no longer comfortably afford to live alone?

36:55 – In the future, there is going to be less stability or permanence in work situations. Do you think that OSLO or more thoughtful co-living in general could be utilized in places other than urban infill locations like the suburbs and beyond?

40:23 – OSLO has evolved into something larger, a wellness- and community-focused brand. What are you taking from the OSLO properties that have been built and where you see that brand continuing under your development company?

43:39 – What is the timescale for evolving OSLO? What is the physical scale, and where do you see that going forward?

 

Audience Questions

44:35 – Looking back over the arc of your career so far, where do you see OSLOadmo fitting in?

45:37 – It is interesting to hear you speak about traditional housing, lifestyle housing, and brand. I am interested in your opinions about brand extension: what you mean by brand, and how branding and lifestyle start to influence how you design things. how you market them, and how you perceive them?

48:10 – Atif mentioned that you had lived in a small city, Nashville. If you went back to Nashville today, how would what is happening in the Nashville scene apply to the sense of brand because of the uniqueness of place?

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