In this series of articles, I’m going to try explore scenarios and signals that suggest the ways in which we will live by the end of this new decade. We’ll look at the six key future trends, listen to expert opinion and examine ideas that seem to be on the edges today that maybe mainstream by 2030. This particular Future of Home+Living article I’m going to look at the rise of Communal Compounds.
But first: Stockholm, Sweden
Colive is a new shared apartment in a converted attic in Södermalm, one of Stockholm’s most sought-after neighborhoods. The space is designed to be shared by between six and 12 people. There are six private rooms with soundproof door and locks — but the residents share a fully-equipped kitchen and other socializing areas that are decorated for what the owners describe as the “best home feeling.”
Colive joins a number of communal living spaces that have recently been developed in Scandinavia. A similar community space, Hus 24, can be found in one of Stockholm’s medieval townhouses, and another, K9, in a converted, disused hotel that was renovated to hold 50 professionals.
Colive founders Jonas Häggqvist and Katarina Liljestam Beyer believe that with digital tools, the right residents can be matched together. They also believe that innovative, smart and surface-efficient architecture gives access to a home with room for both privacy and community with others, at a price most people can afford.
I talked to Evamaria Rönnegård about the development of these community-led residences. Rönnegård is an expert leading the Better Living effort at IKEA, the Swedish based home-design company. She believes that we need to rethink how we design, finance and build our future homes, neighborhoods and cities to tackle some of the urgent challenges we face while creating more livable, affordable and sustainable homes for the many. She told me:
“ A shared economy does not only mean that people share things; it also means that people will share spaces to a higher degree. Former private spaces might become semi-private or shared spaces, whereas newly built neighborhoods, houses, apartments and other spaces will be designed to cater for shared spaces from the beginning. We will also see more and different kinds of services, solutions and types of products that are especially designed for shared living.”
Speaking to the BBC, Colive founder and compound entrepreneur Katarina Liljestam Beyer provided some insight into why people might want to choose to live in these communities — including overcoming loneliness during long winters and avoiding long queues for affordable apartments.
“ Co-living provides a social arena for a lot of people that get lonely … In Sweden it’s really dark in the evenings during the winter and you don’t feel like going out during the week, which makes some people feel isolated. If you already live with other people, you have your dinner company under the same roof as your own room. If you don’t want to socialize, you can just close your door.”
Loneliness is a recurring theme. A British YouGov report says that 30% of millennials say they always or often feel lonely. Meanwhile in Beijing, a “loneliness” museum is actually designed to bring people together with group activities.
In many ways, Colive, Hus 24 and K9 are signals about the way many of us could live in urban areas in the future. Techfarms is another organization creating communal compounds in Sweden, and there are similar developments opening across the world.
Far from concerned about a world of cramped living, executives IKEA seem genuinely excited about community-focused residences and how they could break down barriers. Evamaria Rönnegård explained it to me:
“Integrated neighborhoods are where there is room for everyone. By sharing responsibilities, meeting each other and doing things together, the community thrives. It strengthens diversity and inclusion, which leads to an increased quality of life for the people living there. We believe in a community that has diversity and equality in the forefront.
“We are curious about how we could possibly create neighborhoods where different kinds of people get attracted to live their lives fully. A place that is attractive for people with different cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, income levels, genders, sexual identification and ages. It could be two families sharing a home, but it could just as well be two generations from the same family, two friends, or any other cohabiting constellation. By ‘family,’ we use the word in its broadest possible sense — it does not exclude singles.”
So, How Will We Live Tomorrow?
Picture this scenario: In 2030, people will sleep, play, shop and work in large buildings with hundreds, if not thousands, of others. They will live communally and all be very close to one another, using shared objects, appliances, services and physical space. Residents will also use shared spaces — sometimes as a group, sometimes alone or with friends and family, and the systems and architecture will coordinate to provide a sense of privacy.
In some of these compounds, people will have a permanent room to sleep in and to store items for their most immediate needs, but in other dwellings residents will “hot-bed” each night to different rooms or the bunks provided for them — and the few products they still own will be held in a vault and accessible on request. In some buildings, clothes and other personal items will be shared too.
These buildings will be close together and connect at different levels. Older apartments will be refashioned so that they connect easier to neighboring buildings and so people, goods and services can flow from one to the other more easily. Basements of these connected compounds will include food halls where dwellers can select multiple cuisines from different windows or food carts, which is prepared in common kitchens.
Outside of city centers, row homes will start to connect to each other and residents will share service areas. Kitchens and bathrooms in this “middle housing” will be centralized across the conjoined buildings and replaced by more living and work spaces.
The concept of property ownership will fade and the expectation of privacy will be a fleeting one. The “neighborbuilds” that people end up living in will be suggested to — or selected for — them based on their profiles and the profiles of friends and colleagues. Some people will complain about systematic discrimination against less affluent or socially-accepted groups.
How else will this impact the world around us?
Food & Beverage
Suburbs will start to be redeveloped for food factories. For many people, the spread-out neighborhoods will be too far from urban centers of work, play and education. Centralized urban hubs will demand food and we will see the beginning of homes and streets in the suburban spread being replaced by colossal, wide buildings. Inside the buildings, a controlled climate will grow traditional crops that will be harvested by robots on wires. The roofs will be full of a mix of solar panels and “heirloom” crops that are more resistant to the warming climates.
Hotels, Hospitality & Travel
When we decide to go on vacation, we will find remote locations but stay in communal spaces. Because modern services, goods and experiences will be provided best when a critical mass of people is served, we will avoid isolation in wood cabins or small islands. Instead, we will look for remote hotels where likeminded people travel, and from there we will explore the landscape, historic towns and even farm factories in smaller, guided groups.
On the edge of Atlanta, Serenbe is a communal wellness community connected to nature. Steve Nygren bought 60 acres of wilderness and has built four neighborhoods of residential and commercial buildings. The approach was to look at building typologies in English and other condensed European towns.
Along with acting model for a new community development in the American South connected to nature, it forms an experiment in urbanism and commercial activity, creating a wealth of jobs in its stores, restaurants, and other service sectors.
After reading an early draft of this article, K M Brown responded and told me that as a neighbor, he wasn’t certain about Serenbe’s potential:
“ Amazon is currently building a warehouse 5 miles from my house and it will employ a thousand people. There are far more jobs here, in a small town at the edge of Atlanta than in Serenbe, which has some shops but in no way offers a “wealth” of job opportunities.”
While there are examples of community spaces in more rural and suburban spaces, like this concept by Philip Stejskal Architecture that looks at communal spaces in suburbs, the focus is in cities. IKEA’s Evamaria Ronnegard recently told Bloomberg that if we believe the estimate that 70% of the world’s population will want to live in cities by 2050, homes could include large hotel-like complexes featuring hundreds of bedrooms depending on need and cultural preferences.
There are several other examples that point to Ronnegard’s vision of multi-room shared residences, and IKEA itself is already is developing a housing complex called BoKol in the south of England in partnership with building firm Skanska. Over 5,000 miles away in San Francisco, a seven-story apartment block has been built to operate more like a hotel. In Nashville, developers have built an “Airbnb-style” hotel and in San Jose a proposed18 story co-housing unit dubbed “dorm for adults” by Starcity will have 800 co-living units. It certainly seems like in every city there’s a co-living block being developed.
Angus Maclaurin, an executive who has led many innovation projects, wrote to me about this subject and told me that he has always wondered why we can’t have a more shared ownership model:
“Why can’t you get partial equity when you rent a place? The vast separation between rental and ownership feels off and that there is an opportunity to change that. It makes me wonder what examples from adjacent markets exist. For example, you buy an iPhone with the option to upgrade (a partial rent / partial buy combination)”
There are also different models of communal compounds developing: In Los Angeles and San Francisco, residents can rent a pod with Podshare which gives them a bed in a bunk, a locker, access to Wi-Fi and some staple foods and toiletries. Back in Atlanta, Padsplit is a platform that lets you rent rooms in a house shared by other Padsplitters. Included in the rental fee are free laundry and utilities.
Elsewhere, developers are mixing commercial and residential together. At the Spektrum building in Gothenburg, the ground-level is a public space, containing a restaurant, stores and offices. In the basement is a bowling alley the second floor has ‘flexible school facilities’ that can be used by the various businesses in during the day and residents in the evening.
There is some concern that these residences become filled with people with similar backgrounds who work at similar employers. StationF’s Flatmates, for example, is a community compound developed just outside of Paris for 600 employees of startups. Padsplit promises “Nice Housemates” as all members are pre-screened — but screened for what exactly?
Concept designer Kiki Goti is a little more hopeful when it comes designing a space that will be inhabited by a diverse group of people. The founder of Brooklyn based Some People Studio told me in an email exchange.
“How do you make all of them feel like they belong there? How do you allow people from various cultural and social backgrounds to feel expressed and represented in the communal spaces they are using? I think that there are huge opportunities for the use of advanced technological tools for this.”
“The main idea is to create livable neighborhoods for diverse demographics, multi-generational living and flexible working behaviors. For urban planners and architects and even the government, this means finding the right balance between density, affordability and community living in suburban locations. …
“Missing middle housing can be categorized as multi-unit or clustered housing types suitable for single-family households, and are highly compatible with neighborhoods as it diversifies the community. The model implies that houses within this category are well designed, comfortable, usable and of high quality while appealing as an affordable option.”
For those not wishing to live in these large domiciles, there will be an alternative, parasitic style of living — but for many, the world will revolve around a private bedroom. Maybe one day it will be the only room in your home that you can truly call your own.
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Piers Fawkes is recognized as a thought leader when it comes to trends and innovation. For 15 years, he had presented new ideas for the future in the PSFK newsletters and reports. Together with the team at PSFK, he has also provided advice to some of the world’s leading companies including Apple, BMW, Facebook, Google, Nike and Samsung.
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