Illustration by Max Guther

Beyond the blueprint? Shared living and the importance of architecture and design

Ahead of the second in our series of lectures exploring ‘Designing for Shared Living’, architect and writer Hannah Wood discusses the challenges and opportunities that co-living spaces present architects and designers.

“Coliving has begun to transform our notions of ownership and habitat,” says Christelle Gautreau, a French architect who, along with her colleague Stéphanie Morio, spent the past year seeking to answer the question: what is coliving in 2018? “As architects, we travelled a lot, we lived abroad, and we saw a new form of housing emerge to answer to new needs, like coworking, which has disrupted the world of office spaces in just a few years,” explains Christelle Gautreau.

The result of their joint investigation is the HOMY Coliving project — a snapshot of 30 shared-living spaces around the world, from London’s 550-bedroom behemoth ‘The Collective’ to ‘Magic City’, a 12-bedroom space for arts, technology and DIY projects in Bogota. With an aim to “explain and illustrate this new habitat for the future”, they explored and mapped the communities inhabiting the new-build coliving spaces. “We were surprised just how diverse the groups living there were,” Stéphanie Morio explains, “from lifestyle communities to young professionals and remote workers — you name it. Yet, the design of the co-shares in general does not reflect this diversity. This led us to question whether in its current form, is coliving scalable?”

There are various reasons for the boom in shared living, from rising living costs, to falling levels of home ownership (especially among young people), to apartments becoming much smaller — all of which have forced many city dwellers to seek alternate forms of housing. The distinguishing factor which separates this new wave of co-shares from former modes of shared living is a shift in the procurement model through which they are commissioned and built. Startups, developers and entrepreneurs offering tenant-ready units are rapidly replacing community-initiated activism or housing policy as the main drivers of shared living. This model has fuelled a boom in co-living spaces around the world by developers keen to capitalise on the trend. For example, China has more than 90 homegrown ‘coliving operators’ — development companies specialising in the construction and maintenance of coliving spaces. One of the largest, Vanke Port Apartment, now manages more than 60,000 units.

This shift towards new-build, developer-driven shared-living spaces presents both challenges and opportunities for architects and designers.

Faced with a hypothetical shared living “design brief”, we have to ask ourselves: are we happy with the solutions currently out there?

Stéphanie Morio suggests that, to have a shot at creating a successful coliving space, designers need to be part of the conversation before the brief is set. “The key is to understand what kind of community the client aims to build,” she explains, “coliving projects are as much about social factors as they are about the spaces themselves. It is not just a case of arranging square meters. What kind of habitat could we create for the Erasmus generation, digital nomads, telecommuters, freelancers, and interns who come to live in the metropolis?” More ambitiously still, is it possible to create intergenerational co-living spaces that can last a lifetime?

Illustration by Max Guther

Christelle Gautreau and Stéphanie Morio aren’t the only ones wondering what people want from shared-living spaces, or how best to design them. Other innovative research includes ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030 — a collaboration between SPACE10 and New York-based design duo Anton & Irene. SPACE10 recently launched a series of events called “Designing for Shared Living”, as part of its exploration of the topic. The second event — in Copenhagen on 26 April — will dive deeper into the world of shared living and explore the impact of the physical surroundings that we encounter and interact with on a daily basis with the aim to create shared homes which better reflect our needs.

One common concern about many new shared living spaces is that they resemble branded hotels, not only in their combination of private rooms and anonymous communal areas, but in their lack of internal flexibility and aesthetics.

There appears to be a disconnect from decades of discoveries about how to design successful shared spaces to what is on offer today.

As Christelle Gautreau and Stéphanie Morio point out, one of the most important aspects in terms of spatial programming “is the relationship between intimate space, shared space and open space to the public”. She and Stéphanie Morio will be appearing at the SPACE10 event, and are expected to share more of their conclusions about shared-living spaces following their year of research.

Another concern is that many coliving spaces appear to be aimed at millennials and fail to attract diverse or intergenerational communities.

At the first ‘Designing for Shared Living’ event, the New York-based architect Matthias Hollwich argued that coliving is also an ideal form of housing for ageing generations — not least in the way co-shares can foster community. Inspired by the vibrant street life of the Mediterranean, the Alcabideche Social Complex project, designed by Guedes Cruz Arquitectos, combines indoor and outdoor living spaces with the aim to bring different generations together and create a sense of togetherness. “In Mediterranean culture, the streets, squares, parks and gardens are an extension of the house without a roof and an essential factor to build life in a community,” says José Guedes Cruz, who will also be speaking at SPACE10’s second Designing for Shared Living event.

According to ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030, 60 percent of respondents believe either designers or architects would best organise their future shared-living space. How should we respond to this brief to design spaces which are both inclusive and diverse?

If shared living is to play a major role in addressing the global housing crisis, it shouldn’t end with a blueprint.

In the coming weeks, SPACE10 will explore the challenge of designing for shared living from the perspective of building stronger communities, shaping tomorrow’s cities, reducing loneliness and fostering wellbeing.


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