Illustration by Max Guther

How shared-living spaces could make our cities more inclusive

Ahead of the fourth in our series of lectures exploring ‘Designing for Shared Living’, architect and writer Hannah Wood speaks to architecture and design practices that are using diverse strategies to create a city which is accessible for all.

“In the city of Beirut, co-living is just called ‘living’. That sharing has diverged into a sought-after lifestyle is symbolic of our culture,” says Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes, founder of AKKA architects, in reference to the capital of her native Lebanon. “The segregation of programs and functions within many Western cities is a hangover from a modernist interpretation of urban planning in which activities don’t mix,” she adds. “Urban planners need to prioritise people.” Along with AKKA, the Copenhagen-based “architectural laboratory” Studio Fountainhead will appear at SPACE10’s ‘Designing for Shared Living: Possible Cities’ event on 11 May. Both firms believe that for shared-living spaces to flourish, they should seek to foster a strong sense of community not just within their four walls but beyond them. “Urban planning is caught in a rationalist understanding that is no longer relevant,” says architect Dominique Hauderowicz of Studio Fountainhead.

“It is time for designers to evolve and develop new shared typologies which move beyond the idea of sharing as a socially luxurious commodity towards an inclusive culture which values diversity.”

AKKA recently put these urban principles into action with its Coornhert centrum project in the Netherlands, a combination of publicly accessible living areas and integrated daycare facilities for older generations. The aim of the hybrid program is to generate meaningful interactions between the resident community and the rest of the city (an idea explored further in AKKA’s latest book, Architecting Interaction). Mixed-use programs are commonplace in AKKA’s projects, and emerged out of the studio’s distinct project process, which is designed to be as inclusive as possible. The most unconventional stage of this process is “alignment”, which is undertaken before any design work begins. During this phase, all project stakeholders — including the client and end users — are invited to a meeting hosted by the studio, with the aim to generate a shared project vision. “From our experience of enacting alignment, the end users’ brief is never the same as the client’s brief, and developers are often not board at first,” says Hughes. “While not all negotiations are successful, there is always a way around it, as everyone can agree the overarching aim is to create the best idea possible.”

With the shared ambition to create inclusive intergenerational cities, Studio Fountainhead launched a pilot research project called “Moving Together” this year to investigate the successful inclusion of older generations in urban public spaces. With the intention to inform and inspire both designers and decision makers involved in urban design and planning, the studio is creating a resource of case studies and insights into the topic, informed by research gathered in Japan. “Today, many people are cut off from what a shared city could offer, especially those who would benefit from it most,” says Hauderowicz.

“While we talk about communities which transgress age and ethnicity, we are creating cities with limits to participation which favour the economically prosperous.”

Danish firm JAJA Architects, which will also be speaking at Friday’s event, is investigating the implications of shared ownership on public space from the perspective of future mobility. “In our Copenhagen 2050 project, we are investigating how a shift in the public perception of ownership, from buying a product to buying a service, may influence wide-scale uptake in multi-modal transport,” explains architect Robert Martin. “We are interested in how shared mobility can create community, especially in neighbourhoods beyond the inner city.” Making use of both quantitative research generated through traffic data and simulation technology from its collaboration with NIRAS traffic engineers, the studio is investigating how driverless minibuses and automated rail networks may decrease the need for private cars, thereby freeing urban space for new shared uses.

Illustration by Max Guther

“The space occupied by individual vehicles, which stand idle 95 percent of the time, is significant when viewed at an urban scale,” says Martin. “At JAJA we are interested in what opportunities this may offer architects and designers in terms of creating new shared typologies and public spaces.” JAJA hopes that sharing its research with politicians will incrementally influence urban policy, and that the value generated by increased footfall to these transport nodes will be reinvested in public infrastructure, rather than absorbed into the real estate market. “While it is important to go to the top to promote an image of the future focussed on sharing, it is also about trying to inspire society towards a collective goal by showcasing the spatial benefits that sharing can offer the public realm,” says Martin.

Urbanism think-tank In-Between Economies is also exploring how digital tools such as online co-ownership associations may enable groups being pushed out by rising living costs to remain in the city. “Our ‘Andel 2.0’ initiative combines knowledge and understanding from the historical Danish cooperative housing model andelsboliger with contemporary digital tools to question what the nature of a cooperative housing association is in 2018,” explains co-founder Christine Bjerke.

“How do we create those shared-living contracts to ensure housing remains accessible for all rather than exclusive urban speculation?”

To begin to actualise these ideas, In-Between Economies has teamed up with future housing platform Doma to create a flexible and secure method for investing in property through smart contracts. Historically, housing associations have been geographically anchored to a building or a neighbourhood. By leveraging digital tools, future associations may form a decentralised constellation of cooperatives scattered across the city, linked instead through the digital platform. The setup is not dissimilar to the co-living platforms we explored last week in that they aim to distribute risk, leverage finance and coordinate large groups. As part of Copenhagen Architecture Festival and Future Architecture Platform, In-Between Economies is coordinating two events: a neighbourhood workshop in south Copenhagen (Andel 1.0), and a ‘tradeshow’ with interdisciplinary discussion panel to be held at SPACE10 (Andel 2.0) which will reflect on outcomes from the workshop.

“As well as the positive benefits, to live in a shared association comes with responsibilities based on trust, which is essential in understanding what it means to belong and contribute to a community,” says Bjerke.

“We also imagine a gradient of functions alongside housing. For example, can cooperatives trade, customise, share tools? Can they begin to finance creative production again in the city?”

While each of these studios is working within the field of built-environment design and research, because of their shared desire to create shared cities for the future, they have all broadened their activities into areas such as activism and policy-making. For example, through its projects and publications, AKKA is challenging existing property and building laws which the firm believes have not been sufficiently questioned. The use of tech as an enabler, rather than a driving force, is common to all of these studios due to the benefits of empirical data to ground urban research and the ability to connect people through online platforms. In addition, there’s the shared approach of using space not only as an object of design, but as a strategic tool to create contexts which foster interaction and, by doing so, work towards a more inclusive future city.


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