Alternative Residential

Designing a live-work space? Five questions to ask.

Architects might be forced to consider a range of live/work options with layouts to suit the requirements of different work and life styles, and they will need to research what these working and living combinations involve.

We’ve been doing quite a bit of work in the housing sector lately, and much of the conversation has revolved around the relationship between living and working spaces. In the future, will people be working closer to where they live or living closer to where they work?

We believe that two new markets are beginning to emerge. One that prioritises working closer to home and another that prioritises living closer to work. The real estate industry will need to consider a new typology of housing for both these new markets, which currently exhibit shared needs and interests.

Working from home

The desire to work closer to home has come about as a result of new technology that enables people to work more flexibly, often at a distance from the office. This flexibility is changing what people consider to be ‘work’: individuals have more choice over where and how they work and are voting with their feet – many preferring the convenience of staying closer to home.

This is far from a new trend. In fact, the separating of home from work is relatively new. In the UK, before the industrial revolution, almost everyone worked from home. The medieval English gentry and their servants lived and worked together in castles and manor houses. The homes of medieval merchants and craft-workers had a shop or workshop that opened onto the street, where goods were made and sold. Trading and family life, public and private existence were combined in a few multi-purpose spaces.

Homes were often designed around the nature of the work being performed. For example, the homes of seventeenth and eighteenth century silk-weavers, watchmakers and stocking-knitters contained workshop spaces with large windows to provide the high levels of natural light necessary for their trades.

This raises new questions for developers and architects. What kinds of ‘work’ are individuals doing at home today? What kinds of spaces and settings do they require to carry out this work in a contemporary setting?

In summary, architects might be forced to consider a range of options with different layouts to suit the requirements of different work and life styles, which will require an in-depth understanding of what these working and living combinations involve.

Living near work

What about individuals who prioritise living close to work? Key personnel/employees in more practical industries such as healthcare often need to live closer to work. Yet this group is often the first to be priced out of the areas in which they work by the high cost of real estate and public transport.

Thus, key workers need a type of accommodation that enables them to continue to live close to their workplaces. This could mean designing a mixed-use typology, such as offices with some residential accommodation with priority given to those who work there. The onus might even be on the organisation itself to provide accommodation as part of the working package.

This is also far from a new trend. Victorian businessmen, such as George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree, created ‘model villages’ for their employees that remain thriving communities today.

Bournville was one such village. Established during the 1890s, it was for people from a wide range of backgrounds, not just the employees of the chocolate factory. Today, the Bournville village is home to about 25,000 people. Similarly, the village of New Earswick on the outskirts of York was built by Joseph Rowntree at the very start of the twentieth century to provide an alternative to the overcrowded housing then available to workers.

This raises new questions: What kind of community could co-location create today? How does one community (defined by the nature of its work) exist in the context of other communities today?

Some companies already help their employees secure cheap accommodation. Today, a handful of companies, such as the Metropolitan Police and the London Fire Brigade, have already signed up to a campaign aimed at helping staff with the cost of renting in London. Others, such as high tech firms, provide their employees with a cheap place to live as part of the joining package.

However, there needs to be a holistic, longer-term solution to providing people with the option of living near work, just as there needs to be one for helping people to work from home. In theory, the working from home combination could look remarkably similar to the living at work combination, albeit in a different place and on a different scale.

We think it is worth considering the following:

  • Public / Private – What is the relationship between public and private when work and home are combined? There will need to be more space dedicated to working in the home than before, and more scope for considering the routine of home as part of the rhythms of work.
  • Access / Security – How can a building be designed to provide access to the workplace as well as security for the home? There will need to be careful consideration of the layout of the building so that work and home are connected yet separate.
  • Life-long living – Will life-long living continue to be a concern for residents, as it is today? With a rapidly ageing population, it will be important to evaluate how long people want to stay in the same building, and how it can be designed to accommodate change from the outset.
  • Wellbeing – How will architects design for wellbeing when work and home come together? It will become even more important for a space to ‘feel right’ for individuals to be comfortable both at work and at home. This could involve bespoke layout and aesthetics to support different modes of being.
  • Cities – In what way can work and home be recombined on a city scale? Perhaps this is an opportunity for planners and developers to reimagine the city in terms of urban subdivisions (quarters) characterised by the nature of the work done there rather than residential suburbans characterised by the type of person living there.