One Shared House 2030
As society becomes more and more urbanised it is getting harder to properly house everyone. City populations are ballooning across the world at a greater rate than we can realistically build accommodation. This is not a new problem, but potential solutions have been thin on the ground. One which has started to gain popularity is the idea of “co-living”.
Co-living describes a situation where you live in a larger space or building and share amenities and the like with lots of other people. It is essentially a version of communal living which is being updated for the sharing economy. University halls of residence being sold as grown-up housing. A kibbutz with Wi-Fi.
Companies such as The Collective in London and WeLive in Washington DC are already starting to cash in on the growing popularity of co-living. Landmark projects are springing up aimed at young professional city workers who are desperate for affordable living. However, when you look at what is on offer and how these developments are laid out the suspicion arises that the people in charge possibly don’t really know what their target tenant actually wants or needs. It is hard to get away from the impression that the designers do not actually know any of the busy young professionals they so covet.
IKEA had the same idea, and so commissioned One Shared House 2030, a cross between a fun game and a study into what co-living might look for in the future. Whilst it was in no way a scientific process, getting the opinions of more than 50,000 people will always generate some strong impressions. Many of the results were rather surprising.
The most interesting division between the people designing this housing and the people who are likely to end up living in them concerns the ownership model. A large majority of respondents were most enthusiastic about a co-living space which was owned and operated equally by all living in it, as opposed to a glorified rental model where they had no agency at all. This obviously jars slightly with the developers who seem to view these spaces as less of a community idea and more of a way to get as much rent per square foot as possible. This raises interesting possibilities for crowdfunded co-living accommodation in the future which cut out the private developer entirely.
Another area in which the needs of people differ from what is actually provided concerns furnishing. It is apparent from the One Shared House 2030 results that most people are happy to have communal areas decorated for them, but that they are strongly opposed to having someone else decorating their private space on their behalf. This makes sense; people need their independence, and this need would surely be magnified in an environment where residents are sharing bathrooms and kitchens with lots of other people. Developers should take note of this one as it could make the difference between having a fully tenanted building or not.
Further on this theme, people were extremely keen to point out that a key to happiness is having a say on who they live with, especially if existing house mates move out and need replacing. Again, this makes sense, and it would be interesting to see a co-living space where the developer found a way to involve the tenants in this process. Edging more towards the idea of creating a community rather than a rent factory would pay dividends for the sensible developer.
Finally, we come to the most significant point of divergence between the dreams of developers and the wishes of those who will actually live in these spaces: the number of people who should live in one co-living unit. The accommodations we are currently seeing are designed to house hundreds of people at once. This is logical as it means you can fit more people into a smaller footprint and you can design the communal facilities such as kitchens to serve as many people as possible.
However, it turns out that people don’t want to share facilities and their lives with hundreds of people at once. The preferred accommodation type for a huge majority was groups of somewhere between four and 10 – a big disconnect from the hundreds of people developers imagine want to live together. People naturally want to be social, but living in what is essentially a big hotel is not the way to achieve this for many.
It is this disconnect between developers and renters which is the most interesting point. If developers continue building giant developments which almost everyone doesn’t want then they should perhaps not be confused when they end up half empty.