Living Together, Europe, America, Asia, Australia – Andreea-Livia Ivanovici
In June we’re talking about the spoiled child of architecture. Especially in the last 3 years, both architecture magazines and
In June we’re talking about the spoiled child of architecture. Especially in the last 3 years, both architecture magazines and mainstream media publications, follow him in fiery articles; not to mention the studies and debates that are dedicated to him (1). The world is talking about him with hope in the context of the global affordable housing crisis. In the meantime, another crisis affects people of all ages, the solitude. One single solution, that finds an answer for both crises, seems to be ideal. In the international massmedia a continuous rumor grows him on a fluffy cloud as the dwelling ideal of the millennials generation. He is co-living. The birth of co-living is due to the Danish model of living together, as it was created in the 60s. The modern co-housing from Denmark is a habitation choice that started from the need to recreate de community feeling, in which families support each other, carrying several domestic activities together, in common spaces. In the same time each dwelling unit maintains its own intimacy. At the end of the 90s the co-housing model got into the British culture.
It happened in the peak of a pop culture explosion, on both sides of the ocean, with the mega-hits of Spice Girls (Wannabe) or Backstreet Boys (Everybody, Larger Than Life) in the background. On the other hand, the gig economy is developing, meaning that a growing number of freelancers, entrepreneurs and remote workers are doing their jobs from anywhere and anytime. They don’t need a steady workplace. They search for the company of the people doing the same thing and for the independence that co-working spaces offer. Last but not least, the income stream that this working style is bringing is often volatile. 5 years back, a report from the USA on future trends in architecture announces the birth of co-living as being a strong trend in the future of dwelling. In 2016, on both sides of the ocean, two big players from the real estate market were opening the first 2 co-living spaces on a big scale – The Collective in London and WeLive in New York. Here, the individual habitat is reduced to a room with a bed, possibly with a desk and a private bathroom. All other living spaces are shared with the others: kitchen, dining room, living room, laundry room with games facilities, bar etc. There is a high chance of an adjacent co-working space. In Asia the co-living trend developed in parallel. At the beginning of 2018, in China there were already 39 co-living spaces, in comparison with the 60 ones in USA.
The development of co-living follows both local networks and global ones, often reconfiguring existent houses to be rented in the co-living system. This forms the great majority of the projects found in a first search on Google with the keyword «co-living». Curious to explore, beyond the red velvet marketing curtain, we will discover other kinds of projects as well. Projects of co-housing or co-living (2) in which the architectural vision mirrors elements from the local dwelling culture and/or expresses the specific identity of a social group that will inhabit them (sometimes with an accent on family, sometimes on inclusivity and in other cases on ancient traditions). There are 3 perspectives that the projects selection follows: the rapid evolution from co-housing to co-living, resolving social integration problems through shared living models (old people, single mothers, homeless people, communities with still strong traditions etc.) and local understandings of shared living (from Europe to North America, Asia and Australia). As we saw, the co-housing model is spreading to the global level starting from Denmark.
The first co-housing project in London is then finished in 2014. It’s a bottom up kind of development. The architecture brief is created by the architects in strong collaboration with the future inhabitants. Also in London we follow two co-living examples at a different scale: on the one hand an entire real estate development of 16.000 square meters of co-living and on the other hand a 100 square meters house, completely reconfigured in order to be rented in a co-living system. Both are built in the last 3 years. In Asia, in Bangkok, we reach a luxury housing complex, rented like serviced apartments. Here, the story says that there are no designed common functions in the entire complex (kitchen type, bar, lounge) because in Bangkok the neighborhood offers everything you wish for in the neighborhood, close by. In another social-cultural paradigm, the street remains (still) an important part in maintaining social interactions. On the other side of the globe, in New York, the well-known co-working network WeWork, already opened their first 2 spaces from a new network, WeLive. Occupying different floors, the «living neighborhoods» are placed in the same buildings with the «working neighborhoods». A lifestyle promoted as everything coming in handy, in only one place – workspace, home, community, exactly how millennials want it. But more often that one their answer was: «no, thank you» (3). Even though it sounds strange when I say it I am part of to the millennials generation. In Romania we call it «the generation with the necklace key», with hide and seek games, castle game and many others played together with other kids, in the neighborhoods, in the shadowy garden of the block or wherever there was a free spot, but in the street’s fresh air, running and exploring new places. Retaining the same explorer curiosity I look towards these spaces, where life’s different activities happen in the same building. I see it as a game from which I disconnect in order to return home. But, I wonder, is it a game that will remain a dystopia forever: to live in the same building that we work in, get to the supermarket room and the go up one some floor to the kitchen, eat, get out just to enter another room to work-out a bit, then go out again just to enter a room to relax with a glass of whisky, chatting with a neighbor before going to sleep; is the bartended living here as well? Are we going to co-live in the abandoned malls? Someone already thought about this (4). We can look towards a co-living space as a space of passage, which in the same way we connect a laptop to the interned, gets up plugged in a physical network of real people, who can keep us company for a while. This is how we can easily pass from co-working and co-living in New York to co-living and co-working in Bali.
After a speedy passing from intentional community to experiment, we regain our breath in the two following categories, where we try a more settled in approach. Firstly, we look at what it means living together for some of the disadvantaged communities. We provoke ourselves to look at shared dwelling in the same way homeless people would see it. And in the end we travel from Spain to Holland, in search for those types of community living, in which we can feel the integrated, maybe reinterpreted, peculiarities of their own specific cultures and communities. In the end I observe that in majority the projects that give me the feeling of home are a result of a strong collaboration between architects and a community which together created an original inhabitation model, following the needs of that specific community. It’s much more than a beautiful space, cool and coming in handy. There are shared living spaces in which I can imagine happening more that chatty evenings in the living room. In which architecture and architects set free the complexity of the human interaction, messy, complicated, and as imperfect as it is actually is, reaching beyond new technologies or the marketing stories.
1. More about studies and articles on pg. 98-99.
2. Wikipedia defines both of them as being a part from the same typology of intentional communities.
3. Search on Google «Don’t worry, we millennials don’t need living rooms anyway», The Guardian, 1 mai 2018
4. Search on Google «Vivahouse modular home system turns empty commercial buildings into co-living spaces»