My office, like many others, has transitioned over the past month and a half to a working from home environment for all of its staff. And while this provides some difficulties for IT, technology, connectivity and supplies, there are also a lot of benefits to us as individuals, as well as our wider communities. (See my previous post.) However, I’ve become acutely aware of how impactful my home space is on my working life. And if this new way of working becomes our ‘new normal’, then how might we consider the way home spaces can better facilitate this in the design of our housing stock? There are a few ways I think (hope) this might manifest in new design outcomes:
1. Understanding the impact of building fabric on comfort. The little office space in our rental is uninsulated and west-facing. Previously when I spent a few hours here on a weekend here and there, I didn’t really notice the space, it was just a functional backdrop to a desk. But now as I spend more and more time here, it is obviously not suited to working all day. In the mornings I have my ugg boots on and struggle with low light. In the afternoons it heats up like a furnace with blinding westerly sunshine. These issues could be rectified with more appropriate building materials. Hopefully this additional time at home will help think about the importance of thermally comfortable space through investing in more suitable design and construction.
2. Planning time to think about how you use space. I’m hopeful this time spent inside will give people an appreciation of how they use their spaces, and the limits their spaces put on their use. With more understanding of how you use space, you can make more informed decisions about what you want your spaces to do. I feel like often the building or renovation process is so rushed and based on so many aesthetic considerations, and the functions of space gets forgotten. Now we have the time to understand how we use space we can take the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully this will lead to consumers demanding better functioning spaces for their future homes.
3. Multifunctional Space. Now that our houses need to be our living space, our relaxing space, our learning space, our working space, our community space and our digital interaction space we need a better appreciation of how our space can work for us. Our current house designs have evolved to include large open everything-in-one-room spaces. But if our spaces need to include more functionalities in the future, is this the right model? Will we need to return to a style of mono-functional spaces for lots of separate activities? And what impact will this have on the size of houses? Hopefully not unnecessarily bigger, but just designed smarter.
4. Access to outdoor spaces. If we intend to spend more of our time at home, we will need respite from an indoor world. Small courtyard spaces, balconies, pocket parks and open air spaces will be needed to provide direct relief for at-home workers and learners. There are many studies showing the benefits of access to nature and greenery, and I believe this will become more critical as our lifestyles evolve.
5. Being part of a community. We all saw videos of people singing and performing from their balconies in Italy and Spain in the early days of this crisis. As we are stuck in this isolating and, for many people, solo, new environment, the desire to be part of a bigger picture will still endure. Our current predominantly suburban lifestyle separates people and puts them behind isolating and anonymous fences and front doors. Perhaps this crisis will help us to step outside our doors and interact with the people living around us. I hope we start to break down some more barriers and create stronger community bonds.
While this pandemic crisis has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, I believe in the future housing designers and architects will need to start designing more appropriately for an increasingly flexible workforce. There are some great opportunities for design which I hope inspires new practices for the way we live, work, and relax in our homes.