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Co-Living Research | Co-Living History

Published on April 14, 2019 by Qasim Naqvi

Hayden, in 1979, explored seven Utopian communities to observe their use of space and document the built environment. Her findings identified the role of architecture not only as a means to organize physical space, but as way of representing a community attitude and collective identity (Hayden, 1979). At a similar time, Kanter identified physical design as an influential factor in the success and failure of the co-living model in practice (Kanter, 1972).

More recently, Fromm explored the architectural features and planning process of contemporary co-living developments in the USA. His findings showed the value of what he called “intermediate space” in creating active communities (Fromm, 2000). His work, like Kanter’s, found that design plays a vital role in the success, or failure, of a co-living space, and identified a need for further work to understand and map out the realities of resident experience and needs (Fromm, 2000). Markus performed complementary research in Europe that also found design features playing a role in broader contexts and identified the part flexibility in function plays in the success of the co-living model (Markus, 2000).

Together the work of Fromm and Markus empirically evidence the value of both the tangible and intangible attributes of artefacts in lived experiences. This reflects the Actor-Network-Theory, and shows the importance of considered design choices to complement the objectives of co-living. Based on the analysis of two co-living communities, Williams produced guidelines for “design factors that encourage social interaction”. These were “proximity to buffer zones, good quality and diverse communal space with ample opportunity for surveillance, and clear private units” (Williams, 2005).

This work was the first of its kind to begin to make recommendations for place-making, collective identity, and community generation, towards social sustainability. It worked only at an expert level, with almost no interaction with stakeholders. Though it makes recommendations towards what the physical architecture of co-living should offer, it misses a focus on the realities achieving this. This is preventing the application of these guidelines in contemporary co-living. The research of Herck and Meulder also worked to identify the factors that determine the success of co-living spaces. They also provided positive and negative examples based on their guidelines.

These guidelines appear to be actionable, but without designed, commercial artefacts specific to this application, they are difficult to meet. The work of Easterbrook and Vignoles directly explores the influence of the built environment on human psychology through multilevel latent growth modelling. They showed that increasing the frequency of coincidental meetings, in turn, increases interpersonal bonds and individual and collective well-being (Easterbrook & Vignoles, 2015). This provides evidence for the value of contemporary co-living, but does not show how coincidental meetings can be created in practice. “Is sharing the solution?”, follows up on a a contemporary co-living program to identify potential barriers to making shared accommodation work.

The challenges identified include changing perceptions of sharing, supporting and integrating new tenants, and understanding and facilitating their needs (Green & McCarthy, 2015). This is unique because, as opposed to presenting guidelines for design, as is common in other research, it presents barriers with the potential to be overcome and challenged by further work. The main methods used in the reviewed research are observation, interview, theoretical testing, and analysis of literature. Reflecting generally, this work fails to access the experiential knowledge of stakeholders, which is shown by a limited understanding of the spectrum of their needs. Further, the guidelines and presented theories are not practical or actionable within contemporary co-living developments, when considering the current market, demand, and situation. In response, this project will work only with actionable interventions to demonstrate and explore how value can be added to the co-living experience, with the methods of co-design and the Living Lab concept.

Also visit: Why Co-Living Wants To Raid The Real Estate Sector

Category: Coliving