My Thoughts on Co-Living and Architecture
Moving onto the last project of my 30x30 challenge, I’ve decided to focus on designing a residential complex based on the current trend of co-living in hyper dense cities such as San Francisco, London, New York City, and so on. During my life so far, I’ve been fortunate to have experienced several forms of co-living, which we will get to later in this post, but I’ve never stayed at any of the latest facilities such as WeLive, Commons, and others. To start project 30x30, here are my thoughts on co-living and architecture.
Where did co-living begin?
Let’s take this back to the earliest times of humankind. Based on remains that have been discovered in some of humanity’s earliest settlements, it’s likely that we are a species that survived and evolved by living in communities with one another. During these earlier times of human settlements, people generally traveled in groups and worked together to stay alive. As they sought food, water, and shelter, these communities would work together to ensure there were enough resources for each person.
Overtime, people began living longer lives, procreating, and growing these nomadic settlements to a point where separate shelters were needed to protect the increasing population. It’s my belief that the shelters were divided by families where a man, woman, and their children would live together under one roof. I also believe that single individuals were rarely provided a shelter to live on their own and instead, lived with other individuals in the same position. With time, these individuals would find spouses to procreate and eventually move to their own shelter like the other families.
As humans became better at hunting and gathering, the population and knowledge of these settlements grew. From weapons and tools to medical supplies and building materials, these settlements began exploring new ways of creating shelter and preserving resources. Eventually they became villages, towns, cities, and so on.
Types of co-living architecture
After the industrial revolution where cities and forms of transportations were developed to a point where people were able to travel across countries and the world, the need for places for travelers to stay for extended periods of time grew. Although there were places where someone could rent a private room with a bathroom to themselves such as hotels and motels, there were also businesses offering shared spaces where customers paid less money and lived among others.
One of the most popular places for budget minded travelers to lodge were hostels where customers often shared a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining, and all other amenities with others. To some people, the thought of living in this way could cause anxiety and fears of the unknowns. To others, this arrangement is exciting because it allows travelers to meet one another, form new friendships, and be part of a small temporary community.
If you’ve never heard of a hostel, these establishments are low-cost lodging with shared spaces and amenities. Everyone staying at a hostel typically share bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and other spaces or amenities with each other. This allows the hostel to charge each person less for their stay.
Having stayed at several hostels during my travels in Ireland (this was before services like Airbnb existed), I’ve had fantastic experiences living in hostels with my brother, colleagues, friends, and strangers. Living with one another for weeks at a time at one hostel before moving to another was a thrilling experience. We had a common bathrooms shared among all of us and simple service at the front counter where we could purchase toiletries for a very low cost. We also had a shared kitchen and large dining room where everyone in the hostel would come together some evenings for a group dinner. We would sit at different tables and chat with others staying at the hostel.
Eventually, we would develop relationships with everyone and set out to explore the city together. Being part of this temporary community led to wonderful experiences and the camaraderie that develops between everyone led to unforgettable memories.
One of the most well-known types of co-living architecture are student dormitories where young adults live together in shared rooms and attend a university. In all cases, various room arrangements are available where students can live along, with a roommate, two roommates, or three roommates. There’s generally a maximum number of occupants to a room and in most cases, that number is four. These rooms are typically double loaded on a single corridor to maintain efficiency and there are shared bathrooms and kitchens.
Due to the low amount of cooking that occurs in dorms, there aren’t always kitchens on every floor of the building. Instead, there are instances where two floors can share one open kitchen and dining room. As a temporary living facility, the dorms generally circulate students to new rooms every year until they’re done with the university or have chosen to live off campus.
Living within a dorm allows individuals to be part of a community where the school’s amenities are within walking distance. Getting to and from class is as simple as walking a few blocks or taking the university’s shuttle bus. As friendships begin to form, students tend to travel in small groups, attend festivities, travel, and eventually live together in the upcoming year(s).
During my time at a university, I had the opportunity to live with randomly assigned roommates in a double. I decided to live on campus in the dorms because I didn’t have a driver’s license and I was part of a program that paired students together within a specific dorm community. Personally, I loved being on campus and having access to all the resources at the university. I could stay in my architecture studio until the dark hours of the night and eventually make my way back to my dorm room to sleep.
By taking the elevator down to the common level, I had access to a gym, lounge with ping pong tables, a walking path along a pond on the campus, and small restaurants in a food court. Everything was available within a 10-minute walking distance. The shared spaces on my dorm room’s floor were barely used, but there was a common issue of the bathrooms being crowded and in use during peak hours.
Another enjoyable part of being in the dorms was finding my group of friends who were studying different fields. We were able to talk a little about the things we were working on and plan specific hours to meet up and eat together in the dining hall downstairs. I loved being able to go downstairs with this group of friends and plan activities to do together. The camaraderie was real.
During the later years of college or young adulthood, we eventually find ourselves apartment hunting for the first time in our lives. In many cases, if we have a friend who we see on a regular basis who is also looking for an apartment, we usually propose the idea of living together to split the rent and save some money. This is one of the most common ways of living in an apartment in the 21st century; especially in hyper dense cities like New York City, San Francisco, and London.
This arrangement can often be a larger group of 4 people who each have their own bedrooms within the apartment, but share all other spaces and tasks. There’s a true sense of friendship when you live with others that you know because you see how they live their lives on a daily basis. There’s almost always a time where roommates argue about things like replacing toilet paper, cleaning the house, cleaning the kitchen sink, taking out the trash, and so on.
As long as everyone living in the apartment is aware of the common tasks that are their responsibility and they take care of it, these arrangements can typically be a great setup. There’s always someone around to talk to about life, a shoulder to lean on during hard times, and so on. Living together in an apartment is akin to a slight upgrade from living in an ever changing dorm environment.
In densely populated cities, people often find roommates online and they end up living with a stranger who they hope will be average people with similar interests. This arrangement can often be successful if everyone living in the apartment get along and share tasks. However, the risk of living with someone who has opposite habits can often lead to a dreadful experience.
When I lived in an apartment with several roommates who were all studying Physical Therapy, I developed everlasting friendships with each person. We all put our shared items out in the open spaces for everyone to use and kept everything else, including our messy living habits if we had one, in our own bedrooms. We rarely locked our bedroom doors because we trusted one another.
Every week or so, we would plan activities to do together like going out for a hike, having a picnic somewhere on campus, barbequing at the apartment complex’s shared grill, and so on. If any of us were looking for something to do, we would ask everyone else at the apartment and find an activity within a few minutes. To this day, I’m so happy to have met these good friends of mine and I’ll keep in touch with them forever.
Shared Residence (21st Century term is Co-living spaces)
The latest trend in co-living are shared residences which mixes up the best components of student dorms and apartments. In these residences, there’s generally a bedroom that is rented by a single or couple followed by shared spaces that are cared for by the residence’s staff on a regular basis. This allows the tenants to avoid conflicts of responsibility for things like who’s turn it is to clean the bathroom, purchase the next batch of toilet paper, running out of cooking oil, and so on. The residence’s staff will clean and replace common items on a regular basis to keep everyone optimistic.
Through the use of an app, these co-living residences provide tenants with the opportunity to plan and attend events with each other, change their residence location to another one owned by the same company, and so on. These apps are constantly being developed to offer more opportunities to their tenants.
Although co-living residences are not new typologies, they are trending because of the evolution of technology that allows more efficient ways of managing and creating shared amenities and spaces. This semi-controlled way of living allows people to focus on meeting others, creating friendships, and save money that would otherwise be spent on an apartment that’s not utilized as much as a co-living residence.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a major city like San Francisco and New York City at a lower cost with all basic amenities provided? Just pack a suitcase full of your personal belongings and move right in. No need to search, purchase, and arrange large furniture. No need to clean your bathroom. No need to remember purchasing toilet paper, olive oil, and toiletries. Everything is provided and best of all, there’s almost always a shared entertainment room full of games, ping pong tables, pool, and so on!
Personally, I’ve never lived in a 21st century co-living residence because I live in a house that I own. However, the idea of not having to live alone in a crowded city and being able to make so many more friends with strangers is as enticing as the provided amenities. Creating a strong community is the key to the success of these co-living residences.
Senior Living Facilities
There are many more types of co-living facilities out there, but I thought I should end on the elder population living in senior living facilities. As the aging population continues to increase and humans continue living longer lives, senior living facilities are in demand. In general, these facilities generally provide apartments that seniors can rent or own and decorate with their personal belongings. There are shared spaces ranging from kitchens staffed with chefs and cooks to libraries, theaters, entertainment rooms, salons, spas, and so on.
Senior living facilities create an internal community where tenants are able to meet and mingle with one another, attend events and programs setup by the facility, and have easy access to other amenities. These communities focus on creating friendships with some assistance from the building’s staff who typically clean the apartments for the tenants, chefs who cook meals throughout the day, and event planners who can help tenants get to and from places that they need to be.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are also the horror stories from senior living facilities where the residents aren’t taken care of, theft from staff entering apartments for cleaning tasks, and general building maintenance. This is generally true in older, less established, facilities where finances are an issue for the managers of the building.
I’ve been fortunate in my time as an architect to work on the design of a high end senior living facility where I met and talked with a handful of tenants who purchased an apartment. When managed professionally and appropriately, these facilities can truly thrive and create a strong community where residents love to mingle with each other.
Where will the co-living trend lead next?
In 2019, the latest trend in co-living focuses on shared residences where companies are purchasing and renovating buildings throughout hyper dense cities into places with private bedrooms and shared amenities. As stated in the section on shared residences above, this emerging trend combines technology and professional services such as cleaning and replenishing shared supplies with the concepts behind dorms and apartments with multiple roommates.
These types of residences cater to singles and couples who are looking for the experience of making new friends, exploring cities, and having a nomadic lifestyle. It also attracts companies with employees who regularly travel to and from the same places. However, as individuals get older and begin a family, they typically outgrow these residences and move into standard apartments or purchase a residence of their own.
In the future, the model that these co-living facilities are developing will continue to evolve and they’ll provide different types of amenities to different kinds of residents. Some will offer apartments that include furnishings and professional services that they’re already providing in the current shared residences. The companies will need to figure out how to lower the costs of these amenities to a point where living in their residences cost less than market rate apartments.
Additionally, the future co-living companies will rethink the way different generations can live together along with the potential shared spaces and amenities that will bring these generations together. Imagine a co-living complex where seniors are paired with young families with children and college students. Each of these generations live within their own apartments with the exception of the college students who live in the 21st century’s co-living type of apartment with others.
Spaces in this building are designed to bring these generations together so the elders are able to interact with the young families, meet the children, and offer support to the working wives and husbands by caring for their children at the daycare located in the building. Families can focus on their work while the people that they trust and know on a personal level are caring for their children.
At the same time, programs and events are scheduled to bring together residents of the building to meet one another and create networks. Students are able to meet the elders who can offer insight on the potential fields and jobs that the students are looking to pursue. Students can develop friendships with the elders and socialize with those who may be living alone.
The future of intergenerational co-living complexes is an exciting concept that can solve some social issues faced by each generation. From elders living solitary lives to young families looking for caretakers so they can continue working and students trying to find affordable places to live as they study, intergenerational co-living allows each generation to provide support for one another. How do we design architecture that brings these generations together? What programs need to be in place to ensure that everyone meets on a regular basis to allow friendships to form? What services can be put in place to maintain a beautiful living environment and mitigate potential negative outcomes? These are some of the questions I’ll be brainstorming as I start working on project 30x30, intergenerational co-living complex.