This semester we had a project called ‘Housing Alternatives’ and were asked to choose from several individual themes regarding alternative ways of living. I chose ‘live-work’ as my theme, aiming to integrate both living and working into the same urban setting, focusing on a mixed-use environment. There are many benefits to the live-work dynamic including no commuting, as well as greater flexibility for the worker. The main challenge was to figure out how to create live-work spaces that are relevant to the users over time, and through change.
It’s fair to say that I somewhat idealised live-work, imagining loft-style living in Soho, NYC. I pictured floating mezzanines and four metre high ceilings, exposed brick work and massive partition-less spaces (don’t forget the $10,000,000 price tag). I realised that perhaps artists lofts aren’t for everybody, and discovered that they are actually, in some ways, rather impractical. The loft space may be an attractive way of living for an artist or two, but what about for a growing family for example?
So what are the main challenges associated with designing the ideal live-work model? The following nine points are from Beyond Live/Work: The Architecture of Home-Based Work by Francis Hollis (2015).
‘Housing that can adapt to the changing needs of the users’ (Schneider, T & Till, J., 2007: pp. 4). Flexibility is key to creating successful live-work models. Demographically, it allows the form of the building to be adjusted over time to suit new living/working patterns. Socially, it allows users to take full control of their space. It is important to note that every workhome will be different, thus there is no silver bullet or magic formula.
‘Determinate’ buildings are those designed around a fixed use. ‘Indeterminate’ buildings are designed around an indefinite or uncertain use (pp. 101). The first suggests a combination of distinct dwelling and workplace elements, and are usually legible from the street. The latter meanwhile, are neither home nor workplace. Indeterminate workhomes are designed to accommodate changing patterns of living and working.
Balancing the public from the private in the workhome is a challenge for most users. How can the user open up or close off spaces when clients are visiting? Design has to balance the two, perhaps by having separate access for the living and working components.
Many home-based workers in the US and UK are invisible in the sense that from the street their workplace looks like a dwelling, and there is no sign of business going on there. Perhaps this has something to do with strict regulation regarding the mixing of uses, or because they have modified what was solely a residential space into a hybrid of living and working. This can have a negative impact on home-based workers’ occupational identity (Holliss, F., 2015, pp. 108).
Balancing the requirements of living and working spaces is difficult regarding acoustics. Acoustics present a huge challenge for home-based workers. Maybe it is the sound of the washing machine when you’re on the phone, or the sound of children playing upstairs when you’re in a meeting.
Home-based occupations can be dirty and/or smelly. Think about how to balance the working requirements of a furniture-maker, carpenter, mechanic, caterer, artist and so on, with ordinary living patterns.
High levels of thermal insulation, well-designed ventilation and protection from solar gain are all critical when designed live-work spaces that are going to be comfortable and enjoyable for the users.
A garden of yard can create an ideal workspace for certain uses (mechanic, carpenter etc.) but also can provide an alternative workspace for those usually restricted to indoors when it is warm. Good workhome design will integrate the two so that when it is warm outside, internal spaces can be opened up and extended.
It is fair to say that ample storage is a must have when designing the workhome. Combining living and working into one space can be messy, and without clever storage solutions clutter can become overwhelming and spaces counterproductive.
I hope I’ve managed to briefly summarise the issues associated with the live-work dynamic. I think the these challenges need to be addressed if home-based working is to grow and flourish. How do architects and designers build workhomes that address the above? How do we balance the needs of different home-based workers with varying occupations? Are there any examples that we can learn from?
Find out in the follow-up to this blog post!
Holliss, F. (2015). Beyond live/work. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Schneider, T. & Till, J. Flexible Housing (2007)