Dissecting key lessons from the think tank The Next Space, Frame magazine team explains the role of spatial design in building future-proof residential habitats that are resilient to change – responding dynamically to shifts in lifestyles, life stages and life transitions.
“If you look at our housing stock, it's largely undesirable, unattainable and unsustainable. There's a gap between people's aspirations and needs, and what's actually available with respect to inventory,” said Cara Eckholm, head of growth at direct-to-consumer housing start-up Nabr, backed by Bjarke Ingels Group. Her words recapitulate the “why” behind the recent Frame’s think tank “The Next Space”, examining how our existing and future habitats can become more adaptive to our shifting needs and changing circumstances. Ikea’s 2021 Life at Home report, which was presented by research leader Jenny Lee, revealed 1 in 3 people feel more at home in places other than where they live: “the very definition and concept of home in the 21st century has been homogenized to a one-size-fits-all format, making it a place that does not always fulfill our basic needs. The home is not just a functional need, but also an emotional one.” This broadening scope of the home puts architects and designers in the role of facilitators of co-creative processes that empower people and their communities – “with citizens leading the design of their own life transitions as they live, work and age,” explained Lekshmy Parameswaran and László Herczeg of The Care Lab, a global network of designers-turned-activists that seek to transform the world of care utilizing a human-centric approach.
I Fluid Habitats.
Establishing elastic abodes
Fluidity and adaptivity have become cornerstones of conversation in the spatial-design industry. But how do these concepts have the potential to improve residential design? Takk Architecture founder Mireia Luzárraga believes that adaptation and flexibility have to provide answers to the life-span set-up – namely, when we acquire architecture, we usually pay for our loans for 30 or even more years, but our living necessities can change profoundly in this timeline. “New normal” also accelerated the rise of the digital nomad, who’s seeking for a place to feel at home away from home. So how exactly should such adaptability manifest in our living environments? Think of integrating multifunctional, modular and (robotic) movable elements that give users the opportunity to alter their environments in alignment with their personal habits. For newbuilds this means incorporating flexibility into the design from the offset, preventing the need for large and unsustainable changes during a building’s (ideally increased) lifespan.
Now that the reality of the smart home is becoming tangible, how can tech make residences more responsive to their residents? Dr Jaime Gonzalo, Huawei’s vice president of consumer services in Europe, said “technology should enhance the sense of dynamic ubiquity by breaking hardware limitations that currently pre-define user scenarios. I see ergonomic interfaces that are much more advanced than simple button-pressing and a series of logical/automated input/output based on user habits and expectations.”
[Read also “Smart Home – The digital transformation of our homes”]
Foto: La Borda development in Barcelona. Photo Lacol.
Control can be put in the hands of inhabitants even before they actually occupy their living spaces. In Sweden, for example, Ikea has partnered up with the city of Helsingborg to create community solutions for a better life at home. Project H22 explores challenges associated with city living, from affordable homes to health and wellbeing, and the citizens of Helsingborg play a leading, co-creative role in the process. The built-to-order Nabr homes introduce another concept: future residents are invited to select and (virtually) customize their homes by choosing a layout, an interior design from curated design packages, and optional upgrades. Even the company’s ownership model is fluid. Moving into a Nabr residence is possible by putting a minimum of 1% down. Residents can then lock in their future purchase price and earn credit while renting until they’re ready to buy, or not.
II Climate-pliant planning.
Giving rise to responsible residences
The built environment generates nearly 50% of annual global CO2 emissions. As reported by Architecture 2030, “global building floor area is expected to double by 2060.”
Accommodating the largest wave of urban growth in human history - 2.4 trillion sqft (230 billion sqm) of new floor area in 40 years - will require energy efficient buildings that use no on-site fossil fuels and are 100% powered by on- and/or off-site renewable energy.” Beside new construction, it’s just as important to consider our existing built environment by wide-spreading its decarbonization across the globe. But how can spatial design help us realize a more self-sufficient, climate-adaptive and (ultimately) energy-positive housing stock? Takk Architecture’s Luzárraga said it’s time to abandon pre-defined spatial boundaries in favor of more climate-responsive layouts. As in the studio’s renovation project of a Madrid apartment, which aims to update domestic space by eliminating corridor-rich floorplans and opting for nestled space inside one another – “like the layers of an onion.” By the latter approach, it’s possible to align houses with thermal gradients: the closer to the core, the more insulated space is and the less extra energy it will require. Sustainable materials (among which bio- and waste-based materials) are essential in making spaces more inhabitable and futureproof and in shaping a more conscious future for residential design. But to get there, the accessibility by end-consumers to information and education is vital.
[Read also “Sustainable textiles: ancient and recycled materials”]
To go beyond simply balancing energy to reach net-zero, carbon-neutral levels, houses should ultimately become productive entities themselves, yielding more than the ‘fuel’ needed for their own build-up, operations and residents. The latter requires nutrition too. With 80% of the (growing) world population expected to live in urban centers, it will become crucial to enable food production on a more local level, reducing pollutive food transport while at it. To KM Zero Food Innovation Hub director Beatriz Jacoste “with climate change, we can't really rely on what weather we are going to have anymore. Solutions that enable us to produce our food in a controlled environment can help guarantee food production. Think of hydroponics and insect farming for example.” An idea by eco-innovator Joost Bakker is the self-sustaining, zero-waste, productive house, which is made from natural and recyclable materials and which provides its inhabitants with shelter, energy and nourishment.
[Read also “The EU Green Deal happens by way of design” and “Objectives for sustainable growth”]
III Social Systems. Building sharing
and caring communities
“We face a care emergency. Our systems of care were never designed to cope with the burden of socioeconomic and demographic changes that are striking society hard” said The Care Lab’s Parameswaran. “We are an increasingly gray and frail society who despite living longer – anyone born in or after 2007 has a 50% chance to live 100 years or more – is feeling lonelier, more dispersed and disconnected.” When systems of care started to fragment during the Pandemic, mutual aid and community groups started to flourish on a neighborhood scale and in proactive communities who can establish and nurture caring relationships. “Since we consider care along life's journey from birth to death, we see the adaptive home as dynamically responding to our key life transitions: growing up, leaving home, starting work, becoming a parent or caregiver, growing old and eventually reaching the end of life. The adaptive home should promote the building of caring relationships, enable community support and integration, and foster our interdependence without stripping personal choice and dignity”. Spatial design can support intergenerational bonding, and promote participatory design processes and community self-organization.
[Read also “Democratic and inclusive: cities come to grips with the future”]
Ikea’s Lee discussed the topic of inclusivity through both income and age. “Only two thirds (65 per cent) of people with lower income agreed that home met their needs compared to 83% with medium or high incomes. People aged between 16 and 24 were half as likely as those aged between 65 and 75 to strongly agree that their home is designed in the right way for how they want to live in it (25% and 49% respectively)”. Developed and jointly owned by Skanska and Ikea, the residential housing concept BoKlok sets out to provide sustainable home ownership for the many. To enable predictability, high quality and low costs, BoKlok homes are completed off-site in a safe and dry environment using modern methods of construction. Some of BoKlok developments give priority to ‘elderly’ and people with disabilities, prioritizing inclusivity and self-reliance, ensuring living environments more supportive of their residents.
[Read also “Spaces That Care”]
Download the full white paper of The Next Space by Frame Team