Home may be where the heart is – but are our notions of home in step with the 21st century?
While some may have spent lockdowns yearning for a bit of personal space, others found themselves with too much of it. In the aftermath of the pandemic it seems we’re facing a loneliness epidemic, with the British Red Cross reporting around 9 million lonely people in the UK. Meanwhile the trend towards single-person households continues to grow, and around a quarter of families with dependent children in the UK are now single-parent.
The Davidson Prize’s 2022 brief asks whether co-living could be a transformative key to the way we think about our homes – as well as our communities – and how they’re designed. From apartment blocks to one-off houses, it’s a question perhaps particularly apposite in light of the UK’s well-documented undersupply of homes, leading to today’s generation rent as well as burgeoning visible and invisible homelessness.
Co-living is not a new concept. It already exists in many forms including student accommodation, retirement communities, and multi-generational households. From co-operatives in Catford to self-build in Bristol, and from ‘agrihoods’ in Scotland to third-age collective living in Barnet, experimentation with models for living is nothing new. In 1916 Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant reorganised notions of home, sexuality and gender roles at Charleston Farmhouse. In the 1970s, artist collectives such as Acmefound new ways of exchanging labour for a roof over your head. The cultures of Dutch ‘centraal wonen’ or Danish cohousing have as many similarities with Britain’s historic almshouses as they do with kibbutzim in Israel or Tipi Vally in Wales.
Faced with the implications of an ageing population, rising costs of care and the environmental price of energy and embodied carbon, our homes are also increasingly moonlighting as places where people earn a living. On top of that they’re sites of the invisible labour that keeps the supply chains of economies oiled (in the UK alone it’s thought that the value of unpaid work taking place in the homes of today is around £700 billion annually). Are our homes up to the job?
The demands being placed on the spaces we live in are perhaps more complex than ever before. There has probably never been a better opportunity for design that rethinks our models of home while transforming lives and safeguarding the environment. What’s your take?