Co-living is dwelling units having reduced area and some form of living space as shared amenity. The term is entering popular usage to collectively describe various forms of co-living tenure. The very one we have most need for is not one of them. This is odd. Let’s start by taking a look at what co-living isn’t.
The 6,391 sq.ft triplex penthouse at first seems a bit pricey at $50 mil. ($7,823/sq.ft) but the 8,255 sq.ft penthouse at 432 Park Avenue sold for $95 mil. ($11,500/sq.ft) and the 6,760 sq.ft duplex penthouse at 100 East 53rd Street is on sale for $65 mil. ($9,615/sq.ft). So that 6,391 sq.ft might represent good value to someone if the plans are half decent and the location acceptable.
It’s even not that large as far as these things go but still, it has an area equivalent to about twenty 300 sq.ft studio apartments. It’s never going to be co-living despite having some form of living space as shared amenity.
Right now, just when we’re struggling to get our heads around some new typology for market housing that includes some form of living space as shared amenity, it’s unhelpful to suggest shared amenities that can be booked for private use, as if not sharing is the new sharing.
I’ve described elsewhere how New York by Gehry offers many shared compensations for the relative lack of living space inside the apartments.
On offer are amenities such as a gym now expected as a matter of course but provided on subscription. Non-standard amenities such as the library and the grill terrace can be booked for private use. Two examples don’t make a trend, but it’s still sufficient to say no matter how reduced the apartment area, it’s not co-living if the shareable living spaces are (1) inessential and (2) not always available. For one, it’s annoying.
Both these examples are for market housing and upmarket housing at that. This next building began life explicitly as co-housing. To his credit, the developer seemed to take pains to get many things right.
Here’s a plan. Here for images.
Beds aren’t shown but you can work out where they go. Once again, the space beside the bed is brought into triple service as kitchen activity space and corridor to bathroom and entrance. The table/window seat is an innovation offering another place in which to be. Corridors, elevator lobby and stairwells have windows.
This building ought to be what co-housing is but no. It was intended as affordable housing adding stock to the market but became 100% student housing.
Not that students don’t need to be housed – it’s just that the switch from market housing to student housing appears to be a strategic response to a policy environment.*
What we do now is imagine the place humming with music students and the net effect is no change in perceptions of how people who aren’t students could or should live.
One more thing. The website of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music states ‘all first-year and second-year undergraduate students are required to reside at The Panoramic.’ Our definition of co-living should have included the freedom to choose it . This is necessary if co-living in dwelling units having reduced area and some form of living space as a shared amenity is to be distinguishable from from prisons.
It’s an important point and will become significant. Until it becomes their best ever idea, the government’s worst nightmare is for large numbers of people to want to live in co-housing at increased densities at permanent addresses on electoral registers. Although we need co-housing as market housing, what appears as increased popularity of co-housing is limited to the tenure outlands of zero-contract hotel accommodation for people with cash and credit but no local bank account or references. Student housing is a growth market and international students its target. Here’s student.com.
Former students, non-students and not-yet students are also well supplied with housing options at a price. Here’s TheCollective.
These residential hotels offer amenities and fully-serviced rooms renting circa £300/week. Property developers aren’t stupid. They develop property in response to demand from anyone who wants it, whoever they are.
If these buildings operate within the existing legal framework for hotels rather than as apartment buildings or dwellings for multiple occupation, then this alone ought to suggest no perceptions are being challenged or changed. Co-housing is being limited to peripheral concerns such as hotels, hostels, student accommodation, hospitals, boarding schools or prisons. It needs to be about market housing for permanent occupancy.
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These next market apartments aren’t going to be changing any perceptions soon though. All they do is compress living space. The corridor has a shared washer and dryer.
The apartments are studios designed to market regulations yet, tellingly, ‘served by excellent transit and only blocks away from downtown Berkeley and UC Berkeley Campus.’ Upper floors have two extra apartments above the breezeway. It’s odd that such a tiny yet ruthless building has two stairwells and circulation approaching 25%.
This quote is from the developer’s website. I can imagine somebody claiming in some design statement that the front stairs ‘animate both facade and street’ – but only because the stair landing is pressed into service as communal balcony. We may be witnessing the rebirth of communal circulation as co-living amenity space. Forget about coffee shops.
This next example is more explicit. The elevator lobby in this plan is definitely circulation space used as co-living living space.
The previous post mentioned Moisei Ginzburg’s Type E as a prototype for corridor as co-living room. It was never built.
Ginzburg’s plans for the Type F (as realised in Oblosoviet, RZSKT and Narkomfin buildings) originally included seating areas in niches along corridors so people could linger and discuss dialectical materialism with people they met on the way to or from the gym, canteen, laundry or library.
By the time they were built, dialectical materialism was no longer up for discussion and the shared spaces were repurposed into the apartments as private bathrooms.
Stephen Holl was to later take the notion of corridor as amenity and put amenities in it, even bringing Ginzburg’s term ‘social condenser’ back into use for about three seconds.
Tower typical floors have four apartments conventionally isolated around compact elevator lobbies.
Still, the development has elements of co-living for, if they wish, people can sit in one of the links to be alone, read a book, or look at stuff they can’t see from their own windows. The purple corner in the schematic above is the coffee shop and tea room.
There’s no reason why all this linking can’t be done closer to ground. If all the implied interactions actually take place then surely some additional cross linking can’t be a bad thing? Those links would then become a bit like streets. Hmm.
Maybe there’s a limit to the amount of co-living living space a building should reasonably be expected to provide? After all, if we’re going to walk through bridges spanning several buildings to get to a café then why not just go downstairs around a corner and up a real street for some company and a plate of food?
If we’re going to do that, then we’re not only back to the spatial arrangements of hotels but also to the way we live in them. It’s a way we happily embrace when on vacation in a foreign country.
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All contemporary co-living tenure variations seem to have quickly satisfied their own niche demands without affecting the housing market in any way. The situation is stable. Nothing will change until there is visible and vocal demand for co-living as a viable and desirable way to live in our own country. Co-living has yet to jump the tenure barrier.
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Even if the yet-unsurfaced political hurdles are overcome, there’s still the not-insignificant matter of social resistance to small dwellings and/or the people who live in them. Old habits die hard.
Basically, we’re still tying ourselves up in knots over how large a person’s house is.
- We don’t believe the person who lives in that 6,391 sq.ft triplex apartment will be twenty times better a person than someone living in 300 sq.ft,
- And we’d be horrified should anyone think for a second we equated living in half a house in Chile to lives half-lived,
- Yet, at the same time and with no awareness of contradiction, we believe a house precisely double that size enables the occupants to realize their ‘full’ potential as human beings, unstunted.
We can’t have it both ways. We either have to come out and declare that size of dwelling is an infallible indicator of human worth after all, or confirm it’s irrelevant and accept that people choosing to live in no more space than necessary can still lead lives with a possibility of happiness and fulfilment no larger or smaller than anyone else’s.