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Co-living

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.

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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.

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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.

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The building’s facade is constructed with patinated metal. “We wanted to give it a sense of presence,” Patrick Schumacher, Hadid’s colleague for over 25 years, explained at the building’s launch event, “The use of bronze alludes to some kind of Art Deco experience in New York. And because of the metal of the High Line, there was this sense to contextualize the building into the mythical essence of New York.”

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The saline pool intruiges me. “Why?” I can’t help wondering. Is it to contextualize the pool into the mythical essence of The Hudson? Is it to flaunt Na+Cl as 100% ozone/UV filtration? Is it gentler on highlights? Is it a buoyancy boost to make floating less stressful?

I’ve described elsewhere how New York by Gehry offers many shared compensations for the relative lack of living space inside the apartments.

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From March 2016 you can rent the Fun!tionalism apartment – provided you satisfy certain screening criteria.

New York by Gehry

One of them* is ‘Written verification of income in an amount equal to 45.0 times the monthly rent per household will be required, along with any necessary supporting documents’. That decimal point shows they mean it.

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.

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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.

Residential Floor Plan

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.

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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.*

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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.

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Former students, non-students and not-yet students are also well supplied with housing options at a price. Here’s TheCollective.

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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.

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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.

 • • •

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.

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Those showers are going to take some getting used to.

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%.

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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.

Residential Floor Plan

The previous post mentioned Moisei Ginzburg’s Type E as a prototype for corridor as co-living room. It was never built.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

• • •

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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British housing estates used to be built with community centres that could be booked for significant birthdays and anniversaries, funeral wakes, weddings and other receptions for which a living room was either inappropriate or insufficient. The difference between such a community centre and a privately bookable IMAX cinema, is that the community centre never loses its identity as a shared amenity.

• • •

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.

• • •

See also:
19/02/2016 a recent co-living development in New York

 

3 thoughts on “Co-living

  1. David

    I think there is an underlying problem with micro-flats and co-living. As I understand these mostly comes about as a solution for high real estate prices. I have a feeling that if implemented widely it might actually worsen the problem, rising housing price levels rather than lowering them. Let me explain.

    When creating pedestrian zones in cities an effect called ‘traffic evaporation’ has been observed, ie. when street space is allocated from cars to pedestrians, the congestion actually eases up (and vice-versa adding more road-space for cars creates more traffic). Apparently, initially the traffic becomes worse, but then people switch from private cars to public transport or start walking/biking etc. and it kind of balances out again. (Where I live, they are trying to pedestrianize the main street through the city Jan Gehl style)

    I think something like this might also happen on the real estate market. In central locations construction is just a fraction of the final price. It’s mostly just price of the land to build on. But land prices are totally constructed socially. When developers cannot build anything on it, it has almost no value at all. When they can build more units on it, the price goes up (2 story building between the high-rises in NYC anyone?). Micro-flats and co-living do exactly that, putting more units on the same piece of land. When this becomes commonplace, I’d imagine the prices would just balance out at a bit higher level.

    Of course, density is ecological and pleasant in all kinds of ways, but I doubt much density can be added by making people live in co-living vs regular apartments; compared to suburban densities both of them are really dense. It certainly much harder for the government to regulate apartment sizes (unlike roadspace allocation), but I doubt encouraging micro-flats with policy would be a good idea.

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      I once lived in a ex-council tower block in a formerly poor area that became an upmarket area. The density was there but it was gentrification brought on by location being ‘discovered’ that really pushed up the prices. Then a new level of densification began. The idea of stacking houses on top of each other again and again to create a tower block of course represented a huge difference of density. Obviously I’m writing from a UK perspective and in the post alluded to the government’s right-to-buy scheme by which occupants of social housing could become home owners more statistically likely to vote for them. Co-living and sharing some living rooms here and there probably can’t provide a density jump that would attract a similar reaction. There’s not that much to be gained. All the same, Stalin wasn’t keen on architects messing with family living arrangements (‘byt’) by making proposals where large numbers of people might share not only amenities but thoughts.

      I still have a fondness for my Dual/Quad apartment idea as a plan arrangement that might better accommodate unrelated people who don’t want anything more from a living space other than a place to chat about their day before starting the next one. If that were a tower, the corridors would have to look something like those of Unité d’Habitations but with fire escapes at each end. A point arrangement poses problems for dual/quad access but it might still be possible to pair doors at elevator lobby corners to get eight of them off a landing, leading to two/four bedrooms sharing a corner living room. Could be nice.

      Reply

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