Housing specific for certain categories of workers isn’t a new thing. Once upon a time we all worked from home if we weren’t out in the fields and it was in the best interests of landowners to provide housing for the people who worked those fields. This was known as the feudal system and peasants farmed the land and paid taxes and received food, shelter and protection in return. The system had its faults, but it wasn’t so bad. In fact it wasn’t that much different from what we have now, except the food, shelter and protection aren’t part of the deal anymore.
More sophisticated in scope and utopian in vision was the phalanstère – a communal house for workers engaged in some kind of virtuous work to sustain the community within. The idea was put forward by Charles Fourier in the early 19th century. A phalanstère contained dining rooms, libraries, ballrooms, carpentry and metalworking workshops as well as its own hotel for visitors. They were meant to be sited in the countryside and we assume they were meant to be self sufficient. It seems to be all about the building which appears rather palatial. Due to lack of financial interest, the idea never took off.
I confess to only having just learned of phalanstères in the collection of writings that is The Countryside: A Report. It’s no page turner.
Back in reality, the Industrial Revolution made the link between workforce and housing more crucial as it was in everybody’s [?] best interests for miners and factory workers to live near the mines and factories where they had to work. These next images are back-to-back houses in Nottingham circa 1844. Back-to-back houses are thought of as unhealthy because they have windows on only one side but then so do many contemporary apartments. Washrooms however, are shared, as is the group of toilets called a “privy”. It’s grim, but still employer-supplied. We excuse the poor standard of the accommodation because it was a long time ago but forget that what industry there was, was the high-tech, cutting-edge, disruptive industry of its time.
Industry wasn’t going away. Workers still needed to be housed and the next advance in employee housing isn’t some new typology but about making it available and affordable. In 1893 George Cadbury relocated his chocolate factory to a location he named Bourneville and built a village of decent quality homes at prices industrial workers could afford and, to his credit, not exclusively for Cadbury workers. Most of the original buildings were in the Arts & Crafts style and, by 1900, the estate included 313 cottages and houses set on 330 acres (1.3 km2) of land. Quantitatively, it’s not much but, qualitatively, it’s world’s apart from anything else at the time. Or even now. Parks and recreation areas were incorporated and, in the early 1920s, sporting facilities such as a football field, hockey fields and a running track were added. In 1924 came Rowheath Pavilion to serve as clubhouse and changing rooms for the facilities as well as serve the bowling greens, fishing lake and outdoor swimming pool. All this was all provided at no charge to Cadbury’s employees.
The village of Bourneville remains a high point in the employer provision of housing. Cadbury also introduced pension schemes and full medical coverage for his workers. The remainder of the 19th century had improved housing for the workers required to operate more sophisticated machinery but the next great leap in worker housing was the Soviet communal house. These buildings not only housed the required workers but also gave architectural representation to a social and political unity of purpose. This was not appreciated by those in charge.
The industrial city of Ivrea is located in the Piedmont region of Italy and was developed as the testing ground for Olivetti, manufacturer of typewriters, mechanical calculators and office computers. It comprises a large factory and buildings designed to serve the administration and social services, as well as residential units. Designed by leading Italian urban planners and architects, mostly between the 1930s and the 1960s, this architectural ensemble reflects the ideas of the Community Movement (Movimento Comunità). It was a model social project that articulated a modern vision of the relationship between industrial production and architecture. This is unimaginable today.
Founded in 1908 by Camillo Olivetti, the Industrial City of Ivrea is a 20th century industrial and socio-cultural project. The Olivetti Company manufactured typewriters, mechanical calculators and desktop computers. Ivrea represents a model of the modern industrial city and a response to the challenges posed by rapid industrial change. It is therefore a response and contribution to 20th century theories of urbanism and industrialisation. Ivrea’s urban form and buildings were designed by some of the best-known Italian architects and town-planners of the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, under the direction of Adriano Olivetti. The city is comprised of buildings for manufacturing, administration, social services and residential uses, reflecting the ideas of the Movimento Comunità (Community Movement) which was founded in Ivrea in 1947 based on Adriano Olivetti’s 1945 book l’Ordine politico delle Comunità (The Political Order of Communities). [c.f. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1538/]
Overlapping Ivrea in the 20th century is the Japanese system of Shataku – housing maintained or at least made available by Japanese companies at reduced rents to new employees. Depending upon company policy, this can be for the first three to five years or longer. The system was devised after World War II as a way to attract new employees and provide a minimum standard of living. In 2003, there were nearly 1.5 million shataku units in Japan. Shataku apartments may be predominantly studio or 1-bed apartments in purpose-built or leased blocks conveniently located for the place of employment but, as a system, it’s a type of tenancy rather than an architectural typology.
The Shataku system still exists as it’s basic role of making it easier to recruit workers still holds, and it also makes it easier to transfer employees around the country. In 2003, there were approximately 1.3 million Shataku dwellings in Japan.
And that’s about it for employee housing in the 20th and 21st centuries. Certain employers may provide housing for their employees but mostly, this is because being readily on call is part of the job such as with the armed forces housing their personnel in specialized accommodation called barracks. In Dubai, entire apartment towers are leased by Emirates Airlines for their locally-based cabin crew. This time last year, the airline had about 22,000 cabin crew worldwide housed in a non-Japanese version of shataku. Again, this system is a matter of tenancy and not of architecture.
Universities have their company housing equivalents, with leased off-campus accommodation supplementing that provided on-campus. University provision of on-campus accommodation may be traditional but it’s expensive to build and can’t respond quickly to demand.
The private rental market is typically used to absorb fluctuations of supply and demand but the problem is that the large workforces of certain employers can distort local housing markets, as has happened in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Facebook and Google have recently proposed employee housing as largely self-contained towns near their headquarters. It’s said these towns will include grocery stores, shops, cafes, movie theaters, gyms, and hundreds of apartments. This takes us back full circle to mining towns and their economies of proximity, and to Mr. Cadbury and his sprinkling of amenities.
Why am I reminded of this?
It remains to be seen if these residential communities will ever be realized. In May this year, Twitter announced it would give all employees the option of working from home permanently,The workplace has moved into living space that is personally owned or rented while Apple and Google both announced employees would have the option of working from home until June 30, 2020. Self-employed persons could always claim part of the cost of their accommodation and utilities back as a deduction but, now that the workplace has moved into living space that is individually owned or rented, we are yet to learn what the tax and health insurance implications of not being self-employed yet working from home will be. Nobody is in a hurry to propose modern phalanstère in which people live in an employer provided building in which they work. The economics of building phalanstères probably still refuse to stack up.
Instead, we have proposals to take office space in newly deserted city centres and convert it into housing. This will satisfy property managers who abhor a vacuum whether it’s in office space or those bars and restaurants usually empty on weekends. In terms of corporate productivity, it would also mean that people will effectively be doing the same work in the same spaces to which they formerly commuted. We live in a post-ironic world. Having employees pay for their own workspace may turn out to be less expensive and more desirable for employees but nowhere near as much as it will be for employers.
more on Ivrea
8th December 2020 update: René in Switzerland kindly emailed to say this post made her think of “Batapark“ in Möhlin nearby. The founder of Bata shows, Mr. Tomáš Baťa created worker villages and schools around his factories. There’s Batadorp in the Netherlands, Baťovany (present-day Partizánske) and Svit in Slovakia, Baťov (now Bahňák, part of Otrokovice) in the Czech Republic, Borovo-Bata (now Borovo Naselje, part of Vukovar in Croatia then in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia), Bata Park in Möhlin, Switzerland, Bataville in Lorraine, France, Batawa (Ontario) in Canada, Batatuba (São Paulo), Batayporã and Bataguassu (Mato Grosso do Sul) in Brazil. East Tilbury in Essex, England, Batapur in Pakistan and Batanagar and Bataganj in India. There was also a factory in Belcamp, Maryland, USA, northeast of Baltimore on U.S. Route 40 in Harford County. [W]
I remember Bata schoolshoes. I once had a pair of Bata Scouts, with animal tracks on the sole and a compass in a secret compartment in the heel.