Category Archives: Modern Living

looking at where we are now and trying to work out what it means

Repeating Crevice Revisted

Repeating Crevice is the English title Kazuo Shinohara gave to a 1970 house that, in Japanese, is known as 同相の谷, dōsō no tani (“In-phase Valleys”). The drafting style of the plans below shows they came from one of the two early books that led me astray.

For many years I thought of Repeating Crevice the way it was presented – as an architectural exploration into domestic space as Art. If Shinohara was aware of having designed into it certain possibilities beyond that, he never let on. The approx. 12 m x 12 m footprint made me recall The Expansible Home and want to revisit Repeating Crevice and see if it has any lessons for us today. Before I do, you might need to work out what’s going on with these plans.

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This might help.

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So might these.

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This definitely will.

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  • The (green) entrance hallway is shared space.
  • The (lilac) larger apartment on the ground floor has living areas on the left and, on the right, a bedroom, bathroom and some unidentifiable space accessed via the (blue) downstairs space that is semi-private because it’s overlooked from the (red) upstairs semi-private space.
  • The smaller (pink) apartment is also split in two with its living and sleeping areas separated by the upstairs (red) semi-private space.
  • A window in the small lobby when entering the (pink) living areas is open to the double-height space of the (lilac) living room.
  • The six-mat Japanese-style room is a shared space accessed by the downstairs (blue) semi-private space or directly from the upstairs apartment.

• • •

Here’s what I mean about The Expansible Home.

The arrangement on the left is an apartment suited to, say, a small family. It’s no inconvenience to pass through the living room in order to access the kitchen. In both apartments, the occupants of each bedroom have equal access to dining, living and cooking areas. It’s not just about the spaces though. The arrangement on the right is more suited to a houseshare or co-housing because of the different ways the occupants move about it. The plan is not generated around the usual “promenade” from entry to living room. Occupants can enter and leave the apartment without having to pass through living areas.  They can also move around the apartment in response to the presence or absence of others in those areas.

There are limits to how far the hotel model can be applied to co-housing.
Architects, developers, and probably even the co-housed have come to believe a successful development involves a groovily-decorated shared space to which people will gravitate and do whatever it is they’re supposed to do there.

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It’s likely that such spaces have come to represent co-living while not doing very much to enhance it beyond representing the minimum expected level of amentity. The current architectural manifestation of co-living has quickly settled on articulating the binary states of together/alone and connecting them by a corridor that represents dead time as it’s time spent in neither of the only two states imaginable. This is the hotel model.

True, one could meet someone and have a conversation in those corridors and, convivial though it may be, it’d be something to pass that time. Certain 1920s Soviet communal houses had heated corridors and seating to encourage the use of shared circulation space as shared amenity space. Such an arrangement means that obligations to society (or at least to be social) exist the moment you leave your apartment. That future never happened, but co-living using the hotel model is now with us in a big way and people are expected to be either together or alone. The absence of a buffer zone separating the two states means neither can be anticipated. Co-housing along the lines of the hotel model could quickly become tedious, onerous.

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The hotel model is appropriate for short-term occupation by strangers with things to do elsewhere or for people joined in common purpose or mentality. The hotel model has never been tested for long-term co-housing as a substitute for housing types no longer accessible.

The socially useful and necessary idea of co-housing has already begun to be negatively regarded but the flaws being pointed out are not with the idea but with the model chosen to implement it. The only lesson of lasting value that streets-in-the-sky,  Pruitt Igoe, tower block council housing and Brutalism in general taught us is that any socially useful idea will be deemed a failure once the flawed models chosen to implement them have been exploited to the max. Co-housing is currently being set up to fail.

Sometimes just knowing someone else is at home is sufficient.

Repeating Crevice was designed to be occupied by two generations of the same family and, as such, is a form of co-housing. My hunch is that it contains ideas for how any group of people might live together with the advantages/comfort of doing so. It seems to allow for flexible degrees of awareness of being together or being alone.

Both apartments are split by semi-private spaces that are necessary circulation spaces.
The upper apartment is most likely the apartment for the parent/s but I only say that because a window from the bedroom overlooks the entrance hall. Because the upper apartment’s semi-private space (that is also well travelled) overlooks that of the lower, the person in the upper apartment is more likely to see (and thus derive comfort from) occasional activity in the space below. A person sitting in that chair in the header photograph would be aware of all people arriving and leaving the house. When all are at home, they would also know where in the house they were for there are no alternate routes, but that’s all they get to know. Some privacy lost means other privacy kept. Going from one part of a house to another is generally not a fully private activity but doesn’t have to be a fully social one either.

This runs counter to today’s thinking that holds any and all opportunity for interaction to be A Good Thing and the more of it the better. It’s bad enough that corporations find potential to monetize forced interaction in corporate environments but forcing people to be social in domestic ones could just be a new kind of hell no less inhumane than alienating them. Together/alone is another false binary. We’re encouraged to think of solitude as anti-social.

Repeating Crevice, the house, is a largely internal environment.
It has windows to the front and a some garden to one side but all the architectural action is internal. It doesn’t require an external view to give its internal spaces meaning. This is a useful trait for living spaces to have as buildings tend to not have 360° unobstructed views of something nice. If you refer back to the plans above, you’ll see the upstairs bedroom window is (exactly) 1m away from an upstairs window of its neighbour.

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Entry is shared and bathrooms and kitchens are stacked. Good. This all means that

What we have is a potential model for vertical co-housing that is not based on the hotel/hostel typology.  

Assumptions

  1. The semi-private spaces are also semi-public spaces in that somebody else’s visitors may appear.
  2. The house is lived in as a houseshare. The people know each other well and their interests are shared, they look out for each other, and trust each other. The front door is the only lockable one. If this weren’t the case, we would have a house in multiple occupation, or something pretending not to be a hotel/hostel.
  3. The two-storey maisonette has a fire-escape stair and a fire-fighting lobby so it can be within a multi-storey building.

    Firefighting_shaft• • •

Repeated Crevice, Revisited

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  • The fire-escape stair and the firefighting lobby means the dwelling can be vertically repeated as far as the structure and two elevators permit.
  • The maisonette can house up to eight people.
  • The elevator and fire stair are not accessible from the upper level. Instead, the spaces is used as a spare room for possible use as a guest room or office.
  • Upstairs and downstairs have different doors leading to/from the (fire-protected) elevator lobby.
  • Downstairs rooms can directly access the kitchen/dining room but upper rooms can directly access the living room.
  • Instead of Together/Alone there is now Together (green), Alone (lilac), Semi-alone (pink) areas and Semi-together (red).

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  • The kitchen/dining, laundry and guest toilet are shared by all occupants, as of course is the elevator lobby.
  • People are not forced to be social. Everyone can enter and leave without having to pass through the kitchen/dining or the living room as the elevator lobby leads to the hallway linking all these spaces, but also links separately to the upstairs hallway. A person whose room is on the ground floor could go directly to their room via the hallway, or bypass it by going to the living room via the upstairs hall. A person whose room is on the upper floor can access the kitchen/dining room without having to pass through the living room.
  • Staircases are used selectively, but not exclusively so. The upper-level people are more likely to use the stairs by the elevator to get to their room but are more likely to use the stairs from the living room to access the kitchen. The lower-level people do not need to use any stairs to access their rooms but are more likely to use the stairs by the kitchen to access the living room.
  • Internal windows enable persons in one part of the dwelling to have an awareness of what else is happening. It is important those openings be glazed. Windows in the semi-private (pink) corridors alert persons moving in either direction to potential social situations. Without leaving a semi-private zone, it is possible to know (at night) if the living room is occupied. No such awareness is possible for the alone zones.
  • From either side, the windows onto the two-storey hallway enable everyone to have an awareness of living with other people.

How they choose to act on that is up to them.

VIEW FROM TOP

 

The Expansible Home

Australia has a history of expandable houses, some of it intrinsic. These two plans from the McNess Housing Report of 1941 had all habitable rooms beneath the main roof and non-habitable one such as bathrooms, laundries and the ubiquitous verandah (often enclosed as a sleep-out) as extensions. The wc was still an outhouse halfway down the back yard.

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The document A Thematic History of Government Housing in Western Australia (p87) reports that “Early in 1947, Northam Council had been outraged to have the Workers’ Homes Board permit the construction of ‘half a house. A couple, pregnant with their first child, were granted a permit to build only the back half of their home, in order to get them out of their existing inadequate accommodation. Despite their indignation, the Council allowed the home to be built, as the situation was viewed as an emergency.” This filled a housing need that had hitherto gone unfilled and led to The Expansible Home that was featured in local newspapers.

“From 1948, ‘expansible’ homes were designed by the SHC, also referred to as ‘detached flats’. Ninety were planned under the Commonwealth- State Housing Scheme in the first year, including thirty to a standard plan by a local architectural firm. This design proposed an initial house of hall, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and external toilet/laundry, with later additions of living room, two further bedrooms, rear verandah and front terrace.

“Expansible homes were promoted as suitable for married couples who could then add rooms as they expanded their families. A 1949 design [below left] included entry hall, living, dining, kitchen and bathrooms, with cupboards and cabinets serving as partitions. Divan beds were planned for the living room. Provision was made for future bedroom additions and a future rear verandah, which would connect the external toilet and laundry with the house. Another 1949 plan [below right] began with bedroom, living room, bathroom and external toilet/laundry, with future kitchen, extra bedroom and rear verandah.” 

This second design had the advantage of presenting a completed street frontage as soon as the core part of the house was built.

The designs received considerable media attention and, although criticised, were recognised as an expedient measure in the housing crisis. These smaller-than-standard homes were designed to put a roof over the heads of as many families as possible, with promises to local authorities that they would be extended to ‘full size’ when the crisis period abated. 

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“A 1951 booklet of SHC standard plans included 30 designs, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Most also allowed for a rear sleep-out if required. The larger two-bedroom designs and most of the three- bedroom plans included separate dining and kitchen areas. The smallest homes were ‘expansible’ designs (Types WS302AR, WS304A andT1B). These were designed to be erected with a bare minimum of rooms, with provision made for additional rooms in future. Generally, additional rooms were projected as bedrooms, but the Type T1B residence was planned to have two bedrooms but no kitchen, with temporary sink and stove allowances in the living room. The largest floor plan in the booklet was a three- bedroom home of 1,142 sqft (106m2) and the smallest the Type T1B expansible, at 519 sqft (48m2) (647 sqft/60m2 with kitchen), but most were around 800-900 sqft (74-84m2). These measurements did not include porch, laundry, toilet, sleep-out or verandah, which generally added around 250-400 sqft (23- 37m2) to the overall size. Almost all the designs included a bathroom within the main house rather than in an enclosure on the back verandah, and some also included laundry and toilet within the main house.”

The need for expansible homes lessened towards the end of the 1950s and opportunity for expansion gradually atrophied to space for an additional room at the rear. Whereas a two-storey house was a rarity [in Perth at least] as late as 1970, the smaller plots a few decades on made adding a second storey the only option.

This had always been the case in countries such as Taiwan where the pressure was to go upwards not outwards, and not in the way of architect-homeowners who provide magazines with gushing yet lame insights such as “we couldn’t open up the house horizontally so we opened it up vertically”.

Overall, our houses no longer have the latent ability to be enlarged. Ad-hoc expansion is performed when and where it’s thought needed but this doesn’t necessarily correspond to any functional, structural or servicing logic. This is due to the pressures of construction economy as all walls might not need to be structural ones at some time in the future. any latent ability is a real redundancy until used. One of the conclusions from this next project for a (UAE) house that could be constructed in stages was that functional modules necessarily involve structural redundancy [as they do with shipping containers.] 

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Another problem was the lack of logic to the water supply and drainage systems. All homes require wet areas from the beginning and enlarging a home shouldn’t have to disturb these. This wasn’t a problem in traditional Yemeni houses as the absence of water supply meant room functions weren’t designed but assigned as and when necessary to whatever rooms were available. The allocation changed according to time of day as well as to short-term changes such as visitors and longer-term changes to family composition and size.

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This next proposal attempts to recreate these advantages in a vertically-expansible building that allows for different forms of tenure.

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LEFT: This first attempt could be called an Extended Family House. There is one main entrance but the interior can be divided into different semi-autonomous living zones. It assumes the occupants are related for, if the building were to have differing tenancies (such as sub-let or co-housing), it would be deemed a building of multiple occupancy and different fire escape and other regulations would apply.

MIDDLE: This is the same building divided for multiple occupancy. There’s hardly any difference. The insertion of partitions isolating the stairs is what’s happened to much of London’s terraced housing stock anyway. The provision of elevators and smoke lobbies is not mandatory.

RIGHT: As would any new-build block of apartments, the rightmost proposal requires an elevator and a smoke lobby to the fire stair and, because of that, is now not suited for use as a single family house or as co-housing by like-minded people. At best, it would be a collection of flat-shares.

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In the end, I didn’t succeed in deriving a single building type for different types of tenure and that was expansible vertically in a predetermined manner. Other potential emerges. Tiny though it is, this layout pleases me. It’s contained in approximately 32′ x 32′ (10m x 10m). If built as a freestanding structure, slit windows on adjacent sides provide daylighting variation but preserve view inscrutability. If built as a tube structure to the current maximum slenderness of 24:1 it could be around 70 storeys give or take.

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“Hey Graham! How about a spare elevator?”

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“We may as well make it worth our while! 40′ (12.3m) a side @24:1 gives approx. 100 apartments in 100 storeys with 2 private elevators.” 

I’m not aware of any need for a housing product such as this but some have a tendency to create their own.

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432 Park Avenue’s four elevators serve 104 apartments spread over 85 storeys with [as far as I can determine] at least two being private above the 35th floor.

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I’m just putting it out there.

Living the Dream

This is a utility vehicle, an RV – a recreational vehicle. Depending on how you look at it, it’s a vehicle with some accommodation added, or some accommodation that’s mobile. It can move from place to place and perhaps hook up to some infrastructure when it gets there. Here’s a quick guide to RV terminology, courtesy of Happy Camper.

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This next is a top-end motorized called an XP Camper.

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Utility vehicles aren’t architecture for they don’t – can’t – articulate the possession of property. It’s something to do with them having wheels. What utility vehicles can do however is have an excellent use of internal space. Interiors are tightly designed to accommodate specific functions. Life boils down to sitting, shitting, showering, cooking and sleeping. Some have separated bathrooms and some like one of the above right have pop-up roofs for improved aerodynamics.

Planning-wise, the trend seems to be towards less multipurposing. A table and chairs might morph into an extra bed-space but not the main bed. This is good. It makes going to bed special although, in all honesty, there’s little else the space above the cab could be used for. Sometimes things work out how they should.

In terms of accommodating basic life functions, you’re better off in an RV than a Nakagin capsule. You’ve also got more windows.

 

Several current trends seem to be converging on the R in RV coming to mean Residential rather than Recreational. These trends, in order of how much they’re in-our-faces, are …

The glamorization of tiny houses.

 The architectural assimilation of tiny houses.

The private monetization of tiny houses.

The corporate monetization of tiny houses.

Tiny house co-housing filling a real housing need

vs. the corporate monetization of co-housing.

Tiny houses meet the representation of a mobile lifestyle

vs. tiny mobile houses meeting a real housing need. 

Vehicles have no problem escaping the tyranny of property. That’s what they do. The downside is that it’s difficult to sustain a concept of architecture if there isn’t any property to articulate possession of. While it’s unlikely utility vehicles will ever be considered architecture, they can still be used to represent its traditional signifieds.

They can be functional and aesthetically austere like this one that’s widely misrepresented on the internet as being the sole home of origami artist Won Park.

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Or they can be post-modern utility vehicles laden with meaning even though nobody’s sure what it all means.  

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My guess is that the ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ aesthetic popular with tiny travel trailers is all about using a representation of a building to represent having the rights to enjoy land as if one were a landowner. It’s a desperate look for desperate times. Our new mobile lifestyle didn’t turn out how visionary visionaries of yore envisioned it. Two decades ago though, and not knowing why, I scanned this next image that nailed it. Rear porches seem important. If you just woke up and went outside and stood on the porch with the mist clearing and the early morning sunlight filtering through the trees, it’s quite possible you could suspend disbelief for a few seconds.

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This next image, also from decades gone, could be our future suburbia.

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The principle is already a reality in Los Angeles as both legal initiatives and as not.  It’s an issue, and designating car parks as temporary campsites seems to overcome it. Unsurprisingly, there’s considerable local resistance.

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There’s no such problem with these artists-in-residence who are doing much the same thing, except not for real. People can smile or smirk, and go by.

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Some people however, are already living the dream with neither compromise or affectation. Decades ago, the elderly were early adopters of co-living. Retirees are now early adopters of mobile living. There’s a few reasons.

Cost: A decent parked RV house costs about $30,000.

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Job Mobility: Retirees don’t have to worry about job mobility and, if they don’t want to live the full-on gypsy life, can drive from one RV camp to another according to season and whim. Living in Wisconsin or Cape Cod in summer, and Florida in winter is a popular choice.

Property tenure: Park model mobile homes are still classified as recreational vehicles which means they can be set up on leased sites in campgrounds and RV parks and used as weekend retreats or seasonal vacation dwellings. There’s already a legal framework for understanding this as a way of living. This is one of the properties run by Yukon Trails Camping.

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This type of vehicle parked on land in leased campgrounds is not without its disadvantages that include depreciation of the ‘vehicle’ itself, lack of actual mobility, lack of control over what happens to the land, and laws that favour landlords over tenants.

These risks are reduced by limited equity housing cooperative in which residents don’t directly own a piece of land that’s theirs alone but instead have a membership in the corporation that owns it. This makes them both lessees and owners entitled to a long-term lease and a vote in how the corporation is run. They have control over the rents and have a vested interest in community upkeep. Importantly, the risk of redevelopment by profit-driven landlords is reduced. Judging by how nicely the hillside has been mown, I’d say this below is a limited equity housing cooperative but I’d be wrong – it’s a field monetised as a tiny mobile house hotel farming campers.

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It’ll always happen, but the rules are gradually changing to bring part-time Recreational Vehicles into play as full-time Residential Vehicles. Social acceptance isn’t changing as fast but a sea-change isn’t required. We’re more than halfway there anyway. This last image is Quartzsite in Arizona, US. The town is a popular campsite for RV owners. Its permanent population of about 5,000 temporarily increases to about 1.5 million in January and February. Thanks to Daniel [of OfHouses] for letting me know about this. It’s very relevant.

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• • • 

just one RV site on Pinterest
silly stuff
more silly stuff
A 06 Sept. NYT article on ‘long-term parking’ at LAX  (Nice timing!)

Lobby Living

Before the Type F V3.0 apartment configuration proposal of Critical Spatiality came this iteration with the upper living room entered from the half-landing of a straight stair. It’s okay.

  • The upper and lower living rooms were unobstructed by stairs.
  • There was 100% stacking of staircases.
  • The biggest negative was the stairs separating the kitchen from the riser, complicating water supply and drainage. The two or three workarounds to this don’t have the elegance of, say, a Knud Peter Harboe service run or a Colin Lucas riser.
  • I also didn’t like the kitchen extractor hood just filtering air instead of extracting it.

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  • Bathrooms could be exhausted upwards to outside via the riser/mechanical space or directly vented to outside via the bedrooms and a duct concealed in boxing. Again, these are standard workarounds but not great.

On the plus side, the upper apartment has no wasted corridor area since bedrooms aren’t in line with the living areas. The first bedroom is above the entrances of the lower apartment anyway, and the second bedroom is above the entrance of the adjacent upper apartment. bedrooms.jpg

The lower apartment has no wasted corridor because the living area is used to access the other bedroom. This post is about using living space as a lobby to access bedrooms.

Lower Level

An arrangement similar to that of the upper apartment could avoid using the living room as a lobby – or it could be used to create a three bedroom apartment.

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  • However, whether upper or lower, this creates the problem of end apartments having either only one bedroom or having one bedroom double the size.

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  • Volume below stairs can of course be used as storage space but this seems an expedient justificiation, unlike in the previous version where the volume below and above the stairs at least added to the volume of the living room.
  • The value computation is the same as before.
Comparison

Note: The areas indicated as sellable floor area are used to calculate the sellable volume (%) of the building.

• • •

Not that it matters! Improved apartments of either iteration don’t get built. Single aspect apartments of minimal area accessed from double-loaded corridors do get built and, what’s more, are the model for much of today’s housing (c.f. The Big Brush).

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It’s easy to see why. If the site is deep enough for two apartments and a corridor then not only is building the baseline twice as profitable, it’s the only option if there’s insufficient site depth for two rows of improved apartments. Even if there is and profit equalizes (as below), other factors such as view, site usage, site coverage and speed of construction will kick in to again tip the balance in favour of the single building.

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No wonder the Type F, despite all its advantages, never caught on. The baseline has an overriding economic efficiency of land usage that more than compensates for its many spatial deficiencies.

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SO THEN, to stay ahead of the game, let’s take what we’ve just developed, strip away everything that can be perceived as wasteful (i.e. everything that’s nice) and see how far we can push it. 

  • In retrospect, having living rooms with extra volume to compensate for smaller bedrooms wasn’t an evolutionary advantage. Living rooms may as well have the same ceiling height as bedrooms and corridors. We still have two bedrooms per living room.

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  • We now have some extra building volume so let’s put some more bedrooms there, along with some bathrooms and second riser. We now have three bedrooms per living room.

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  • We could get rid of one of those living rooms and double-load the landings above and below. We now have eight bedrooms associated with one living room but we now have two entrance hallways accessing one living room – not good.

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  • We could of course put the kitchen there but that’d be a step backward. Let’s look ahead. Who needs a guest bathroom? Look how much building volume is being used to access those entrances! Let’s put two more bedrooms there so now we have ten bedrooms for each living room. We still need to access them so let’s join all the living rooms together into one long, social, access corridor entered from each end. There’s now ZERO SPACE not used/sold as living space. This has got to be a killer housing product! Spatially, it’s imperfect but, as we’ve seen, perfect things aren’t necessarily the things that get built. Hello future!

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We’re more desperate now than in 1928 when a configuration like this was first proposed by Moisei Ginzburg and his Stroikom team.

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  • Staircases were stacked.
  • Landings were minimal.
  • Rooms were hotel-style.
  • Living area was communal.
  • Living-area was used as corridor.
  • Living areas were on the side of the building with better daylighting and/or view.
  • One sixth of the building was used for living area / access. The image below shows different floor surfaces with part of the living area still functioning as access corridor. The open access corridor and the open stairs make the living area appear larger, as well as more social.

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It’s oddly familiar. We know this space – it’s an airport departure lobby with activity and rest spaces dispersed along a thoroughfare. IKEA made this living lobby easier for us to imagine with their 2012 branded departure lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 3.

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For that matter, here’s some IKEA stores. Imagine all the sofas and kitchens and tables evenly distributed and people actually living there using them.

If we add bedroom furniture into the mix we’ll have flatpacked Archizoom’s 1971 No-Stop City proposal.

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There’s no need to go there yet. Misfits’ updated Type E-1 co-housing proposal has ten bedrooms associated with every nine metres length of living area. Each of those unit areas is probably going to need a space for food preparation, eating, lounging and maybe even working. Kitchen utilities and drainage are no problem as risers now pass through the living lobby every nine-metres.

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Movement up and down need not be limited to the floors immediately above and below as additional staircases can cross-link living rooms

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• • •

Re-distributing building volume by eliminating the access corridor is a current and urgent problem some architects have identified and are already working on and trying to get it right. 1532 Harrison Street Group Housing by San Francisco firm Macy Architecture has nine bedrooms associated with each living area. The principle can’t be any clearer.

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Baugenossenschaft Kraftwerk 1 Heizenholz  by Adrian Streich Architekten has living areas cross-linked via a split level external terrace.

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DIALOGWEG 6 by Duplex Architekten of Zurich has two amorphous living corridors horizontally cross-linked by an elevator lobby but vertically cross-linked by an open stairwell and atrium.   csm_hunzikerareal_4_grundrisse_regelgeschosse_dialogweg6_363669d729

Perhaps over time the various living areas will evolve different moods, functions.

Or perhaps they will tend towards a universal homegeneity, as airports and IKEA stores do.

We don’t know but we’re going to find out soon.

• • •

Hotels have a single, entrance-level lobby leading to an elevator lobby and corridors accessing rooms rented without tenancy agreements. Occupancy is managed on-site and there is immediate payment by cash or credit. Buildings with this form of tenancy and with the lobby disguised as a living room are being misleadingly labelled co-housing.

Communal housing is when all functions other than sleeping and bathing are centralized and shared. Typically, these include cooking, eating, laundry and recreation rooms of some sort. Communal housing of the 1920s Soviet ideal had a library and a gym as recreational spaces. Communal housing of this typology is still with us today as school or military dormitories, or as care homes for the elderly. Tenancy is by contract and may come as part of an employment package.

Co-housing is when communal living areas are dispersed throughout the building, not centralised. Co-housing has shared facilities that are necessary and not the selection of baroque amenities currently associated with upmarket apartments. Co-housing is freehold property sold with rights to use the shared spaces in the same way as apartments are sold with rights to a shared garden. Occupancy is autonomous. There is no concierge or person to manage occupancy but there is most likely a superintendent for building operations and a doorman for building management.

• • •

09 June 2017: I discover this plan of 2003-2006 Bibuken Student Housing project in Copenhagen. It takes the principle lobby living I mentioned above and applies it to a co-living development. 

Waterworld

This graphic of comparative emissions suggests that cruise liners are the bad boys roaming the ocean. It doesn’t look good, even if all the cars are Volkswagens.

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At full power, one Harmony of the Seas combusts 1,377 US gallons (5,200 lit.) of diesel per hour. This sounds like a lot but think about it – it’s the total energy required to sustain the lives and activities of 8,890 persons for one hour. In addition to the energy required to propel 225,000 tons of ship through water, desalinating sea water is energy intensive, swimming pools need filtering, drinks need ice, casinos need 24-hour bright lights. It all adds up and it’s all made possible by one pint (0.58 lit) of diesel per person per hour. There’s no similar isolable city or system in the world we can compare. Aircraft can hang in the air as a self contained system for several hours but even the fuel-efficient 747 burns one gallon (3.78 lit) of fuel per second

Buildings don’t go anywhere. They outsource their energy, water and waste management requirements to their cities and their occupants do the same for many of their domestic and leisure needs. If a building and its occupants were considered as part of a greater yet essentially closed system, and all the energy contributing to keeping the city moving to service that building and sustain those lives (including streetlights, rubbish trucks, deliveries, movie theatres, bars and restaurants, supermarkets, coffee shops, subway) were tallied pro-rata, the figure may well turn out to be more than one pint of diesel per person per hour. We don’t know. 

Until we do, cruiseship designers are playing down the smokestack as a design feature.

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Gone are the days of jaunty red funnels such as the QE2’s.

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Gone too are the days of smokestacks belching noxious fumes indicating the triumph of optimism.

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And probably gone the same way is the environmenal ignorance of children.

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Meanwhile, every several years along comes an announcement of a new largest cruise ship. Last week it was Harmony of the Seas. In 2009 it was Oasis of the Seas.

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It’s traditional for such articles to generate more articles about floating cities that themselves traditionally consist of no more than a wish list of desirable features. Shimizu Corporation’s Eco Island at least tries to aim high.

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Most don’t. A 1999 project called Freedomship promised freehold, sea-going, tax-free property, announcing it in cruisespeak such as “Travel the world without leaving home!” and “A different view every day of the year!”

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The project website still exists, along with a wiki. As recent as 2013, a video was still kicking around. Over the years, successive vizualisations have come to increasingly feature trees – the very thing I never thought of oceans as needing.

A July 2008 press release explained the difficulty of obtaining reliable financial backing. I’m not surprised. As the website helpfully explains,

Since the design of the ship is not complete, the details and respective prices of the residential and commercial units are subject to change.” 

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Prices are firm down to the dollar so must have been calculated backwards from a desired margin and a ballpark construction estimate (initially US$8 bil., but currently ≈ US$13 bil.) Despite the love spent describing amenities and other wonders, there’s no mention of engines, fuel, energy sources or emissions. This is a worry, but not a pressing one. We have enough worries with our current fleet.

There’s the environmental issue of emissions from them having to power across seas and generate their own electricity at the same time. This has local consequences but is essentially a planet-sized problem.

There’s the dilemma of these vessels bringing in tourist money but spoiling the views people have been carried in to photograph. This is more of a problem in Venice with its history of ruthless exploitation of maritime advantage, than it is in Haiti the historic hangout of a more hands-on kind of pirate.

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To solve this first-world econo-aesthetic conundrum for the good of all, someone suggested cruise ships dock at a new port terminal on The Lido. This is an eminently sensible idea and, like discouraging kids from glorifying the noxious emissions of smokestacks, will mean another death of another era.

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There’s the problem of cruise ships simply accommodating too many people. The Balearics are struggling to cope with this year’s surge of vacationers foregoing the Mediterranean’s eastern, south-eastern and southern shores. Seasonal tourist influx has always been a problem but, in Majorca this summer, people have realized that these vessels bring more people than the island’s infrastructure can cope with.

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Finally, there’s the problem that cruise liners are perceived as unnecessary, that their passengers are frivolous fun-seekers. To be sure, all passengers are probably not sweet retired couples who’ve saved up for the commemorative cruise of a lifetime but, even if they were, it’d still be proof they’d been economically productive somewhere at some time in their lives. We can’t be so sure about the owners of upmarket apartments.

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Robert Stern’s 220 Central Park South has a 185-room Four Seasons Hotel on the lower floors, and 157 luxury apartments above. It cost US$450 million. Assuming two-person occupancy for the hotel rooms and an average of 4-persons per apartment, that’s $450,000 per person.

Harmony of the Seas cost US$1 bil. and accommodates 6,780 passengers at $147,500 per person. That’s one third the cost of a 220 Central Park South. If we include the Harmony of the Seas‘ 2,100 crew then the figure drops to just over one quarter. As a spatial entity providing accommodation, Harmony of the Seas is extremely good value for money.

“Ahh but the cost of the land!” you say. OK, let’s remove it but, at the same time, let’s subtract from Harmony of the Seas the cost of its ocean-going hull and naval spec, its navigation and propulsion systems, its waste management system, power generation system and everything else that makes it self-sustaining. Let’s take away all of that until we’re left with just a hotel and a mall on a barge.

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Unlike Majorca with its problem of cruise ships accommodationg more people than the island can process, New York has a problem with processing too many people but not enough places to accommodate them. So let’s park our slimmed-down liner at the pier at the end of say, W57th street, hook it up to some utilities and see what a cabin sells and rents for. The only difference is that space is allocated with tenancy agreements, not tickets.

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A stationary cruise ship plugged into city utilities is a good start to this new housing typology. Luxury refurbishment probably isn’t a good idea as, in Dubai, we’re still waiting for the QE2 to reappear as a luxury hotel.

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Better to keep it simple and proportional to the type and scale of the problem that needs solving. What I’m suggesting are upscaled co-living houseboats. More than one.

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I’m not normally one to praise MVRDV but they almost got it right with Silodam. If buildings like this were built as floating structures and not on piles, they could be constructed at shipyards skilled at building things like this, and then towed into position. Construction traffic could be kept out of cities. Floating is good because … you never know … Top deck recreation and amenity space is a no-brainer.

The only other improvement I can think of is lose the pier. Roll-on-roll-off ferries are their own. The building can be an extension of a street, a grid.

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Making both ends open might be a good idea.

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I’m not normally one to praise Foreign Office Architects either, but the forecourt of their 1995 Yokohama Ferry Terminal works well.

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As far as plug-in cities go, big, stationary, communal houseboats along Hudson River Greenway for starters. This is neither visionary nor architecture. As a housing solution it’s obvious and underwhelming. There’s an absence of Architectural Imagination. On the plus side, it uses known techologies and a minimum of resources to solve a pressing problem in a cost-effective and familiar way. Architecture or a solution? Architecture can be avoided.

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Houses or Hotels

In MONOPOLY you receive money when other people land on your property. You get more if there’s a house, even more if there’s more houses, and even more still if there’s a hotel. The appearance of hotels on the board usually means the beginning of the end of the game.  

Not too long ago, a New York apartment sold for $16M. The purchaser intends to live in it.

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About the same time, an apartment much the same in a building much the same was purchased by someone with connections to Greek shipping, as it happens. That person is going to rent it out at at $120,000 per month. It’s New York’s most expensive rental.

New York’s most expensive hotel room is the Ty Warner Penthouse Suite at the Four Seasons New York – a collaboration between I.M.Pei and Frank Williams. It’s $50,000 per night. MONOPOLY™ embodies much truth about the world.

With any building, it’s always good to ask what problem it solves. In these three instances the problem is how to extract money from people who have too much of it. In passing, wealthy Saudis like two kitchens – the “dirty” kitchen is used for all the heavy lifting such as the roasting of lamb. Saudi kitchen arrangements are now known as “chef’s kitchens” and I’ll wager they have superlative kitchen exhaust specifications.

We like to think architecture is inhabited by the people who purchase it but those people are rarely the same as those who pay for it. Perhaps looking at apartments designed to be purchased by persons of ultra-high net worth is the wrong end at which to start.

• • •

Tiny houses are going all directions at once. One direction is fulfilling a real social need in an unconventional way by taking a hard look at what buildings provide and providing no more space than absolutely necessary. The term Tiny Houses already miscasts the intention as being to shrink a house when the real intention is to provide a minimum amount of living space. At least the word house remains. These tiny houses are tiny homes for real-sized people.

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It’s a useful idea. In Oregon, US, there’s this place called Dignity Village that consists of small dwellings and houses about 60 people. These homes have one room in which to sleep and be protected and sheltered. Everything else is shared.

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It’s the opposite of co-living as living space remains unshared but, as a system, it works. Having a group of people in the same situation and willing to help each other is a good definition of a functioning community, and not a representation of one. Dignity Village has a system of rules that amount to a legal system. There’s a system of compensation that amounts to a monetary system. Dignity Village and other villages like it are societies in miniature and in some ways superior ones. Building materials are recycled along with everything else that can be. People live with no more than they need and share what they don’t need to have for themselves. There’s built-in resilience. They’re our very own flavoursome favelas in all their site-specific, resource-aware functioning community and anti-architecture glory.

Tim Murphy is the person who can tell you more Dignity Village and similar projects than I can. Communitecture are doing good work in extending and applying the concept while keeping it true to the problem it exists to solve.

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The only way municipalities can legally comprehend these developments is to designate them transitional housing campgrounds but these tiny homes aren’t trailers or caravans on wheels. The idea is to be permanent and stable, not temporary and transient.

Tiny house hotel (.com) caters to the monied transient, offering tiny houses as hotel rooms. A central campfire and evening performances provide communal experience in the form of shared entertainment rather than community endeavour. The idea of Dignity Village as homes is monetised as a hotel of tiny houses. That didn’t take long.

Upmarket hotel variations have followed with more architecture and less sharing. These are rental holiday cabins.

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The client for SANAA’s Moriyama houses, Mr Moriyama, currently lives in one of them and rents the others. These are conventionally rented properties despite the shared bathroom in the space between the buildings.

Tiny houses are not pretend houses. They are not hotel rooms. And they are not vacation dwellings for people wanting a tiny cabin in the woods, or the illusion of one.

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There’s little need for architects to come along and complete the process of neutering this useful idea of tiny houses by assimilating it into architectureAs if to drive a stake through the heart of the tiny house movement, Renzo Piano‘s tiny house Diogene designed for Vitra’s petting zoo couldn’t be more of a piece of statement architecture if it tried.

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At $45,000 or $75,000 with added PVs, Diogene – Diogenes wept! – will have quite the payback time but in the meantime it solves the problem of us not hearing enough about Renzo Piano. It also lessens the danger of tiny houses offering a model for living that sidelines architects.

There’s also the tiny house movement, also known as the “small house movement”, which refers to people choosing to living simply in small homes. This too is a noble endeavour if it is the only dwelling a person is to own. The legal framework is hazy but it too is an architectural genre showing solid growth.

These downscaled houses with kitchen facilities and bathrooms tend to be photographed in picturesque landscapes as if to suggest they go on your spare land in the countryside. Or in your backyard.

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These days backyard means airbnb and, oh – here’s one, available by the day.

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This all works to subvert the point of tiny homes as a useful social phenomenon – it’s supposed to be your main dwelling, not an opportunity for money on the side. It’s another growth industry. Tiny houses are replaced with the idea of a miniaturized home, a kind of architectural Shetland pony you might pay for a novel and fun one-off experience but you’d prefer something more solid for the long haul.

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In the end, it’s people monetising their backyards.

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Loving that bamboo but if ever I find myself in Portland I’ll check out Gary’s other property. It’s a shed.

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What Gary is doing is monetising an asset just like Greek shipping dude is doing with his Park Avenue penthouse. It used to be architects added value to land by having some part in building on it but Gary has done it without architecture or architects. It’s time to pay attention! In a further development, he could pay campers to mow the grass and take all the money back in rent, thus hastening society’s regression to total feudalism. Meanwhile, as far as the exploitation of indoor space goes, the ultimate nadir quickly becomes the penultimate nadir.

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Society’s shyness about strangers sharing bedroom space is beginning to break down. At this rate, hot bunking will become classy sometime around November.

• • •

Like the canary in the mine, trends in hotel space have always been a good precursor to trends in living space. Apartments have become the size of 1920s New York hotel rooms, and with varying degrees of communal and shared amenities and services attached. When hotels start offering ‘day use’ rates for a few hours occupancy, we can expect the same to happen to rented living space not too far down the line.

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Because this news comes from Paris, people are quick to make associations with daytime assignations and Japanese ‘love hotels’ that have been a phenomena for, oh, at least forty years. Both are responses to the pressures on living space at home. In Japan they don’t want to wake the kids. In Paris they don’t want to alert the spouse. In Italian towns, groups of men timeshare rented apartments so as to not alert their parents. These are all examples of social needs not met by living space, being taken on by short-term or hourly rentals. The day-use trend in hotel room usage is said to result from the hotels losing trade to airb’n’b so it’s a case of an upper level tenure system fighting to retain value against a lower level tenure system.

Architecture has a similar problem. Nothing can be taken away from the people of Dignity Village but the rest of us can still be dissuaded from doing it for ourselves and having functioning and sustainable communities as a result. We’re being gently but forcefully dissuaded from getting to enthusiastic about co-living. In New York and London the image has quickly degenerated into glorified yet cheaper hotel accommodation for new urban students or employees. It may still contain a hint of people in a shared situation but the only thing they have in common is thinking about when they will move on from it. Conventional architectural typologies with a conventional system of tenure challenge nothing and change nothing.

Glimmers of hope come from Switzerland. Have a look at this plan by Duplex Architekten of Zurich.

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It’s known as DIALOGWEG 6 and is part of a much larger development.

It’s designed for people who want to live like this. What I like about it is that it wouldn’t make a very profitable hotel. What I really admire is that people are still trying to get co-living right and aren’t just putting some funky furniture and photogenic people into a tarted up hotel and calling it the next new thing. Here’s another example called Baugenossenschaft Kraftwerk 1 Heizenholz  by Adrian Streich Architekten. Bedrooms and bathrooms are private but everything else can be shared.

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What I like about this is the differing degrees of separation and the different layers of sharing. Rooms share living spaces but the living spaces share a terrace with other living spaces on the same floor and, via that, with living areas throughout the building. This adds a social amenity simply not possible with conventional apartment and hotel typologies.

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The Swiss seem to have already sorted out how to live in new buildings such as these.  United by poverty, the people of Dignity Village worked it out in one. Lacking any natural sense of community, the rest of us will have to ease into it. In Britain, I can imagine buildings like these occupied first by single parent workers and their kids who have a lot to gain individually, collectively and emotionally by living close and helping each other out. It becomes a viable way of living to buy into long-term. Maybe not for everybody, but it should be an option available for the people who just might be able to make it work and show the rest of us how to do it.

 

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• • •

A big thank you to misfits’ man in Zurich, Marco Jacomella of Hosoya Schaefer Architects for alerting me to these and other current Swiss developments you won’t find in the usual architectural publicity machines. Swiss architects don’t generally go in for that kind of cheap publicity and the chasing of fame. If Swiss architecture sometimes seems underwhelming it’s because the buildings have been designed as buildings for people and not as diverting content or as promotional vehicles to  further a brand.

If so, the whole country is made up of architecture misfits. 

The architecture of Herzog & de Meuron and Peter Zumthor then becomes mere mainstream New Media Globalism, no more Swiss than it is architecture. Our narrow focus on isolated projects with identical global intent makes us blind to regional pockets of universal intelligence. Thanks again, Marco.

Home Improvement

On second thoughts, coffee shops as co-living rooms aren’t going to work in the UK. Coffee houses are blandspace, neutral ground, business places, places you meet people you’re not keen to let any further into your life.

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British television dramas focus around pubs – not diners as in Seinfeld or coffee shops as in Friends. This should’ve been a clue. Britain is a nation of swift halves, not demitasse or semi-skimmed. The pub as co-living room is closer to the heart of the nation than even actual living rooms. On Christmas Day, people go to their local to pay their respects to their landlord and escape their living rooms. Pubs offer something that domestic life doesn’t. After, people go back home and catch up on virtual pub life with the Christmas special. In most other episodes you’ll see some characters sitting quietly in the background chatting and getting on with their lives away from where they actually bed-down for the night.

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Sadly, pubs are being bought and converted into flats – thirty each week, they say, though the rate is also said to have recently dropped to about 20.

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Architecturally, the results are never pleasing. Those corner doors used to be so welcoming and now they’re not.

So then, here’s the pitch: why not keep the pub functioning as co-living space with the added frisson of random strangers, and build/convert/sell studio apartments above?

It doesn’t make sense to destroy everything that’s nice about something just because one aspect of it isn’t as popular as it used to be. All it requires is a change in attitude and a change in tenure. A freehold studio with bathroom and minimal kitchen facilities above a shared source of sofas, food, televised football and the potential for company is all that’s required. The food needn’t be pretentiously, competitively or unsustainably gastro because all that’s needed is nutritional value for money on a daily basis.

Let’s be clear. Upstairs is studio apartments for sale. (In an ideal world, this new equity instrument would be preferentially available to single first-time buyers.) Ground floor is a bar with comfy seats and tables serving canteen/caff food. We should’ve seen this coming. Even back in 2000, bars in London started having names like ‘Home’ and ‘Mother’. It was possible to order baked beans on toast as bar food. In  further development, cereal restaurants are now a thing.

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Over in Moscow, there’s the Kommunalka restaurant*, the ambience and menu of which is modelled on the communal kitchens and dining rooms of 1920’s apartment buildings.

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What in London appears as the simple commercialisation of domestic life appears in Moscow as commercialised nostalgia for a simpler domestic life. What the two have in common is a demand for a shared domesticity not being met by how people live.

Easing into co-living via pubs as living rooms involves no change in people’s social habits, and no perceptions challenged. You can still meet your friends at a pub near where they live or one near where you live. No-one need even know you have equity in a room above a boozer. This consolidates several trends and solves several problems at once.

  • Apartments can be smaller with little loss of amenity. People already use pubs and bars as their living rooms. This just makes it official.
  • We don’t have to look forward to a world of co-living wirelessed coffee shops. With pubs, a whole new world of decorative possibilities doesn’t immediately open up. The same old pubs can stay just as they are. Artless interiors are more homelike. Continuity is good.
  • A traditional social amenity that is falling out of use can be put to the same use but with the rooms above fully occupied and paid for. Converting pubs into apartments involves a change in typology as well as the corresponding change in tenure but co-living pubs involve only a change in the tenure upstairs. The ‘living room’ can be run however works best. Some will become like hostels. Others will be places to be. This happens anyway. No-one is forcing anyone to actually use the one they live above, although 20% discounts for residents could encourage it.Co-living for students is already sorted, as is co-living for the elderly. Pub as co-living dwelling goes some way to meeting the needs of that inbetween demographic with decreasing options – i.e. the rest of us.

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• • •

Further reading:

http://www.closedpubs.co.uk