Intersecting lives brought together through good design and community spirit. This is the vision that is being brought to life by innovative entrepreneurs across the globe in response to growing urban populations and rising levels of alienation in our modern world.
The World Health Organisation predicts that more than 70% of the human population will be living in urban environments by 2050.
Upward pressure on rent and housing prices, sustainability concerns and rising levels of social alienation and depression across global cities are sparking the creation of ‘third spaces’, co-working and co-living solutions, redefining how we see ourselves, our work, and the concept of ‘home’.
The idea of ‘third space’ has many definitions, but in this context, it’s a shared space, a communal zone built into co-working and co-living spaces alike to foster social interaction and community. This alternative space has emerged in response to a growing trend of millennials moving away from a traditional 9-5 workday, towards greater mobility and freedom in the way they choose to work and live.
Co-working spaces like Melbourne’s The Commons and Talent Garden in Milan, weave the idea of ‘third spaces’ into the very fabric of their design. Members are curated to bring diverse, yet like-minded start-ups, creatives and professionals into each other’s orbits. Cross-pollination, collaborations and growth are fostered. Wellness is promoted through yoga classes, personal growth workshops, and meditative spaces. Shared social and work zones help networks bloom organically.
Paul Allen of Nula, a merchandise company based in Sydney, has first-hand experience of the benefits of this co-working model. “Since signing up to a co-working office, I now have the space and facilities of working in a corporate high rise but the energy and culture of 50 start-ups under one roof.”
“I also have the total freedom to be as flexible as I want in terms of hours I work. I choose to rent my desk full time but there’s the option to just take a casual couple of days a week if that’s your preference.”
But it’s not all upside. “You take the rough with the smooth in that other people do not always value the same level of tidiness or order that you do. This is outweighed by the network it opens up. There are also only a finite number of meeting room facilities which do get booked up so you have to be willing to be flexible, negotiate with others when required and be organised.”
Over the centuries, co-living has enjoyed periods of great success. As recently as the ‘60s, the idea of the commune flourished, underpinned by principles of communal economy, equality and ecological living. In Israel, the first kibbutz was founded in 1910; a utopian model focused around agriculture that still exists today.
Intentional communities can be traced even further back to the 6th and 7th centuries, to Christian communities on the Scottish and Irish coasts, and further still to Viking and Neolithic longhouses, where multiple families would live under one long roof. In many Middle Eastern and Eastern cultures today, families still live in shared housing, pooling resources and care of children and grandchildren.
Co-housing, where like-minded residents buy up developments to reduce costs and share communal spaces, is the modern day answer to communes.
Start-ups like Base Commons and Nightingale Housing in Melbourne are working towards bringing this model to Australia. Al Jeffery, entrepreneur and founder of Base Commons, says “the idea of reimagined apartment blocks was inspired by the trend in America towards co-living and co-housing becoming more prominent. For us, it is about meeting the needs of a growing mental health crisis that we are facing, as well as affordability and sustainability.”
Jeffery says that research into the US experience shows that “a close supportive network and physical community was something that this generation really yearns for. I do think there’s a gap in what the market desires and what’s available and I think co-living will become a good option in the future; to live in a space where you share time and interests with your neighbours, a space that is sustainable and affordable without necessarily having to live out in the countryside.”
Jeffery is very much in step with the Baugruppe model in Germany where residents directly contribute to the design of their own living spaces. He sees the co-design of shared spaces as paramount.
“We have a strong co-design process with our residents. For example, with the young creative demographic, which we are very focused on, we have a dedicated space for creativity in our model that will definitely include a co-working space. We really want these spaces to be a space for innovation as well as community.”
Jeffery believes the built environment needs to be conducive to community culture. But he also warns that culture must support this and the two must work hand in hand. He says ideas for shared social space must come from the demographic of the residents. “The kitchen really is the heart of the home and so cooking events programmed around the kitchen, pop-up dinners, recipe-sharing ideas are things we are looking at. But these would be led by the residents to fit their demographic”.
It is easy to see how co-designed residential spaces could attract different types of residents and subsequently tailored design. Families would benefit from shared dining spaces, playrooms and child minding. Immigrants new to a city would gain from communal social spaces. Older generations could enjoy multigenerational connection through shared gardens and community activities.
In this sphere, technology, rather than contributing to social isolation, can bring people together, providing an effective mode for residents to share communications, sustainably manage building operations and foster ideas and innovation.
It is undeniable that new generations will steer the direction of where the world will move towards. Social isolation, urban density and the rise of the mobile workforce is shaping the way we define work and home. Co-working and co-living allow for greater interaction, integration and in turn promote benefits to professional growth, social inclusion, paving the way to a community renaissance.