LIVINGSCAPES

Trend Research: Shared House.
Co-housing

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The emergence of new housing models based on sharing and cooperation can be ascribed to a number of things, such as the need to keep costs and expenses down, as well as the socio-cultural changes that are reshaping contemporary lifestyles.

Increasing numbers of people are keen to establish what are known as “weak” links, not blood relationships – although just as strong or even stronger than family ties – with temporarily consensual communities, homogenous groups set up and reformed and recomposed according to existential choices and life stages.

The co-housing phenomenon, for example, involves individuals and families who select each other and who plan the residential community together, choosing what to share: micro-crèches for children, kitchen gardens, communal kitchens, swimming pools, car sharing or smart caretaking services that look after the utility bills and joint expenditure.

Another interesting example of this sort of coming together are Framilies – a cross between the words families and friends – meaning “families by choice”, communities of friends of all ages, alongside established family setups. These are actual metropolitan tribes – also characterised by “liquidity” and multiple allegiances – formed around equally identificatory habits and rituals.  

The common factor in these behaviours seems to be a widespread desire for new social cohesion and a need to feel part of a group – which also applies to housing – in which each individual and their own identities can grow and be supported, bringing the benefit of close and rewarding relational experiences.

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Named after the former Ho Chi Min City, Saigon House was designed by a21studio for a family with seven children, but capable of accommodating other members of the family nucleus as required. The architects conceived the building along the lines of a vertical miniature village, given this particular brief and the unusual, long and narrow shape of the plot on which the building stands.

The four-storey property is made up of single suspended volumes set one above the other around a central courtyard in which a tree grows. In practice, the family rooms climb on top of each other, linked by staircases and platforms on a diagonal plan, rather than being arranged on conventional floors, each modelled along “archetypallines, with sloping roofs that mark out their individual use, while the ground floor becomes the “common ground” where everyone gathers. 

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Despite its contained dimensions, the domestic interior manages to be one and several houses at the same time and, through the clever use of beams, depths, materials and finishes - ranging from raw to polished – restores the concept of the multiplicities that co-exist within a whole. 

There’s a great swathe of under-35s looking for the convenience and level of socialisation offered by shared apartments, but who find it hard to source good quality accommodation, especially in the larger cities. Residential and social experiments such as the recent Urby Staten Island development were created precisely to respond to this demand. 

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The housing complex – built by the developer Ironstate and the Dutch Concrete architectural practice on the New York waterfront opposite Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty – was conceived with a strong experiential and community ethos. The huge structure contains 900 apartments, which come in small (studio), medium (one-bedroom) and large (two-bedroom) and is much more than just a housing solution.

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There is an integrated range of spaces and equipment that promote interaction between the inhabitants and foster the concept of neighbourhood. For a start, the residences are built around a working urban farm, curated by a farmer-in-residence. The farm grows 50 different species, and has greenhouses and group picnic tables. The products are used to supply the large communal kitchen, in which cookery courses and tasting sessions with professional chefs are held.

There are apiaries on the rooftops of the buildings, each containing a number of hives, which supply honey to the café in the complex. There are also 35,000 square metres of commercial space, a swimming pool, a huge fitness centre, gardens and courtyards with WiFi, as well as a garage with parking space for 300 cars. The focus on sustainability is manifest, not just in the integration of green spaces, but also in the rainwater filtering system, charging points for electric cars and room for 500 bicycles.

The apartments come with all mod cons and are equipped with cutting edge smart technology. They are also furnished with pieces by leading contemporary design brands.

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Communal living can also represent a viable prospect when it comes to third age homes. Home Farm, designed by Spark Architects, marks a step towards transforming retirement homes into sustainable and self-sufficient urban farms.

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This innovative solution provides for a combination of apartments and services for older people and spaces turned over to vertical urban farming. The curved volumes of the housing blocks, which reprise the topography of the land, are characterised by green walls and rooftop gardens, but the real focus of the entire project is the communal kitchen garden and fish farm, where guests can work part-time – under the guidance of a team of experts – carrying out activities connected to the production chain as a whole.