Central Saint Martins + SPACE10

December 22nd
7 mins read

Shared living could be a solution to problems such as rapid urbanisation, the lack of affordable housing, and loneliness. To illustrate the directions in which this fast-growing field could go, SPACE10 invited students at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, to design five speculative shared-living spaces for construction in 2030. Henrietta Thompson—editor-at-large at Wallpaper*—visited the London-based art and design college to see what they dreamt up.

Central Saint Martins + SPACE10

The iPhone, Obama, Uber, Airbnb and Tinder: just some of the remarkable ways in which the world has changed in the past 13 years. Fast forward the same amount of time, to 2030, and who knows what lies ahead. But we can start to imagine by studying the challenges we’re facing now, the technology we’re developing today, and the solutions we’re starting to explore.

One thing we do know is that the global population is likely to hit 8.5 billion by mid-2030. The need to house almost a billion more people makes the creation of enough sustainable, well designed and affordable housing one of the biggest and most urgent problems. One potential solution that we will see much more of in the decade ahead is shared living. Though it’s a relatively new phenomenon which is only beginning to find its feet, its efficacy is being tested and its future widely discussed. But while property developers, urban planners and corporations are all exploring the opportunities in earnest, these bodies are very rarely the end users of their own schemes. Where are the views of the people who might live in those spaces in the future?

To get the perspectives of those who are not yet ruled by a commercial agenda or jaded by government policymaking, SPACE10 collaborated with Central Saint Martins on a project to design several possible scenarios for shared living in 2030. Over nine weeks, in mixed teams (comprising two BA Architecture students, one M ARCH Architecture, and one MA Narrative Environments) all taught by three Spatial Practices staff, the result is five radical concepts for shared living in 2030.

Rather than attempt to find one solution, ready to build and scale tomorrow, the purpose of the Co-Living 2030 project was to uncover a few directions that could be interesting to think about.

Moving away from the Silicon Valley shared living model epitomised by wide open spaces with beautiful furniture, co-working space, and a bunch of startups, this was about real life.

With a real site in mind — in Forest Gate, East London — a real user group of 16–24-year-olds, and real-world challenges to solve, the results are as intriguing as they are eye-opening.

SPACE10’s creative director, Kaave Pour, explains: “Obviously London is one of the most challenged cities in the world when it comes to housing, its growing population is only exacerbated by the increasing isolation of its citizens and unmanageable rents and living costs,” he says. “There is not really any institution in London more influential in this field than Central Saint Martins. So we decided to try to imagine shared living in 2030.”

Forest Gate was chosen as a sort of prototypical site for the future, says Alex Warnock-Smith, Course Leader, BA Architecture, at Central Saint Martins. “It’s a place poised for change as the Crossrail [mass transit system] comes in and is primed for much development already. We know that we are seeing the biggest divergence between the rich and the poor that we’ve seen since Victorian times, and this was a good site to address that too, with a wide range of demographics within the existing and in-coming communities.”

Rather than simply designing a housing complex, the students approached the brief in a series of stages involving significant research both into the place and its community, and the history of shared living as we know it. They established a series of identifiable characters — fleshing out a day in their life, capturing their typical activities, social frictions and economic dilemmas in relation to shared living — and, in response to the challenges and opportunities they were presented with, each team developed a spatial-design proposition and accompanying storyboard.

Aware that the young professionals beloved of property developers may already be widely catered for (as well as over simplified as a demographic), many of the groups devised an extreme collection of characters to consider in their designs. Embracing the diversity that London is so celebrated for, everyone is given a voice in Co-Living 2030.

From the children of asylum seekers to the elderly and infirm, from tech entrepreneurs to academics concerned with the isolating impact of too much screen time, each persona was thought through to the nth degree.

The Subscription Neighbourhood

On-demand shared living — beyond the home

Expanding the concept of on-demand shared living from the scale of a single home to an entire urban community, the Subscription Neighbourhood is the brainchild of Josh Mallins, Ivy Wong, Junlan Zhang, and Orange Cheng. Responding to the Uberisation of city life and the Airbnbification of domestic life, their project proposes a subscription service in which residents and businesses host subscription users.

The students have taken the ethos of the sharing economy and applied it to an entire neighbourhood — one whose services residents can subscribe to, rather than own. A building here may have many purposes — each geared towards maximising its usefulness. It may be used for shared living or working, say, or to host local businesses. Residents of this resilient neighbourhood even have their own currency (not dissimilar to the Brixton Pound) designed to keep economic value within the neighbourhood and support the local community.

Network Living

Imagine commuting as a network of shared living experiences

This high-tech proposal — from John Moran, Christian Richards, Yibeijia Li and Zhe Wang — addresses the horrendous daily reality of 72 percent of the British population who endure a two-hour commute to and from work. “Every day, the City of London experiences a flood of people 56 times greater than its residential population,” explains Moran. “A commuter experience which is costly, time-consuming, unpleasant and unproductive. And it’s only getting worse.”

Network Living imagines a series of private dwelling-pods that are transportable from city to city using an automated infrastructure. “You can be on the train before you’ve even got out of bed,” explains Li of their hypothetical system that reduces commuting times, allowing individuals to wake up, get ready for work, and even host meetings while being transferred from one place to another. With Network Living, having arrived in the city, individuals can temporarily “dock” overnight and use the shared facilities provided by the dedicated network hubs which promote social interaction within an ever-growing nationwide community.

Assessing the future and being realistic about it was challenging for many of the groups, who found themselves dismayed by the sheer scale of the problems, issues and unknowns the world is apparently now facing. “It is natural to start catastrophizing and imagining the worst sorts of dystopias when you start to really explore what’s going on,” says Warnock-Smith.

“However, eventually we wanted to encourage a positive outlook — before we can build it, it’s vital to be able to imagine a world we all want to live in. And architecture and design can go so far in doing this.”

The Guest House

A shared-living space that integrates migrants and builds communities

Conceived by Holly Le-Var, Janila Castañeda, Mark Freeman, and Rafael García, the Guest House imagines how a shared living space might enable inhabitants to engage in productive community-building activities on local scale. Recognising existing social dynamics in Forest Gate, the Guest House would seek to integrate incoming communities.

“We believe that every symbolic human accomplishment is the result of people working together,” says Le-Var. “Viewed as a co-living precursor, the Guest House offers a framework that can subtly initiate daily meaningful interactions and generate sustained integration, forming a ‘community currency’ based on ‘offerings’ and ‘needs’. Through a set of spatial interventions divided by specifications, our intention is to encourage community, growth and transformation as a constant in this area.”

CommunicARe

A shared-living tech hub designed to facilitate social interaction

Technology continues to play a significant role in our lives, but it has also led to more loneliness and mental health problems. But by 2030 could emerging technology such as augmented reality (AR) be used in the context of shared living to enable more social interaction? That’s the thinking behind CommunicARe — a shared living tech hub that combines real and virtual communities around the world and combats some of the negative consequences of modern technology. In particular, CommunicARe allows people to enjoy socialising with one another in their shared living spaces through AR.

Jennifer Nibbs, Morgane Sha’ban and Kara Andarini developed this new civic institution as a way to bring modern technology into the community and integrate both real and virtual experiences. Under their proposal, three tech-savvy founders collaborate with Forest Gate residents to establish a new, global, AR-enabled shared-living community where the building itself becomes a device for communication. “CommunicARe hopes to combat community and social integration issues, and offer high-quality education, entertainment and amenities at the comfort of your own home,” says Andarini.

The Off-Grid Neighbourhood

A shared-living scheme for self-sustainable food production and recycling

The Off-Grid Neighbourhood is a new way of shared living where residents can have a healthy life, help the environment, and be part of a community at the same time. With its vertical farm, community kitchen, reusable energy, and integral recycling system, the Off-Grid Neighbourhood is a completely self-sufficient and super-slick system. Designed by Deheng Liu, Leonie Dong, Marta Escribano, and Dominika Pilch, it is intended as a self-sustaining environment, where residents share common spaces and together manage the production and preparation of sustainable food supplies.

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“Ultimately it’s about opening up and communicating,” says Pour. “We are only so many and with only so much power, so by sharing ideas we can hopefully also create more inspiration for others to do the same.” After all, dream scenarios don’t emerge unless we dream them up.