Future of living: how Covid-19 could transform our homes

Future of living: how Covid-19 could transform our homes

By Matilda Battersby

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From community gardens to developments with postal rooms, here are 7 ways the coronavirus pandemic could change our living arrangements in future.

The pandemic has meant that many of us have spent far longer in our homes than we expected to at the start of 2020. 

And while lockdown has provided many of us with opportunities to do DIY, it has also allowed us time to look squarely at how we occupy the spaces we live in and how they might work better for us.

We asked the experts how the Covid-19 pandemic might change our homes and the way we live in future.

1. Health-oriented architecture

Historically, architecture has had a strong link with disease. A hundred years ago when tuberculosis, another potentially deadly respiratory complaint, had reached pandemic levels, one of the only treatments was recuperating in an effective building.

“Modernism actually resulted directly from tuberculosis,” says Hugh Pearman, editor of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Journal. “With no available treatment, it all came down to the environment, and that meant sunlight and good ventilation. 

“Sanatoriums designed in the 1890s look pretty modern today. They became a kind of model for health in the next century, with roof terraces for sunlight and little gyms.”

Pearman recently chaired the judges for RIBA RETHINK: 2025 – an international design competition seeking designs for our post-pandemic world. The competition received 147 submissions from architects working in 18 countries, with themes broadly tackling virus disinfection, revamping the high street, working from home and improving communal life.

The overriding message from the submissions and winning entries were that homes have huge potential for delivering social change, whether by greening city centres and reclaiming space previously reserved for cars, or carving up office buildings and giving some of the space away to house the homeless.

Design in future might be less about how our homes look and more about their quality, according to architect Simon Bird, director of LOM. “I think it's going to be more about daylight, acoustics, and ventilation,” he says. “People will care about those kinds of things. And actually, people may think about homes in a slightly different way, as less of a base, more of a place they have to permanently occupy.”

The impact of the pandemic on mental-healthNew research commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has revealed that 70% of homeowners believe the design of their home has affected their mental wellbeing during the pandemic.RIBA’s research sought to understand the mental and physical benefits of living in a better-designed home. Eight out of 10 respondents identified one or more of the changes that they’d now like to make to the design of their home after lockdown, these include:Nearly a quarter of homeowners would reconfigure their existing spaces and a fifth want to create more space by extending their homeNearly one in 10 would change their open-plan design in favour of creating separate rooms. In contrast, 14% would like to make their home more open plan40% want more environmental-design features, including improving the amount of natural daylight, improving the energy-efficiency of their home and improved sound-proofing between spaces8% would like more flexible living eg rooms that can easily be divided17% would create an office space to support working from home7% want to be able to accommodate an extended family including parents, grandparents and grown-up children12% need more personal space.RIBA President Alan Jones said: “It’s clear that the impact of Covid-19 will affect how and where we choose to live for years to come. For many of us, our homes are our sanctuaries, and this new research commissioned by the RIBA clearly indicates that many people are keener than ever to adapt and improve their homes.”

2. Adaptable footprints

One of the immediate changes in how we use our homes as a result of Covid-19 is the fact that many of us now work in them. And this is something that looks set to continue, at least on a part-time basis.

Kelly Bream, chief operating officer of Navana Property Group, believes this shift will see shared office space incorporated into the design of high rise developments (although not necessarily within flats).

“I think onsite co-working spaces will be really popular,” she says.“For those who live in one- or two-bedroom flats, particularly those with children, being able to go down in a lift to a co-working area so they feel like they're going to work in an office will be really important.”

With many of us having to fashion offices out of our kitchen tables or creating pop-up work areas in bedrooms, the trend for open-plan living may reverse. 

Pearman says: “The old fashioned idea of the study suddenly becomes very attractive as more of us work from home.”

What about socialising at home if going out is off-limits?

“People still like living in the kitchen and open social spaces, and that might become more important as we find it harder to go to the pub or restaurants,” says Alex Rose, director of new homes at Zoopla.

“Open- plan is a trend that is set to continue. But there’s a trade off. We need more spaces which we can close off, to make an office or bedroom. Spaces need to be more flexible and be able to adapt to meet changing needs.”

3. Community space

Local communities have forged important connections during the pandemic, with limits on travel and more vulnerable people relying on others for food and medical supplies.

This new sense of connection is set to be reflected in future homes, according to our experts. “The value of shared spaces is something we are seeing a lot more in high rise development,” says Bream. “Before Covid-19, nobody wanted to know their neighbours. But since lockdown, getting to know others in our buildings has become really important.”

Shared spaces might take the form of rooftop or community gardens, areas for growing fruit and vegetables, function rooms that can be booked for events and weekly meetings, film screenings, exercise classes and more. Instead of going to the pub, a shared living area might be the place you hang out with your friends, with or without a beer.

Aside from large residential buildings, people may choose to pool resources in smaller dwellings and set-ups. 

“The pandemic has made people think about their homes in different ways, and that's different for each demographic,” says Bird. “A number of things will stem  from it. There will be new ways of living that take different forms, such as eco-living, communal living and different models that suit younger or older generations.”

4. Design for home deliveries

One of the key logistical challenges for property managers during lockdown was what to do with all the parcels that kept arriving. With people stuck in their homes and ordering online what they might usually have popped to the shops for, the packages began to stack up.

The solution? Sorting offices or locker systems included within residential developments.

“In one of our developments we had an 800% increase in delivery of parcels during lockdown,” says Bream. “So ensuring we have a parcel sorting office and effective delivery system of parcels within a building is crucial going forward.”

Bird has witnessed a similar preoccupation with the management of parcels in residential blocks, but warns of a wider negative impact on local high streets and services. 

“If you live in a block of flats you need to think about those deliveries and the impact on the wider community,” he says. There needs to be discussion around what it means and how it’s going to work if everyone is at home and ordering essentials rather than going out and getting them.”

5. Focus on broadband

The internet is now widely seen as a ‘fourth utility’ - as essential as water, gas and electricity.The effectiveness of broadband speeds is an increasingly key consideration when buyers are looking at where to move to, especially if they are working from home.

“A lot of people finding themselves working from home have struggled with their internet provider,” says Bream. “Communication connection is going to be really important going forward, ensuring that properties accommodate multiple providers and that bandwidth for our residents.”

Broadband has become so vital it is influencing where people are choosing to buy, for more on which you can read our recent articles, What Brits wish they’d known before moving, and How lockdown has changed homehunters’ priorities.

6. More office conversions

More city centre office buildings, many of which remain shut, may well be transformed into residential homes. The government’s permitted development rights, which remove the need for certain types of planning permission, make it easier to turn office spaces into homes. 

“The city of London is such a special place and it’s hard to see how it would work,” says Bird. “But if you’re talking about town centres in general, other city centres, I can see some of those areas being turned into residential. But then the nature of things like offices will change, too. They’ll become hubs similar to hospitality locations.”

Not every demographic will choose to live in a converted office building, but the appeal of city centre living is clear, says Bream “Cities provide a lifestyle that can't be replicated in the shires - restaurants, bars, museums and cinemas as well as access to services like Deliveroo and same-day Amazon Prime deliveries,” she says.

“Particularly for young people, these areas provide an opportunity to live close to their friends, meet new people and have vibrant social lives.”

7. Spotlight on rural living

We have seen an 80% increase in searches for rural properties since March (when lockdown started) as many homehunters shifted their search to the countryside.

During a pandemic, the appeal of moving somewhere with more outside space and a home office is obvious. Especially if it’s possible to keep your job, too. But one of the impulses might also be safety, says Pearman. 

“If you look at infection rates you can see spikes in cities,” he remarks. “We might have to reconsider the whole notion of density of living, because of infection transmission.”

Bream says: “There's been a lot of talk about lockdown encouraging people to move away from urban areas and find green space in the countryside. Of course, this will be true for some - families who are living in a two-bedroom flat without a garden for the sake of shorter commutes. But this isn't the death of towns and cities.”

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