As living space comes at more and more of a premium, some designers are shifting towards microhomes. But can an 80sqf unit ever feel like home? Co-living environments present one possible solution
Grey rain pours off the windows that separate police officer K's apartment from the outside world. Inside, there is a sofa that could fit two people at a squeeze, there's a narrow kitchenette and a bed. This is the world envisaged by Blade Runner 2049, and yet, for many, cramped living quarters are already a reality. And for some, this much space is a pipe dream, albeit a fairly soulless one.
"We're moving towards microliving, especially in overdeveloped cities like New York, Hong Kong and London," says Rodrigo Buelvas, a professor of interior design at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Hong Kong. "There's a general reduction in footprint underway, not only in residential, but also in hospitality and in workplaces."
Another reason for the move towards microliving is the rapidly rising cost of real estate – in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Microliving is a necessary response to growing urban populations (worldwide, 3.5 billion and counting) and the rising cost of living in general, but, as K's home so eloquently demonstrates in the Blade Runner sequel, a nanohome just 80 to 100sqf in size is likely to feel cold and clinical.
The answer might just lie in co-living environments. Most of these feature spacious communal areas, and communal resources and facilities; alongside the shared facilities are the personal spaces in which residents sleep. Some offer residents their own toilets and showers, perhaps a cooking hob and a mini-fridge, and maybe a small, multi-purpose living-dining-work space.
"Co-living is an elegant solution for modern-day professionals and students," says Wang Tse, chief executive of Campfire, which already offers co-working spaces targeting different industries. Next on the cards for the company is a co-living space in Sham Shui Po. "It will offer "premium furnishings throughout a 5,000sqf shared space, privacy in a comfortable 100sqf, a sense of community, all the necessary services – Wi-Fi, laundry and security, among other things," he says, "all at a significantly lower rent and flexible lease terms. There will be a gym and cafe as well."
There are already some active players in Hong Kong's co-living sector. There is, for example, Mini Ops, which features 270 units of 80 to 100sqf in size, all designed in a simple, crisp, loft-like style. Located in Wong Chuk Hang, Mini Ops promises friendships, happiness and memories alongside fast (and free) Wi-Fi, a "super-large social area", shared washer dryers and more. Bibliothèque is also in the making, although personal space at this Yau Ma Tei co-living environment will be confined to a sleeping capsule, or 'bed space'. The emphasis here is on attractive, contemporary shared spaces: a chic communal living room with sofas, TV and plants; shared areas for working or studying, and an expansive rooftop where residents can chill, party and make friends.
Hong Kong students are also coming up with exciting co-living concepts, including one called the Pit Stop, which won the Hong Kong Institute of Architects' Innovative Youth Housing Design Competition at the end of 2016.
Five students came up with a space that has Pit Stop, a mini living space designed by Hong Kong students the bed located in an attic, freeing up space underneath for living, and a bookcase that doubles as a door – which then slides open to connect personal space with shared community living space.
At the heart of co-living is this idea of community and connection through space and other facilities. An international example is WeWork's WeLive, which offers spaces ranging from studios through to four-bedroom homes, in New York and Virginia. Each WeLive home is ready to move into, fully equipped with high-speed internet, HDTV, dinnerware, bed linen… and flexibility. You can bed down at one of WeLive's spaces for a few days – or a few years.
"We see WeLive as a housing solution for anyone looking for more community, convenience, and flexibility in their lives," says a WeWork spokesperson. "It's not just younger people moving to either city for the first time, it's parents with children, it's retirees spending part of their year with us and part of it somewhere else, it's professionals cutting down on excessive commutes."
Both WeLive Wall Street and WeLive Crystal City feature a chef 's kitchen where residents can come together for family-style dinners; there are cinema rooms where residents can enjoy film nights; and workout studios where you can attend fitness classes. All of these shared environments provide the space in which to meet people.
MORE TO CONSIDER
It all seems as happy and empowered as the images you will find online when you search for 'co-living'. There are, however, downsides to this communal lifestyle, and it doesn't appeal to everyone. A lack of privacy is one obvious problem: when your only personal space is your bed, you don't have anywhere you can really go to switch off, to cry if you need to, to have a private conversation with your parents, or to have a lover's tryst. WeLive says this isn't a problem in their New York City and Virginia spaces: "Each unit is a complete apartment and members choose how much to engage with each other," says the firm.
This is an excerpt from "Pint-sized living”, an article from the March issue of Perspective magazine.
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