It's the Economy, Stupid: An Excerpt from IMAGINE

12.10.183 min read

To understand how to bring more shared-living models to life, we need to take a closer look at how the worlds of financing, planning, design and construction operate.

Our initial research found that the complexity of financing, designing and managing shared-living projects prevents many schemes from being realised. Both developers and community initiatives struggle with a variety of barriers that make it unattractive and/or risky to pursue new models of organisation and design.

The uncertainty of the organisation and market for shared living makes it a harder business case than “business as usual”. It really is about the economy. In addition, there are planning obstacles that make it difficult to explore new types of buildings. Planning regulations have good intentions, such as ensuring quality of living, green spaces and light, but outdated or rigid regulation often impedes new spatial solutions. Today, the entire flow of forming a building – from inception and business model, to planning and design, to operation and management – is not really fit for shared living.

The Barriers of Shared Living

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Pre-construction: the conditions of what and how we build

As investors and developers are working to minimise risk and maximise profit, there is a strong tendency to keep building (and selling) what they already know. And since the housing markets in bigger cities are generally very heated, there is little incentive to explore new designs. Most common investor models and modes of organisation do not support community-generated or community-owned development projects. To bring forward new modes of living and sharing, we need to address the investment structures, business models and planning processes that define the types of buildings that are constructed.

Local planning regulations are also important. The design of a building is a direct result of regulations that govern everything from overall density to building height to relations with the community. Planners have a crucial role in moving forward the shared-living agenda.

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Construction: the design and definition of space

The design and construction of residential buildings focuses almost exclusively on “traditional” family set-ups, leaving little space for new forms of spatial organisation. This is largely the result of the economic and political context. Construction is a cost driver and, within the dominant model of construction, it is considered hard to offer affordable “experimental” housing. Affordable, high-quality schemes exist, but they tend to demand more of the design process and require a more long-term understanding of “value” than just an immediate maximum return on investment.

The planning and construction industries are generally quite conservative and have only recently started exploring new design approaches such as prefabricated design, new digital tools and recyclable materials. Recently, the massive amount of CO2 emissions that stem from building work has focused attention on the process of construction – including demands for a more efficient (co-)use of the built fabric, since building less is an incredibly efficient way to reduce CO2 emissions.

Planning and construction industries need to start exploring new building types that support community and interaction. Sharing best practice in terms of both planning processes and designs seems to be a good place to start.

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Operation: facility management

Facility management is the art of operating and maintaining a building over time. If you own a home, the responsibility might be down to you as an individual; if you rent, it might be down to a service provider. There are alternative models that operate with shared ownership and responsibilities (such as andelsboliger in Denmark and baugruppen in Germany). In addition, there is an increased interest from strategic investors to ensure long-term investments, which means they are taking a more holistic interest in neighbourhood and community building.

Largely, however, the current investor-driven model does not support community-based facility management. New models need to be developed that address questions such as: how do you ensure a feeling of responsibility for members of a shared-living project? What types of organisational set-ups promote community and sharing, while still being effective and operational?