It’s almost unbelievable when you reflect on the scale of change that’s occurred across the world over the space of just a few months, not to mention the lasting impacts it will have on our lives. And with the World Health Organisation recently warning that coronavirus “may never go away”, many of the changes we’ve seen are probably here to stay, says Ian Kemp, Sales Director at Eurocell.
It’s not impossible to think that we might have forms of social distancing measures in place, on and off, for years to come, meaning we’ll have to reassess so many of our day-to-day functions. In the workplace, it’s likely that a high percentage of the population will continue to work from home much more regularly. And in our personal lives, an increasing number of us may have vulnerable family members moving in to be cared for.
These factors – amongst hundreds of others – pose clear questions for how housing is developed in future. So, with the likelihood of second spikes and future pandemics highly likely, how can house-builders future-proof their stock moving forward? And perhaps more pertinently – will COVID-19 change our housing design and communities forever?
Re-configuration of homes
We’re all aware of the huge impact the design and build of our homes have on our physical and mental wellbeing. Now more than ever, homes are our ultimate safe spaces. So, a major consideration moving forward will be around the configuration of living spaces. The rise in remote working means that more people will want to live in homes that provide a productive space to work in – away from the kitchen table or temporary set up in the spare bedroom. So, homes with built-in working spaces and increased digital connectivity to allow for streamlined home working will likely be in increased demand. In addition, carefully placed windows to allow for more natural light, and sound-proofed walls to stop distractions from neighbours and traffic, will become an even more important factor in creating optimal working environments.
Similarly, as more people have vulnerable family members move in to be cared for, homes will need to be considered from a co-living perspective. This might mean that we see less focus on the open-plan design trend that has become so popular over the past decade and more on creating living spaces that have multiple boxed off areas that can be lived in independently and are less conducive to the spread of germs.
Spending more time at home inevitably means household bills and waste will go up if homes aren’t designed efficiently, meaning sustainability will be more important than ever. While the use of sustainable building products is by no means a new notion, house-builders and property managers will be looking for ways in which they can take this further. Investing in homes which are energy-efficient, have water-saving appliances, consider the appropriate placement of windows and doors to maximise natural light levels, and include features such as built-in recycling facilities, are just some sustainability features which will need considering in this new environment. Perhaps further into the future, more people will be looking at ways they can live as self-sufficiently as possible. Whether that’s having independent water and heating supplies, or space outside the home for a vegetable patch.
More emphasis on neighbourhoods
The importance of neighbourhoods and communities will become crucial considerations for house-builders, who could look to create neighbourhoods with an increased focus on open spaces and green areas which give residents the space to spread out. Creating spaces that are adaptable to crisis situations and more conducive to social distancing measures will future-proof our future communities.
Not only this, but as public transport use reduces and more people are asked to stay closer to home, away from friends and work colleagues for long periods, increasing numbers of people will be looking to find connection in their more immediate communities. To facilitate this, developers will not only need to look at how they can incorporate more safe community facilities such as green spaces, but also how they start to build communities and a sense of belonging in practice. Whether that’s through specialist placemakers or community engagement schemes. This desire for building communities and not just places to live was reflected in the ‘Future Communities’ research we carried out late last year, where three-quarters of respondents said that new housing developments should actively foster a sense of community.
We know that many architects and industry groups will already be thinking about how they can develop communities in line with these changes. The Design Council, for example, are already starting to think about what place design might look at after COVID-19, with considerations including how neighbourhoods can be retrofitted to allow for low-density exercise and play.
Falling incomes will lead to even more pressing affordability issues for many residents – including many key workers who need affordable yet comfortable places to live. This will be something that social and affordable housing providers particularly will need to take into consideration. They’ll need to carefully find the balance between incorporating new design and community features and creating homes that are not only long-term, sustainable places to live, but also still affordable for residents.
A serious contender for being able to create this mix of quality and affordability is off-site construction, where homes can be created in controlled conditions, in a way which can be continued even when social distancing measures are in place. So, it’s likely that we’ll see an increase in this method of construction to facilitate these demands.
The future of housing
The house-building industry is on the cusp of huge change. Many are already gathering data on changing consumer behaviours, and how these will impact future living requirements, so they’re able to foresee trends and adapt faster. Whatever happens, this won’t be the first time in history that our buildings and neighbourhoods have been reimagined completely; it’s those that evolve in line with this changing world that will come out stronger.