Workhome Studies 2
The Productive Dwelling
Studio 12 at the University of Brighton led by Luis Diaz and Sean Albuquerque has concentrated on housing since 2010. In 2017 the studio focused on live-work dwellings on a site in Hastings using Frances Hollis’s book Beyond Live/Work as a starting point.
‘The students’ personal insights are used to help them challenge the assumed fixity and narrow range of uses that occur in homes.’
The studio’s approach has always been to challenge standard dwelling arrangements which continue to be based on norms established in the Victorian period and which reduce dwellings to living, dining, kitchen, and bedroom spaces. The draws from both Henri Lefebvre’s and Michel de Certeau’s work on everyday practices. We typically start by asking students to analyse their own home living and work routines. This presents unique opportunities as students’ will often improvise and invent ways of adapting and using spaces that are normally not design for live-work scenarios. Students in flat shares will also often use spaces designed for family life in ways that cater to their specific needs for privacy and socialisation. This reveals both the inventiveness of users and the limitations of standardised (and often inflexible) spaces. The students’ personal insights are used to help them challenge the assumed fixity and narrow range of uses that occur in homes. For example, by suspending the label ‘kitchen’ and its typical functional definition, it can be understood as a space of work (the labour of making meals), the best party space (where there beer is cold and ice can be found), a meeting and social space (notes left on the fridge door), a place for doing homework away from the TV, a place of meditation (doing the dishes while staring out the window), and so on.
The studio’s experiments have to be approached with caution as students have yet to experience full-time working life and the challenges of balancing that with family life. Occasionally, however, students have produced models that hint at new typologies that suggest radical re-workings of work and social life.
‘Workspaces for each pair of dwellings are placed on the first floor around a shared courtyard’
Irving Toroitich’s project is based around the potential for sharing flexible workspace across dwellings. Workspaces for each pair of dwellings are placed on the first floor around a shared courtyard. This acts as both a possible space to extend into and a way to create a link between different working scenarios. The courtyard can be accessed by an external stair acting as a direct route to the workspace preventing the need for workplace visitors to walk into or through the dwelling. The arrangement allows for the possibility of negotiation between neighbours allowing one to expand into another’s underused space. Although the proposed partitioning follows the line of the party wall separating the dwellings this can be easily relocated providing shifts in the amount of space each dwelling has. Their placement also allows these spaces to be converted into living spaces, for example, should the family grow and require additional bedrooms.
‘The extent to which the two sides interweave is up to the inhabitants and is meant to evolve as family, social and economic needs change’
Tomi Akinyemi built flexibility into both the living and working space by proposing two separate volumes. The design consists of regularly spaces party walls with a ‘starter’ layout of living, sleeping and work spaces. The regularised structural grid allows for either the home or workspace to grow or contract as needed. A buffer space between the two volumes acts to both separate and link the two worlds. The layout allows for the work unit to be leased out or converted into a ‘granny flat’ by having its own street frontage. The extent to which the two sides interweave is up to the inhabitants and is meant to evolve as family, social and economic needs change. Both of these proposals go beyond architectural and spatial arrangements – what is critical in these two projects is the economic model underlying them. The workspaces offer a space that can be used for the owner’s own income producing activity or be leased to generate income. The consideration of economic conditions (and the possibility of new and different financing models) along with flexibility for different forms of family life make these proposals interesting prototypes for further development.
‘… the inclusion of work scenarios makes the contribution of housing richer, more flexible and ultimately adaptable’
Lizzie Terry’s scheme mines the history of older forms of live-work relationships while transforming the archetypical Georgian dwelling. Her proposal works through an analysis of the different zones, activities and patterns of use in Georgian terraces and updates this for contemporary uses. While the result is a more traditional ground floor shop with living above the workspace is cleverly divided into a public street facing realm and back-garden portion with a direct link to the dwelling above. The use of historical models – blending and transforming them – results in a terrace-apartment block hybrid alongside clearly defined front and back urban territories. The urban impact of reconsidering dwellings through the lens of live/work is evident here. While housing has always played a major role in the character of cities and their neighbourhood, the inclusion of work scenarios makes their contribution richer, more flexible and ultimately adaptable.
Taken together these projects have cemented an interest in linking up social and economic issues with architectural and typological ones. These experiments were prescient given the pandemic which followed three years later. What is critical about these and any future studies is not just that we need to challenge what makes up a home – to go beyond the reductive labels of kitchen, dining, living and bedroom – but that we also pay attention to the way that the pandemic has opened up new ways of thinking about the financial and economic systems that underpin these.