Working from Home and Live Work
In March 2020, the UK government required the population to work from home if possible. This meant that nearly half of the UK workforce did just that. Almost overnight, our commercial centres were emptied, flights were grounded, trains cancelled and workplaces languished in the unseasonably clement weather. In contrast, many of our Sociable Housing designs incorporate commercial alongside residential, or have live/work units. Prior to the pandemic, the careful mix of residential, commercial and live/work had clear benefits (community, safety, well-being), only to be reinforced during lockdown. We were among the fortunate few, where live/work was already part of our lives and community.
Forest Mews - Live / work community in Forest Hill
Working from home is not a new phenomenon. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people worked at, or close to, their home. Living above the shop was also typical. With the arrival of industrialisation, people were drawn to where the work was and the daily ‘commute’ was born. Mass housing was built around travel hubs and industrial employment to keep the workforce numerous and close, the remnants of which still house a large proportion of the modern workforce – albeit adapted for modern living - extended and opened-up.
Modern life has felt so busy, with people seemingly spending more time away from the home than in it, open-plan living offered positive moments of togetherness for families and friends. Long working hours and open plan has been on the rise since the 1970s. Homes were a haven away from work, never intended to be a place of work for many. And during lockdown, we were asking even more of our homes – to be our schools, gyms, playrooms, restaurants and mental refuge.
Stolon are a research based practice, and we are currently carrying out research into WFH within a Sociable setting. Many of our house designs are constructed to feel open, but are not ‘open plan’. Based on our on-going research, we have resisted this, as providing the sanctuary of a home and a quality work space is in conflict with an open-plan.
Rusty House - open plan living / kitchen / dining but with a separate studio, acessed directly from both the entrance hall and open plan space.
Our recently completed Barn House, in Herefordshire, has an open plan living/kitchen/dining area but the home also incorporates a treatment room and waiting area, for the Osteopath client’s clinic. There are clear use compartments within the home setting.
Barn House - a place to live and work from home
How has the pandemic changed the prospect of Live/Work?
The economic outcomes of the future are definitely uncertain. But creating designs that can quickly respond to change and opportunity is where we see our future work expanding. We would welcome the prospect for Stolon’s approach to feature on the high street. With a Planning System on the back foot, there is a concerning trend of empty commercial space being turned over to residential under permitted development, slowly burning through the shops and offices of our town centres. The change is commonly one-way. Once residential, units are seldom changed back into commercial use. However, if there was the support for these units to be given over to responsible Live/Work, there could be a sliding scale, responding to need – offering housing and employment opportunities together with the visible activity so vital to the communities, confidence and well-being of our towns and cities.
Jessica Barker, Stolon Studio, October 2020