Back to the CO-mmune: Caring is Sharing

Is CO-Living The New Way of Living?

Related Staff : Christiane Lange

“Commonspace is a new way of living, working and making human connections. It is no less than revolutionary in its simplicity, but perfectly aligned with the human spirit.  We are all social creatures, and the best versions of ourselves are expressed when we do so in a group.”

 “It has absolutely validated that, for many New Yorkers, quality of life is not measured in terms of square feet. We believe ‘millennial’ is more aptly defined as a mindset rather than an age group, characterized by individuals who are favoring acquisition of experiences over ownership of things.” Co-Founder Ollie, Chris Bledsoe, 

Whereas the overcrowding of traditional housing units is pushing the permanent living arrangements of urban inhabitants into extreme conditions, the shared economy market, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, have derived global business models for temporary living and Co-living by exploding private markets, or re-altering the concept of shared living.

Some AirBnb hosts have pushed limits to extremes by offering wooden boxes for rent, as living spaces within flats. In another example, a pod-based community in LA, Pod-Share, has marketed a form of transit community living, with bunk beds. The membership model in this case goes beyond the common and traditional understandings of hostel living, or shared housing. ‘We are trying to strike a balance between social good while creating enough of an economic reserve to keep building more pods,’ says Evina Beck, Co-Founder Pod-Share. ‘The nightly, weekly or monthly membership is meant to be set up in a way that if you just have a toothbrush and clean underwear, you can survive here like a baller on a budget.’ [1]

Co-living brands like Welive, The Common in New York, or upscale pod-housing like the Campus in Hong Kong have started to challenge and develop the private formal housing market. These entrepreneurs collaborate with property developers on housing, that is in line with ideas of upscale communal living. While personal space is reduced, communal space is extended and upgraded with quality communal facilities and services.

The Campus Development in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, is a conversion of 48 four-bed dormitories containing individual pods that each house a desk and wardrobe, under an elevated bunk bed. The communal aspect of these living arrangements is key. Campus events offer a bonding mechanism for inhabitants of the neighborhood and there is much praise for the shared facilities that are part of communal life within the development.

The supporters of Co-Living see a solution to the problem of housing by fostering the notion of communal living, and opening up an experimental field for the global city. This is aimed at single transient people who are looking for better housing and are attracted by the social aspects of communal living,

Critiques argue that the implementation of micro units forms a vicious circle: Tiny flats achieve better profits with higher prices per sq ft and smaller lump-sum amounts in their investment. Developers in Hong Kong have been putting up ‘shoebox units’ for rent in the housing market with an average area of just 200 sq ft. In their proposed 3,400-unit project in Sham Shui Po, the Sun Hung Kai Properties mini-flats start from an area of just 160 sq ft per unit — excluding the kitchen and bathroom. ‘From developers’ point of view, strong demand for these flats will also reduce their investment risk, so why not build more small flats?’[2], says Charles Chan, Savills’ Managing Director for Valuation and Professional Services. — Turning anything into micro units, however, does not make them necessarily affordable and in fact can have quite the opposite effect. The micro accommodations are not cheap and are comparable with renting out a single unit. The average wage in Hong Kong is HKD 14,877 (ca. 1,670 Euro) with the minimum wage set at HKD 10,382 (ca. 1,150 Euro)[3] per month. An upscale bunk bed in the New Territories Campus Development on the outskirts of the city, costs HKD 7,800 (ca. 880 Euro), or HKD 162,5 per sq sf, per month, while a 200 sq ft single unit in a privately developed inner-city housing tower can be rented for HKD 17,000 (ca. 2000 Euro), or HKD 85 per sq ft, per month.

With this in mind, this studio looks at how to develop the minimum amount of space while integrating the concept of Co-Living. How can we learn from existing Co-living models? How can shared housing within the global city generate new architectures in either addressing different life style groups, or the issue of affordability, or the minimum space available? Is there room for invention and new typologies for housing when linking these to the global network and the shared economy? How does the traditional understanding of the flat and plan change, with a paradigm shift in ideas of private and communal space? How does the transit nature of the global city can be considered? Can we design flexible transit housing? How can we, as architects, find responses to the growing demand for flexibility within housing, but also the need for communal living? More importantly how can we engage as architects with the emerging field of the shared economy?

This studio will analyze the current debate on Co-Living and Micro-Housing. It will dive into an analysis of the shared economy and start-up businesses around Co-Living and Co-Workingboth globally and locally. The studio investigates how the notion of ‘share’ is understood in each of the investigated Co-living models. We will study how these are branded and engineered, how they are calculated, whom are they made for, and how they are eventually manifested in architecture. The studio will also contemplate the future of housing, taking Hong Kong’s requirements as the best and worst extremes, with a view to innovating ideas around the Co.

[1] “In pod based community living, rent is cheap, but sex is banned”,, 03.28.2016

[2] “Developers squeeze out tiny flats as home prices soar”, Sandy Li, South China Morning Post, 20.10.2014.

[3] Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong, July 2015.


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