The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live Now” is a research project that was commissioned from Ipsos ORI by the RIBA for the independent Future Homes Commission’s investigation into how the UK can build enough of the right kind of homes for modern British households.

A qualitative approach was used, whereby 5 ethnographic interviews were carried out in a range of housing situations. It makes for an interesting read and as you might expect (if you follow programmes like Location, Location, Location), the assessment of many potential buyers when considering their first home is based primarily on an emotional response.

Key findings were:

– Large windows for natural light

– Large main living area for eating and socialising

– Layouts which take into account technology used in the home

– Space for private time away from other members of the household

– Private space outside, particularly for families

– Long and short-term storage provision

– Dedicated space for domestic utility tasks

– Options for different layouts

Okay, so people want “big windows and natural light” – hardly a revelation; a “large living area” for entertaining, well doesn’t that feature on everyone’s list?; “layouts that take into account technology” – erm, this one troubles me… isn’t it the purpose of mobile tablets such as the iPad to provide this flexibility? Besides with continual improvements to wi-fi and broadband infrastructure, how constraining can any house really be? After all, all you need is an iPod dock, some mobile speakers and a patch of wall for your wafer-thin LED TV; “space for private time away from the family” – erm, a bedroom perhaps? “Private space outside” – people want a garden, no surprises there; “long and short-term storage provision” – that’ll be a loft then (if you live in a house), and perhaps a cupboard under the stairs, a drawer in the kitchen if you’re Michael McIntyre; “dedicated space for domestic utility tasks” – I think that’s called a utility room; “options for different layouts” – perhaps consider purchasing a fold-up table and a sofa-bed.

Okay, a bit cynical. But really, the only one that jumps out as an exciting opportunity for an architect is the last one. Providing flexibility in a home, particularly in a small home, is the real challenge of 21st century living and modern house design. And it has to mean more than sofa-beds and folding tables (although they do come into it).

The challenge is this: people’s lives are busy, fast and ever changing. A house, on the other hand – or at least the conventional view of a house – is static, permanent, safe.

Is it possible to design a house that can shift and change and respond to changes in lifestyle and technology, or should we just accept that houses have now become neutral canvasses against which we splash the colourful gizmos of our technology-led lives?