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How Will Changes in the Way We Live Change the Way We Build?

News | 17.08.21 |

The pandemic has changed the way we see our homes for good. For some people, home became the workplace during COVID-19 and will continue to be an integral part of flexible working routines in the future. Others were forced to clear their kitchen table to create a classroom, often while working from home too. And for many, particularly in urban areas, home became a ceaseless indoor environment, which prompted a longing for some outdoor space – no matter how small – to breath in and enjoy natural surroundings.

It’s a collective experience that will surely prompt a collective response from architectural and construction professionals to build residential developments more suited to changing lifestyles and working cultures. The pandemic has taught us that many of the homes that were built in the past were not flexible enough to cope with change. It also demonstrated the value of community, the growing importance of technology and connectivity for both work and leisure, and the wellbeing benefits of green space. Finally, the pandemic has also highlighted that the hard lines between work and home which we used to consider set in stone are actually much less defined that we thought, opening the door to exciting opportunities for mixed use developments and live-work accommodation.

So, what are the trends that our market knowledge indicates will influence residential developments over the next few years?

Inner Space

The biggest challenge for many people when the advice came to work from home was space. Even those not competing for space with children, spouses, flat mates or in-laws often had to make tough choices. Whether their living or their bedroom should become their office, for example, and if it should be their dining room table or their kitchen counter that was sacrificed as a desk.

While we may have begun lockdown with the idea that we’d pack work away at the end of the day and convert our spaces back to living areas in the evening, the reality is that multifunctionality requires planning. We didn’t have the luxury of planning our response to Covid. But we can plan how we adapt to the change that came in its wake.

In urban locations where development plots are in short supply and land is expensive, increasing the footprint of residential units is not always viable. But changing the way we use the available space could transform the level of useable space in a property. For example, adding a mezzanine could create an office area while retaining an open plan feel. Using sliding doors to enable space efficient segregation while enabling areas to be repurposed for different uses could introduce more versatility into the way we use our homes.

The fact is that both employers and employees are embracing new routines that involve mixing time in the office with working from home, so residential property development needs to respond to changing needs. Basements and additional storeys can help increase the potential yield of a site but it’s creative thinking about the layout that will deliver homes that excite buyers and renters. For example, at our 374 Cold Harbour Lane project, outset dormas and inset balconies allow maximum internal useable floor areas. Touches like this could help to allow scope for a home office.

Outer Space

The apartments at 374 Cold Harbour Lane have balconies; a feature that has become much more of a priority for residential buyers and renters since the pandemic began. It is clearer than ever that outdoor space is important on a number of levels; to help us feel less enclosed, more in touch with nature and more connected to our neighbours. In short, the ability to be outside at home contributes to our wellbeing, and the outdoor spaces we used to see as a luxury have become much more integral to our basic needs.

Balconies are not the only way to achieve outdoor space, however. For houses, a garden has always been a typical feature, but apartments can offer garden spaces too. Hard and soft landscaping around the perimeter of an apartment block or as a courtyard area may seem, on the face of it, to sacrifice valuable yield, but it could elevate the value of every unit in the development.

Not all gardens need to be at ground level either. Roof gardens are increasingly popular and can create a sense of cohesion for the development, delivering a space where residents can socialise.

For developments where a garden is not viable at ground or roof level, green walls, water features or indoor planting can provide an alternative approach to biophilia to provide wellbeing benefits for residents.

Staying Connected

Alongside space, it was plug sockets and bandwith that were in high demand in the UK’s homes during lockdown. And as we look ahead at what people will want from their properties as working from home becomes more embedded in our culture, the ability to power and charge multiple devices will be essential. So too will the ability to use cloud-based services and video calling apps without concerns that the connection will be lost at a critical point.

Residential projects need to be built with more robust electrical and data installations to ensure that people have the same level of resilience for their equipment and reliability for their WiFi at home as they do in the office.

Energy efficiency will also be important. Enabling people to work from home delivers operational cost benefits for the employer but the employee will have higher electricity bills. Smart systems and renewables may therefore also need to feature in residential properties to ensure energy usage adjusts to need in real time and that some of the required load is supplied by self-generated energy.

Home, Office, Other

Although many people have embraced working from home and are happy to incorporate homeworking into their weekly routines, others are less willing to bring work into their living space. The problem is, if employers have limited capacity for hot desking, working in the office five days a week may no longer be an option. As a consequence, savvy developers have an opportunity to build value into residential developments by including co-working space into the model.

Use of co-working accommodation could be built into the purchase price or service charge, offered on a lease basis or provided as a pay-as-you-go facility for both residents and non-residents. Co-working facilities are not new but the changes to the way we work brought about by the pandemic mean that there is increased opportunity to consider how they can be incorporated into residential projects.

It’s clear that residential development trends are changing, and where there is change, there is opportunity. Working with a construction contractor at pre-construction and design development enables developers to embrace change with fresh and innovative designs while leveraging the experience of a team that can offer sound, reality check advice on buildability, cost management and risk.