Speaking of the home, the definition of ‘safe haven’ has rarely been as fitting as in this period. Millions of us have become 'refugees' in our homes. A return that has revolutionized the meaning of the verb to live.
Because it is true that the sales systems, the management of real estate, the value that is given to property and usufruct have changed (read here). It is true that PropTech exists, that post-Covid prices fluctuate, that it is difficult to say how the living business will evolve in the near and more distant future. But above all it is true that none of this would last or would be so relevant if the way we live the house hadn't changed.
It is this change, the result of a perpetual evolutionary motion that the pandemic has certainly accelerated but not invented. And now, after having survived the epic scenario of the first months of Covid-19, it seems normal to us to look more carefully at everyday life and try to imagine a new environment in balance in a world that has given back to the home a primordial meaning, as well as a priority.
What houses do we want? Before answering this question, let's also ask ourselves where we want them. At the end of August, The New York Times observed how many citizens are leaving Manhattan to move to the suburbs, tempted by a bigger house in the open (which is especially popular when the benefits of city life no longer exist and you work remotely). But, above all, from homes capable of containing functions that were previously distributed and widespread. Daily living, made up of affections, passions, ordinary rituals such as cooking and washing and sleeping, will have to share the same space (and the same square meters), of working, meeting, planning, inventing, studying.
The easiest way to resolve the situation is to leverage the furniture. Hybrid ones already exist, and certainly not recently, designed to be in a home as in an office. Compas Direction, a desk designed by Jean Prouvé in 1950, is an ante litteram example that is more relevant than ever. As well as work chairs suitable for the home environment, such as the Tip Ton by Barber & Osgerby or the Allstar by Konstantin Grcic And if it is the privacy to make a call that is missing, here are the countless movable and soundproof walls, ephemeral structures, insulating alcove-armchairs, modular meditative places that meet the needs of an all-to-do space.
"We will need a different type of furniture, able to divide the functions of living and ensure greater privacy in some moments and more space for sharing and socializing in others", Daniele Lago commented in full lockdown. A few months later, his company presented Home Office, a collection in which Lago's classics have been modified to adapt to the multifunctionality of environments used differently by day and by night. Sideboards that become desks, tables that turn into desks, bookcases with flap that, if not used for work, have a domestic function.
However, the change is expected to be macroscopic and structural, accelerated by the pandemic. It is not just about designing furniture, but ways of living.
Since the 1970s, new, more rational models have been explored, inspired by generative economies and co-design. The first examples of cohousing are fifty years old and are Danish. The elective neighborhood, the collective management of common areas and ordinary needs such as childcare and food supply are in force. In Italy there are about ten, three in Milan. The first born 14 years ago thanks to research by the design faculty of the Politecnico di Milano is called Urban Village Bovisa and there is a waiting list to get in.
The economic and emotional benefits are innumerable, so much so that the model has been imported all over the world.
The anthropologist Andrea Staid recalls the surprise of his study trips on the subject of living, when in the Far East he realized that in the agricultural villages no one closes the door to avoid isolating themselves and, therefore, putting themselves in danger. An elusive logical leap for a design culture that invented the Unité d’Habitation. But Le Corbusier declared that the main source of inspiration for that criticized project was the Certosa di Ema, in which collective and individual were cadenced by architecture in a rational and harmonious way. "From that moment on, the binomial appeared to me: ‘individual’ and ‘collective’, an indissoluble combination,” the architect later wrote.
Two necessary and antithetical states of the human being, which in contemporary habits will have to find space in an urban revolution. The one theorized for example by Carlos Moreno with the City of the quarter hour, an idea on which Mayor Anne Hidalgo is aiming for the future of Paris. “We live in fragmented cities, where we often work far from where we live, we don't know our neighbors, we are alone” Moreno summed up. The solution is to look at public spaces in a different way to find out which ones are underused and can instead have functions of aggregation and participation. A drawing in which all the actions of living are depicted in a circular territory similar to a Vitruvian man explains how any useful place can be reached in fifteen minutes on foot, in the ideal city. Which now, to this landscape, must add the rules (flexible, updatable, erasable hopefully in the future) of social distancing.
And how will the house change? As perhaps Le Corbusier had guessed, individual and collective will dictate the rhythm of private spaces. And design will have to take care of making the places where we are together more usable and those destined for solitude more private and safe. The transitions from one state to another will find a solution in the integration of greenery inside the houses and an artificial light modulated on natural rhythms. We will begin to see the silver lining of a period of which we still do not know the effects, which however calls in a powerful way to collaboration between design, science and technology.