The market needs to recognise that our experience of home has changed

16 November, 2020

“How we live, where we live, where we work and how we work is all going to change but how you translate it into design so it becomes a piece of real estate – that is the real challenge,” confessed a senior director of a London-based property company earlier this year, when we were in the first lockdown.

My interview with him was never published because the global pandemic took the residential property market by surprise and at that stage it had no answers.

Yet his analysis was correct. The message that came out of being forced to remain at home is that people need better indoor space so they can more easily and comfortably work, and good quality outdoor space when lockdown rules make almost everywhere else out of bounds.

The problem is that years of building high-density one- and two-bedroom apartments marketed at affluent young and childless buyers has made the residential property market lazy, rich and risk averse – and when times are tough, even less likely to want to innovate.

But the WFH revolution took everyone by surprise, not just the property market.

Could we really forgo weeks without seeing colleagues or buying our favourite cinnamon roll from the bakery en route to the office? What about Friday night drinks, let alone the camaraderie that comes from being part of a team?

And there’s a lot not to like about WFH – the monotony mainly. Also depending on the time of year, there’s the noise of neighbours when everyone has their widows open, a wi-fi connection that cuts out during important zoom calls, the lack of excuses to buy new clothes and frankly the need even to get out of bed.

But perhaps the biggest  challenge is that homes are not designed for eight hours of sitting at a desk. For a start, there isn’t enough natural light says architect Alison Brooks.

Her other other observation is lack of perspective. “When you’re in a small room you’re never looking at anything more than about 2.5 metres away – three at most – and that sense of confinement, that lack of depth of field, somehow isn’t cognitively healthy”, she says.

But despite this, WFH has been the biggest story of 2020 and all surveys on how attitudes might change post-pandemic come to more or less the same conclusion – that people want to continue working from home, at least part time. And bosses agree. After a worry that productivity would be adversely affected by WFH, there is no such evidence, In fact. the reverse may be true.

That’s why we chose working from home as the theme for the inaugural Davidson Prize. It seems highly relevant to what people are experiencing right now and more importantly it’s a theme that speaks about how we could live in the future.

The Davidson Prize rewards transformative architecture of the home. It aims to promote excellent design and wellbeing and the compelling communication of these solutions. The deadline for registration is December 1.