As the UK appears to be escaping the grip of the pandemic, the construction industry is committing much energy to questions centred on: The Post Covid Home, i.e. What are the impacts the pandemic may eventually have on our future homes and towns? How will they better facilitate hybrid working? even, how will our compact urban homes provide sufficient access to quality external space? etc.
For GTH architects, the questions we should be asking are: ’’What will the post-Covid person look like? What will our relationships with one another, our wider communities and the environment look like as the pandemic recedes?’’
For us, it is and should be, all about PEOPLE.
We are all familiar with the way seismic events accelerate underlying trends in societal and behavioural dynamics. In the UK, even before the pandemic, we were grappling with a critical housing shortage, the aftermath of Brexit and the foreboding markers of climate change – to name but a few.
The impacts of the pandemic and Brexit have become curiously interwoven and pushed many social issues to the forefront of public consciousness. These will inevitably have significant repercussions for the way we engage with and use our homes in the future – not to mention the people we will share this experience with.
The tragedy of Covid has compounded already critical recruitment challenges being faced by care home providers following Brexit. The effect of a diminishing recruitment pool is doubling up alongside a reduction in the confidence of families who have previously entrusted the care of loved ones to the social care sector. This will inevitably lead to (in many instances)unsustainable stress being placed on care providers and a greater inclination for people to keep their loved ones closer to home – even under the same roof.
As a nation, we have courted flexible working for decades without fully grasping the nettle. The broadly positive experience of enforced work-from-home for many during lockdown has changed all that. Giving rise to fundamental changes to the very fabric of what home and workplaces need to provide and the very geography of each in relation to the other. More than ever before smart employers are having meaningful two-way conversations with their people about how and where they want to conduct their working experience.
Perhaps because society has been afforded a period of introspection or maybe simply because we can no longer ignore the ominous signs that are presenting themselves daily, climate change is now mainstream. Emerging consensus about the urgency with which we need to face up to this mammoth challenge is placing environmentally oriented investments top of the tree for all classes of investors that are pursuing ESG targets. The benefits of Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) in respect to waste reduction and energy conservation have long since been recognised by innovators but now all things ‘sustainable’ are being courted by investors.‘Follow the people with money’ and you can see massive movement towards research into green(er) products and integrated, vertically distributed sustainable supply chains – enhancing our capacity to deliver more homes for people in need, more quickly and with less environmental impact.
An inevitable consequence of our concentration on issues of health is a greater examination of our own wellbeing – including our relationships with the built environment and levels of diversity, equality and inclusivity we are afforded in our homes and communities. Indeed, recent research by our colleagues‘Life Proven’ has established that the single most important ‘wellbeing factor’ in our home life is that of ‘having good neighbours’, in other words, we as people prioritise being around good people.
In a parallel way to how the vaccines appear to have broken causal links between infection and critical illness, it could be said the persistence and innovation of the UK’s Build to Rent sector is breaking the country’s inalienable pursuit of homeownership. Renting for the first time in generations is reliable, even desirable – aligning with the lifestyle choices of significant swathes of the population and year-on-year is featuring as one of the most prolific areas of investment in UK housing production – in no small way helping to address the housing crisis. Many mechanisms and dynamics have contributed to BTR becoming mainstream, but most crucial is the attention and innovation it brings to the user experience at the design, delivery and operations stages. Understanding people, their likes and dislikes, is crucial to the success of BTR.
Post pandemic - along with a wholesale redefinition of commuting frequency and distance – Build to Rent’s new frontier is the single-family home. Entire ‘walkable’ hamlets are being developed in secondary locations by single entity asset holders with a laser focus on understanding the needs and desires of their customers and communities.
The pandemic is offering many lessons. Perhaps uppermost is the power of community. Disregard of community plays into an isolationist agenda. By contrast, greater flexibility in the way we procure and pay for our homes will enable much more flexible communities – a cohousing agenda is not unthinkable – where people will be able to live near friends and loved ones so that they can attend to each other’s needs. This could even mean multi-generational living with several generations of the same family living in the same dwelling, where they can offer mutual support and care across generations – rolling up caring for elderly family members and enabling grandparent care of children.
Following the pandemic demand for alternative living models will be inevitable. Homes will need to be more adaptable, flexible and able to integrate with all manner of technologies – whether they be related to communications or movement – enabling occupation to be possible throughout the occupant’s whole life cycle. However, in response to our eyes being opened to a world that we do not want to return to, more than anything we should recognise that our homes, buildings and towns are the backdrop to a much more important thing: the unfolding lives of PEOPLE.