In each town and city across the UK you will see drab new schemes being thrown up with little though or attention. “Cram them in and sell them off!” – the instruction of developers to their architects from Leeds to London. The rents are getting higher by the day and the quality of living space on offer, frankly, isn’t keeping pace.
Having built luxury HMO properties for young professionals, we knew the best functioning houses where those when the group who lived there gelled. Living with people who became firm friends over time was the attraction. Living economically in a slightly smaller, but much nicer, space was just a bonus.
So I ventured to New York to visit WeLive on Wall Street. The sister company of WeWork, a multi billion dollar co-working company expanding rapidly all over the world. WeLive fully embraced the ideals of co-living, but in small self contained apartments. 200 of them, right in the heart of Manhattan. The cost of living in a WeLive apartment, however, was extortionate. Up to 20% more expensive than living in a high end lower Manhattan apartment. They were finished to an average standard but had some great communal spaces.
One great idea was to put the mailboxes for each apartment in the basement, which also happened to be a bar. Coming home from work each day and bumping into a neighbour in the bar was a great way to stimulate conversation and create new friendships, we couldn’t resist incorporating the idea into Neighbourhood. Any ideas on how we could design our buildings to incorporate this kind of design to stimulate conversation was now top of our agenda. Putting table tennis tables in the laundry room, so people could challenge their neighbours to a game whilst waiting for their laundry, was another great idea.
Over in Los Angeles, I talked extensively to the WeWork office managers to get a feel of what worked best. These guys were as far away from traditional office people as possible. With no suits in sight, comfy chairs to relax in, and even free beer taps in each location – this was clearly the way to work in 2018. Everything is built around the community, and everyone does know everyone – the introductions made of course by their community managers.
It was only right after seeing the best of the US offering, that we venture to London to see the largest co-living operator in the UK – the Collective. We had been sceptical that miniscule rooms and rent over £1000pcm were going to be an attractive combination, but again were impressed with the building and the staff running it. These effortlessly cool, endlessly friendly people seemed to be the key to Old Oak’s success.
Sure the communal spaces were nicely designed, including a restaurant also open to the public, but this was still London – and space was clearly prioritised towards paid rooms rather than free to use communal space.
As part of the tour to see the best of what co-living looks like in as many different places as possible, we have seen some wonderful ideas and interpretations of the idea. We have also seen room for improvement – and that’s the thing that really excites us. Co-living is 21st century living done right, and whilst we don’t think for a second our schemes are going to be perfect – we do think they’ll be pretty amazing.
We are going to carry on our journey of finding more wonderful locations to open a Neighbourhood Co-Living scheme, as well as continue to visit existing schemes all over the world to learn where we can improve.
We hope you’ll decide to join us on our journey.