The number of multi-generational households in the UK, the USA and in other developed countries has been increasing and this living arrangement has become a growing trend globally. According to The Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research, 1.8 million households in the UK have two or more related adult generations living under the same roof – an increase of 38% since 2009. In the USA, the number of multigenerational households reached an all-time high, 20% of the U.S. population, at the time of the most recent census data in 2016.
Polarising wage earnings, a housing market where stock isn’t meeting demand and older generations are living longer, are all contributing to this development. Younger people are finding it difficult to afford a place of their own and older adults can’t afford the costs of care and retirement housing. Consequently, 20% of 25 – 34 year olds live with their parents now, compared with 16% in 1991, and 21% of those 65 and older are living with their adult children and grandchildren – a proportion predicted to increase.
A study by Age Concern found that a third of older adults in the UK would like to move from their present home. The general assumption has been that upon reaching a certain stage in life, many people want to downsize because they find their home too large or difficult to maintain. But what would their ideal living arrangements be? In some cities there have been reports of the trend of ‘active retirees’ who choose to downsize from large suburban homes to city apartments to be close to amenities, culture and transport.
Most new homes are built to a traditional family layout, and usually not in urban areas. There is an estimated demand for 125,000 additional multi-generational homes per year, but housebuilding isn’t meeting either the desired volume or the quality. Clearly there is an opportunity to create flexible designs which offer self-contained areas for privacy alongside communal space, which can work for a range of household configurations.
Avoiding the segregation of cities by age and creating cross-generation communities can counter problems of isolation, the decline of the high street and crime. Studies show that older people enjoy better health and less loneliness with multigenerational living. There is the potential for different generations to cater to each other’s needs and to complement one another in a balanced community. Generation X, Baby Boomers and Silver Surfers, for instance, have the greater savings and property assets as well as knowledge to share. The younger generations, with their dynamism, flexibility and innovation could create services. The arrangements would boost employment, local shops and restaurants and keep venues active during off-peak hours.
Multi-generational living arrangements can, in theory, increase psychological, social and financial capital – factors associated with improvements in health and longevity
Independence and Interdependency
Heta decided to explore building typographies which will meet the needs of a single multi-generational family as well as how mixed use development designs could support living, working and leisure for a mixed age community. Using algorithmic tools, we studied the nuances across the different generations – what they want and need; the benefits they could bring to the others and what commonalities could be drawn out from their inter-relationships. We considered what a multi-generational community will need and designed potential arrangements with new mixes of retail, residential and workspace. Conclusions such as that millennials want spaces for collaboration; Generation Z want spaces to create; Generation X want family friendly environments, and Baby Boomers want ways to remain active and engaged then guided our design thinking.
Using shared spaces and common circulation to promote social unity
There are a number of precedents which demonstrate how a dwelling could work for a multi-generational family and for multiple families. A three generation house in Amsterdam, designed as a mini apartment building shows how shared circulation and overlapping communal spaces can work and be adapted over time. Examples abound in places where living as an extended family is the norm. The ROAM Balinese Housing Community, has private areas grouped around ground level communal spaces. This led us to think about how to use overlapping shared and re-configurable spaces as organisational hubs in both a multi-generational single dwelling and in a development for more than one family.
In the single-family multi-generational home, we feature a space for everyone with collaborative and shared areas and useful technology. With the larger developments, a multi-generational living space mix could be on the upper levels and chameleon spaces – communal and adaptable spaces - in the ground plane and lower levels. External and internal intermixing with shared live work space would encourage collaboration, keep the spaces active throughout the day and evening and enable members of the community to intermingle. This could be constructed as new build or with new elements added to existing structures with pavilions on top.
Integrated technology to plan for evolution
Smart-home technology and augmented utility apps are advancing all the time and here would play a key part in making it possible to maximise flexibility and customisation. Not everyone in the same age group will want the same thing and all too often, the one-size-fits-all fits none. By weaving in aspects of a modular and component approach, we would allow users to shape their own spaces to their needs. We envision a virtual warehouse of components which would make it possible to adapt and refine the layouts, with the added bonus of making it tweakable over time as the requirements and mixes change. In addition, connected digital services would be an important part of the experience of living, working and using the space, with everything from telecoms to security, from lighting and heating.
The tech will now exist to enable architects and planners to find intergenerational solutions that will benefit individuals and the wider community.