Living and working spaces reintegrated

For a century or more, residential and commercial projects have been treated as separate worlds. But over the next 20 years urban development will increasingly focus on new kinds of integrated schemes involving a sophisticated blend of both elements.

The idea of separating areas for housing and industry emerged in the 19th century when pollution was rendering inner-city life intolerable. This split was central to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities philosophy in the 1890s, then taken further in the 1930s with Le Corbusier’s ‘La Ville Radieuse’ theories. Cities have been carved up into different zones for housing and business for so long it seems the natural order of things.

Since the 1990s three global trends have eroded the separation of housing and workspace:

  1. As more businesses adopted the internet, there was less need for employees to come to an office building every day, thereby reducing the need for the commuter lifestyle.
  2. New generations of creative professionals started opting to live and work as part of a localised community, occupying derelict industrial areas of cities, now seen as a catalyst for gentrification.
  3. The structure of the global economy changed in a way that saw the future of value growth and job creation increasingly driven by small entrepreneurial businesses rather than giant corporations. Consequently, cities around the world started trying to create favourable environments for start-ups.

The rise of mixed-use schemes in recent decades is a symptom of these shifts. But these developments have no integration - the people living in them are separate from the people working in them. The emergence of ‘co-living’ is another indicator. However, the current approach targeting millennials with micro-apartments struggles to create durable communities.

Between 2009 and 2014 my company, The Trampery, worked with the London Borough of Hackney and the prime minister’s office to establish a network of eight workspaces across east London to underpin the ‘Tech City’ innovation cluster. In the process, we recognised that Shoreditch’s success as a creative district was aided by the high proportion of people working there who also lived there. The overlap of social connections and business collaborations helped ideas and ventures grow faster.

This started us thinking about development concepts that combined housing and workspace in a fully integrated whole. We arrived at the model of an ‘innovation neighbourhood’ that addressed a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs’ needs and also delivered wider social benefits.

Community concept

As well as housing and workspace, an innovation neighbourhood provides ancillary facilities such as a café/bar, a manufacturing workshop, a crèche and meeting rooms. At its heart is a community of several hundred creative professionals who live and work on site, typically in sectors such as software, fashion or the arts. Alongside that is social housing, including support for tenants wanting to establish their own businesses.

For a scheme of this kind, sophisticated management is important. The mix of tenants must be curated to maintain diversity and opportunities for collaboration. It must be multi-generational, with a spread of different-sized homes and facilities to support families with children. Services such as business advice and event programming help the community thrive.

Urban development will increasingly focus on new kinds of integrated schemes

To date, The Trampery has implemented two innovation neighbourhoods. Fish Island Village is currently under construction on a six-acre site in Hackney Wick, beside London’s Olympic Park. When it opens next year it will provide 580 flats and 48,440 sq ft of workspace across a complex of 14 buildings. The scheme, which is being developed with social housing provider Peabody and housebuilder Hill, will support a community of around 500 creative professionals alongside social housing and open-market homes.

Meanwhile, Tøyen Startup Village is being realised in the eastern part of Oslo, Norway. The Trampery was appointed by the city government to develop strategy and co-ordinate with multiple landowners, including Entra. The first phase opened in April, with workspaces, an event venue and a café/bar. Subsequent phases will add housing, education and more workspaces.

Beyond these two projects The Trampery is at the early stage of development plans for a second innovation neighbourhood for London and is in exploratory discussions to apply the model at a larger scale for a new town of 50,000 people. Each project involves different landowners and developers. After a century of separation, it’s time to start weaving living and working back together again.

Charles Armstrong is founder and chief executive of The Trampery

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