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Should we be building more live/work spaces?

Lately, I’ve become very interested in live/work uses. This is not something that I have written much about over the years, but it is now on my mind for a few reasons.

One, many of us tried working from home for the first time over the last 21 months or so, and my understanding is that some people enjoy it. It’s not my preference, but I don’t represent everyone.

Two, photography is a hobby of mine and I’ve always thought it would be super fun to have a studio space to play around with on the weekends. If any of you have any suggestions or spaces available, please let me know.

Three, there are lots of urban conditions where retail doesn’t work, but a bit more ground-floor animation would be nice. This is commonly how live/work uses have been used. That said, I can think of a number of unsuccessful examples of this in Toronto. It’s tough to execute on.

And four, there are lots of instances of older non-conforming spaces throughout our cities serving this purpose: inexpensive spaces for people to live, work, and create in. Though often “illegal”, I believe they are important for fostering new ideas.

Here’s an example that I was reading about this morning in The Spaces and that triggered this blog post. It’s about sculptor Andreas Anastasis and his live/work loft on the west side of New York.

I don’t know what building this is and whether or not work functions are technically permitted (presumably they are), but it’s an example of what I’m talking about. Take a spin through the video embedded above. If you can’t see it, click here.

Should we be designing and creating our new residential spaces with multiple uses and this kind of flexibility in mind? Is there a big enough market for it? Does it devalue the pure residential aspect of the building knowing that your next door neighbor might have an office in their space, an artist studio, or a short-term Airbnb rental?

These are some of the things that I’ve been thinking about and I would love to hear thoughts in the comment section below.

Photo: Maxwell Schiano via The Spaces

4 Comments

  1. Judith Martin

    I’ve been pushing live/work units for years in my corner of the UK, to very little avail. One reason I understand is that rating authorities don’t like them. In the UK at least, if they’re domestic, the local authority sets the council tax and gets to hold on to it, if they’re business then central government sets the business rate and takes half. To the best of my knowledge, apart from being concerned about the impact on the value of commercial property, no-one has thought about the long-term financial implications of so many people now working from home.

    You ask what would the impact be if a neighbour had a studio space or an office or an AirB&B. Personally I’d welcome the studio as long as the owner wasn’t metal-bashing or recording loud music (there could be special live/work complexes for both those), an office is pretty neutral, but an AirB&B, unless the owner still lives there the whole time and just lets a room, is an absolute no-no. Not knowing who’s staying next door, and not having any reliability and consistency, are very good ways of destroying a neighbourhood. As far too many city dwellers know.

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  2. I am in the Boston area and own a residential architecture and construction company. I have been looking for a live/work set-up for years but is very hard to find do to me having more than 2 employees (most towns/cities allow for a home business). The zoning is quite prohibitive for this.
    In Marblehead MA over Thanksgiving and there are many homes in part of this town that are from the 1700s. All of them were live work set-ups.

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  3. doug pollard

    As noted above the nature of what sort of work is to be accommodated is important to the nature of the space and its location and whether it is to be encouraged. (an Airbnb does not qualify as work in my view.) The primary criteria being whether the work is disruptive to others (noise, working hours, shipping, storage, packaging or food waste, smells, etc.). However building in response to current trends is only common sense and we all know that at home working, usually quiet work on a computer is on the increase, and that this is accompanied by a number of people moving to smaller communities to do so. Their needs could be accommodated with specialized housing (a slight difference from live/work in the classic sense)i.e. smaller alcoves etc, some of which could be windowless but they could be dedicated spaces (The spaces we often have called dens for zoning reasons.)
    And of course, there is another whole category of building housing where shared workspace on the premises is offered (to accommodate the small entrepreneur with a few employees for example) co-housing projects often do this.
    Yes are there buckets of individuals living and working in warehouses some of which allow work but not living and some converted to housing but have enough space for work anyway.

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