We are living longer. Our later lives are more active. We also work longer and the work we do is more diverse and more flexible. We never stop learning and contemplate new roles or careers late into our working lives.
We want to live in the city, with ready access to our friends, to new opportunities, to culture and leisure, to fitness and healthcare. So, what housing typology is appropriate for the new demographic of third-agers, living active, semi-retired lives in urban environments?
Holding a line between serviced apartments and student accommodation, ‘co-living’ is a relatively new housing typology pairing compact private studio apartments with a wealth of shared common facilities and amenities. Originally conceived for young professionals to rent, such as The Collective in West London, co-living is now proving its attraction to a wider audience. And as highlighted in RIBA’s new publication, Age-friendly housing: Future design for older people, could it ‘come of age’ as the ideal urban later living residence?
Here I set out some key lifestyle features that could attract people in later life to live in co-living.
In later life, a smaller residence becomes desirable. There is less need for a large home to house the kids and entertain daily on a grand scale. A smaller home is easier and more cost-effective to maintain.
Although small, the units are designed like a ship, with great care given to every millimetre of space. Design of the units is efficient, with a ‘place for everything and everything in its place’ but is not prescriptive or limiting. The brief for such a compact, efficient space must be to prioritise universality – not a highly bespoke, customised unit like a tailored jacket made for a single individual. Rather, it must be inclusive and adaptable. Later living is not a stagnant period, but a time of transition and change, and the living space must be able to adapt with us: as our agenda and schedule changes and as our physical and mobility needs change.
Seamless integration of technology into the residence extends the functionality of the compact spaces, delivering sophisticated and cohesive control of the space. It also provides connectivity and interface with a wider network outside the home, from on demand deliveries of goods to scheduling of services. For the ageing population, technology can also provide passive and transparent health and/or care monitoring, without the concern and imposition of visits by a nurse thereby extending the time we can live independently.
In a co-living development, amenities are provided on a communal basis to supplement the private flat – accessible when you need them but not sitting empty and at your responsibility for maintenance and upkeep when unused. These spaces might range from dining rooms and guest rooms available for private, exclusive use, to shared and common lounges, screening rooms, spa/gym facilities. This gives the later-life resident access to these more generous spaces (a large dining room for holiday meals or a guest room for visiting grandchildren) without having to maintain them when not in use.
This provision of amenities extends beyond physical spaces to include services. Simplifying expenses and budgeting, an all-inclusive rent covers utilities and service charges. Bolt-on services could include porterage and concierge for deliveries, cleaning, laundry, etc. As we age, we will inevitably require medical assistance, and partnerships between the development and healthcare providers can simplify the delivery of health services direct to the home.
Co-living is a communal experience. With smaller private spaces and shared common spaces, there is a natural inclination to neighbourly interaction and the development of a more supportive community. This housing typology also appeals to a range of demographics – not just for later living— and so can also create a more diverse, intergenerational community. The neighbourly interaction combats loneliness, a great risk factor of the ageing, which in turn helps to sustain health and wellbeing in later life.
Notably, the co-living development is urban by nature. It is not isolated from the city, but part of the city. The community-spirited development is not introverted but outward-facing, welcoming and engaging with the wider urban environment. This may mean inviting the city in by opening ground floor/rooftop communal spaces to the wider public. Or it may mean extending out into the city by partnering with outside organisations for joint memberships or events.
Our later lives are more active, more social and more connected than ever before. We value experiences, we seek freedom and vitality, and we want to remain creative and continue to lead productive and meaningful lives. We see a profound cultural shift in how we understand ageing and its extraordinary potentials. It is now time that our housing choices reflect this new reality.