The Zukunftsinstitut (Frankfurt/Main) predicted years ago that we live in a time in which the place, the definition and our understanding of home are changing. Matthias Horx think tank for trend and future research closely monitors movements such as “hygge” living culture or “cocooning”. No matter what causes the world to move, how does this affect the relationship between the need for domestic seclusion on the one hand and social life on the other? What can be derived from recent tendencies for new forms of living?
On the one hand there is the home as a private, highly individual place of retreat, on the other hand there is a growing desire to feel at home in the community. This is shown by trends such as “shared spaces” and “neighborhood communities” with their community gardens – for example.
Can total isolation also come with war and Corona, or are we experiencing a new spring of commonality? Small communities emerge and become stronger. Nothing is like it used to be. Or is it?
The value of housing moves more into focus in times of crisis. If we look back one hundred years to the 1920s, we see housing as the central subject of reform. With the experience of war, inflation and disease, a new way of building and living was propagated, which should bring advantages for many with reduced means: cheaper, practicable and light and airy living space. Renunciation of excess, according to Walter Benjamin, transforms the misery of poverty into a virtue in the mental attitude. Now, in threatening situations, two contrary movements often run parallel: retreat into the private sphere and the search for community.
Lockdown and quarantine turned apartments into involuntary retreats
In addition to war and poverty, climate change is the most fundamental factor in the destruction of human livelihoods. Consequently, in 2021 politicians declared climate protection a fundamental right, which now has the greatest impact on our inner-city life and building under environmental social governance criteria. 2021 was also the second Corona year and another one in which the apartment with lockdown and quarantine also became an involuntary retreat. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was sometimes a sigh of relief because the number of appointments and invitations decreased and instead you could set yourself up at home (and put on your baggy pants) without a guilty conscience. Digital communication replaced face-to-face meetings outside of the home. With the ongoing pandemic, mandatory home office, daycare and school cancellations and exit restrictions, the apartment quickly became too narrow, too noisy, too limited. In the summer months when the number of cases was lower, people went outside to the squares and bridges, rather than to a restaurant, to finally meet up there again, drink and eat. The first provisionally set up tables and chairs are quickly used again.
What has also remained is the intensified view of life, including that within your own four walls. Four walls designed to serve as a protective cover and resting place. It is all the more disturbing to experience in Europe today how abruptly and brutally this very own place of man, his home, can be destroyed, and with home family memorabilia and community. Here it becomes clear that living consists of much more than walls and furniture. Above all, it is what should offer reliable and continuous security for body and soul.
The longing for these essentials shows a current study by the online brokerage platform Houzz, which brokers construction, furnishing and renovation projects. After that, 2021 was a particularly successful year for interior designers and other companies involved in the happiness of living. Between February 21 and March 9, 2022, exactly 239 companies with an expert profile were surveyed on Houzz.de. The companies surveyed are expecting sunshine for the current year. Actually logical. Don’t we all know someone who has just ordered a new kitchen, re-tiled, insulated the walls, renewed the bathroom or roof or set up a new work corner?
The living environment as a place is becoming more important
So when people ask about the future of the home, it can’t just be about imagining an architectural form and its furnishings. While the media window opens up the view of a critical world situation, the attention and appreciation of the peaceful state in front of (and behind) one’s own front door increases. This also includes the way we live together. So how can we preserve and promote here on a small scale what we value? It is important to understand the environment as an extended apartment. Instead of categorically separating private space from public space, hybrids are needed in order to be able to meet the need for retreat and social togetherness in the inner city districts, but also in the outskirts, in an economically and ecologically compatible way. Stepping out of the apartment to the neighborhood would be less like crossing the border from the shelter. Rather, it lured us outside because we can live and work there with our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues in a good atmosphere. This also radiates into one’s own four walls, which are opened up much less as a result.
Good places in public space essentially live from the uses that flank them, especially on the ground floors. If one’s own living environment becomes more and more important, then it is about an interplay of private and public or public uses that are attractive to people because they are the ones who give a place meaning. Should there be a growing trend towards inflation, a lack of raw materials and climate awareness changing the way we deal with fossil automobiles, that would be one more reason to dedicate ourselves to the outer city as a place or to creating and maintaining places in the outer city.
So when we talk about the fact that one’s own living environment is becoming more important today, then on the one hand there is only a partial expansion of the private into the public. On the other hand, the privacy of the apartment is restricted and has been opened up as a virtual meeting room. At the same time, we are publicizing parts of our (decreasingly private) private life, bringing it into the living environment more than before. For this purpose, it is necessary to think about suitable usage structures of publicly accessible, but partly privately “operated” or used places and their edges. We should radically reverse the priority and start with the outskirts of the cities and develop new concepts for hybrid uses, identity-forming elements and supporting networks of committed actors. These are the elements for a “placemaking” that achieves more than lavishly furnished but empty public spaces – namely good places.