Five Live/Work Drivers that will Influence Future Real Estate – and How to Prepare for Them

For years, increasing trends of urbanization have fueled economic opportunities in cities and their connected suburbs. The recent emergence of the experience and sharing-based economy has further boosted our desire to live, work, play, stay and heal in connected, socially enriching environments.

But, our lifestyles have changed significantly. As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the hybridization of urban life, both physically and virtually, it also exposed myriad social, environmental, and economic challenges our cities will face next. Pandemic lockdowns spurred a new understanding of our communities — what they offer, what they lack, and what opportunities there may be for change.

Facing concerns and expectations around both work and living environments, property owners are waiting and wondering: what will people want next? Addressing the hybridization of urban lifestyles — not just by offering hybrid programming and planning, but by designing with a true understanding of what amenities and experiences city dwellers desire — will be imperative for successful, celebrated urban developments in our evolving society.

Facing concerns and expectations around both work and living environments, property owners are waiting and wondering: what will people want next?

In an effort to innovate new models for Live/Work environments, we researched factors that influence the rapid rate of technological innovation, societal shifts, population growth and the continued densification of urban centers. By conducting a literature review, we gathered information that would help us envision what a totally reimagined concept of how we live and work could look like.

Drawing on our research, as well as our experience as designers of commercial mixed-use and residential developments, we identified five guiding principles that address fundamental human needs and developed six design strategies to serve as a roadmap for the future design of hybrid Live/Work environments.

Five Principles That Will Drive What People Want Next in Live/Work Environments

  • Human Connectivity

As technology and social media continue to both connect and isolate us, people long for an authentic sense of community and social interaction.

  • Adaptability

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when applying hybrid principles to development. Hybrid buildings and programs should be adaptable and flexible, with the degree of hybridization and scale dialed up or down to respond to specific geographic, socio-economic and pro forma drivers.

  • Connectivity to Nature

Exposure to direct and indirect natural elements such as greenery, daylight and outdoor spaces is positively linked to physical and mental health. Urban green space has been tied to increased sociability, reduced aggression and stress, and elevated social cohesion.

  • Health and Well-being

Health and wellness should permeate the planning of public spaces and the design of our buildings. Features that enhance well-being include walkable environments, connections to nature, bike lanes, healthy food options and community gardens.

  • Affordability and Equity

A multi-faceted approach including new policies and construction delivery methodologies will be required to balance critical social and economic equity differences associated with income, housing prices and debt. A strong community is one where all people, regardless of age, gender, race or socio-economic status play a role and have access to the things they need.

Six Strategies that Support Hybrid Lifestyles in Live/Work Environments

Conventional mixed-use developments will no longer be sufficient to cater to the acceleration of needs and significant lifestyle shifts we have recently experienced. The rapid hybridization of urban life we are all experiencing requires a reassessment of the kinds of buildings needed to accommodate these shifts.

Consider the business professional who has decided to work remotely full time but doesn’t want to be at home for the whole workday or a family caretaker who now shops exclusively online for their child’s necessities but still wants to connect with other community members. Think about an individual who plans to spend more time outdoors but doesn’t want to be in crowded spaces or old friends who wish to stay within 10 minutes of home to meet up for coffee and work on a collaborative project. What will those people need to thrive in their communities?

The following strategies offer ideas for how to assess developments and forecast the changes that may be needed to meet market demands and serve a broad range of lifestyles. These ideas can be applied to diverse project types, from low-rise housing developments to large urban multi-use high-rise projects.

Amp Up the Mix

Mixed-use buildings often contain multiple functions that are not mixed, but instead simply placed back-to-back. Apart from sharing the same footprint, these functions often have little in common and share no spaces. The sum of its parts is just that and nothing more. A hybrid building contains several integrated functions, with targeted users sharing spaces where the sum of the parts is greater than if they were to be separated.

What program mixes would create natural inter-dependencies that would best complement one another and serve the needs of the broader development, neighborhood or city?

The Farm at Crossroad Commons in Merrillville, Indiana, puts a new spin on mixed-use development. A 27-acre education-based farm community, it features a range of buildings and public spaces including greenhouses, farmer’s market, conference and cultural venues.

Invite the Neighbors

For hybrid developments to reach their full potential and value, it’s important to consider incorporating planned and scheduled activation strategies that will enliven public spaces and reinforce the concept of creating community.

As we consider communal collective spaces, is there a new, mutually beneficial way to give back to the neighborhood?

The design concept for Urban Creek Partners Quarry Yards in Atlanta encourages people living in the neighborhood’s residential properties and working in its office buildings — as well as people from across the metro area — to enjoy a plethora of amenities from open food court areas to large green spaces.

Create New Home Models

Integrate hybrid housing with a range of options that reflect the changing face of what defines a home or household and the new live/work paradigm shift. Co-locate a hybrid of different types of housing to accommodate a varied mix of residents.

What would a community look like with small co-living units, short term accommodations for digital nomads and intergenerational housing?

Mind the Gaps

Adaptable “stitch” and threshold spaces enhance circulation that can quickly morph into multiple uses and scales allowing for a dialing up or down of activities. Flexibility engenders serendipitous encounters and enlivens public, collective spaces.

How could leveraging the in-between spaces encourage human interaction and connections to the outdoors?

With wide promenades and green spaces suitable for a variety of uses from farmer’s markets to festivals, ProMedica Headquarters in Toledo, Ohio, takes advantage of new and historic buildings, and all the spaces in between.

Back to Nature

Dense urban centers are often lacking in open space. A range of open spaces — from the most public to private — clustered around vertical neighborhoods with distinct character and an overarching theme of nature and ecology can foster a sense of community and connectivity.

What if outdoor spaces were distributed in a way that allowed for varying forms of socializing, quiet time, work, fitness, or entertainment?

Dallas’ Pacific Park Plaza is an oasis situated in a dense urban downtown neighborhood. With a playground, pavilion, and plenty of greenery, it offers a variety of choices for engaging with the natural world in the heart of the city.

All Modular Construction

Use of prefabrication and modular construction methods has the potential to address both sustainability and attainability for housing. When implemented effectively, prefabrication and modular construction have resulted in a higher quality building, delivered in a shorter time frame, with more predictable costs and fewer environmental impacts.

What are the possibilities for the design of future Live/Work developments that leverage prefabrication and modular construction?

As the Live/Work marketplace rapidly evolves, it has become abundantly clear that “business as usual” for mixed-use developments will not be adequate to appropriately serve our needs. Businesses — and the planet — are experiencing too many shifts, disruptions and shocks to the system. The need to tackle social, economic and environmental challenges holistically requires a process that recognizes the interdependence of these issues and the potential need for unique partnerships. We are in a moment of great opportunity to adapt, innovate and change the way we think about development.

If you would like to learn more about our findings and hear recommendations about how to leverage these insights, please contact Alexander Briseno or Greg Luongo.

This was project was completed as a part of HKS’ Research Incubator program. This annual initiative empowers practitioners throughout the firm to invest focused time and energy into exploring topics that encourage innovation and a culture of curiosity. To learn more about this program, please contact us at [email protected].