How does the Pandemic Change our Demands on Our Living space?
by Andrea Grasser
On 01.03.2021, all shops in Switzerland were allowed to reopen. Long queues formed in front of DIY shops and furniture stores early in the morning. It was the same picture on the same occasion abroad. Looking at the pictures, one might think that for many people shopping is a very important leisure activity and that they accept having to queue for a long time at the first opportunity.
Certainly, this run can partly be explained by the fact that needs and urgencies have piled up and house and yard need to be maintained.
But it could also indicate that all the extra time at home has led people to perceive their homes differently, perhaps to inhabit them differently, and therefore changes are needed. A small, non-representative survey and some conversations among friends showed that in some cases a new appropriation of the flat had taken place. Often it even went far beyond the flat. People got to know their neighbours, the neighbourhood as well as offers in the immediate vicinity that had been unknown to them until then.
From the history of architecture we know that major economic changes also led to a change in the housing and life needs. In the course of industrialisation at the end of the 18th century, which brought great social and economic upheavals, a trend towards the floral loveliness of Biedermeier and Romanticism emerged. Gardens were laid out and pleasure walks were invented. How does this new appropriation manifest itself after more than a year of pandemic? Statistically, there is an increased need for high living quality and privacy. In the owner-occupied sector, larger flats are in demand. The home office needs an additional room. Multifunctional interlocking living spaces have proven not to be very practical if all family members are to live and work at home at the same time. Prices for condominiums and single-family houses have increased year-on-year. Living in the countryside has become more attractive thanks to home offices and less commuting.
For the majority, however, living situations cannot simply be changed completely within a short period of time. Quick and affordable solutions are needed. Often all rooms are occupied and have one single function as living room, bedroom or children’s room. The scope for change is small.
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, we saw many proposals for small office workplaces that could fit into an already occupied room. But after the first quick fixes, the longer the pandemic lasts, the more portable solutions are needed. We are more at home, the home is no longer just the place for pit stops between working (away) and working. We could and can no longer choose where we work. The home office has become a duty, or at least a recommendation. The demands on the home have changed not only in relation to a home office. Identity and authenticity have become important. Where working and living previously took place in different microcosms, the activities are often no longer separable due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, we want spaces that envelop us, protect us, where we feel comfortable. An interesting article on this topic appeared in the New Yorker back in June 2020. Kaya Cheyka uses various concrete examples to analyse how people and especially designers and architects are reacting to the changing situation in their working and living environments.
In a recently published interview with Mateo Kries, the trend researcher and futurologist Oona Horx-Strathern describes the new examination of our homes as part of Vitra’s “Home Dynamics” webinars as follows:
Many of the trends we are seeing right now were already underway before the pandemic started. The sudden change is now actually affecting the way we filter these new trends and how we will adapt to them. Our communication and our idea of what our home should look like have become more flexible. The philosopher Gershom Scholem calls such a situation a “plastic hour” because it is about change. It is a time for change because there is suddenly “plasticity” in our society, that is, malleability and mobility. For things to change, we have to act and times of crisis provide the impetus for that.
In Switzerland, the restrictions after the first wave were less severe than in our neighbouring countries. There remained some room for flexibility. Nevertheless, developments can also be identified here that have been given a boost by the pandemic.
Kitchen Rediscovered for Cooking
Open spaces with multiple functions, as they were created in the last decades, are now proving to be problematic when everyone is at home together all the time. Even the kitchen was not only a cooking area, but also a living space and playroom, or simply a little-used status symbol. With the elimination of commuting time, many have rediscovered their kitchen for cooking. The room is getting its function back. A few brief conversations with kitchen manufacturers have confirmed this trend. The order books are also full for the second quarter of 2021. Private flat and single-family home kitchens make up a considerable part of these orders. Money that was previously rather invested in holidays or other consumer goods is now being put into a new kitchen. And this kitchen is green …
After many black kitchens in recent years, a trend towards more colour is emerging. Kitchen manufacturers and suppliers are increasingly showing coloured front decors, ranging from delicate pastels to strong shades of green, yellow and red in several nuances.
Family Gardens, Garden, Balcony, Terrace as Additional Living Space
After the run on the farm shops during the first lockdown, the second wave of the pandemic has shown that there is an increased desire to have one’s own garden. Friends planted lettuce on their balconies and neighbours turned the lawn behind their house into a vegetable garden. The demand for family gardens has exploded. Young people in particular, with or without children, have rediscovered the allotment garden, which was previously considered rather staid and old-fashioned. The waiting list for a family garden at the Stadtgärtnerei Basel-Stadt alone contains 1,200 entries out of 5,100 available plots.
How to Live After the Pandemic?
The question should probably be asked differently. It should rather be: How will we work after the pandemic? Many companies, especially large ones, are currently developing new working concepts. Employees (including us at the BFH) are being asked how they would like to work in the future. If flexible workplaces are created in companies, if employees are partially free to choose where they physically stay while they work, then this will inevitably have an impact on the design of our homes. In her Home Report 2021, Horx-Strathern sees the “Hoffice” as a trend that has come to stay. Presumably, after a phase of trial and error, new forms of (collaborative) work will develop that, depending on the situation, include the classic office, remote work from the home office, the co-working space or directly at the customer’s premises.
Another driver for a change in living and working environments can also be found in a change in the demands of the young generation. The combination of living and working in the sense of work-life blending is a development that has been evident for several years and was not triggered by the pandemic.
A trend has already developed, especially in the co-operative sector, away from open, flowing floor plans towards room constellations with functionally open spaces that allow more separation and more flexibility in use. An example of this is the new building with 33 flats by the Foundation for the Preservation of Affordable Living and Commercial Spaces (Stiftung zur Erhaltung von preiswerten Wohn- und Gewerberäumen PWG) at the Rautihalde in Zurich, which was completed in 2020. The 2.5 – 5.5 room flats have a central hall with an adjacent kitchen. All other rooms, which can be used individually, are accessible from this hall. For example, one of the rooms can be used as a living room extending the hall or as an additional office or guest room. The flats, with their neutral use of space, are strongly based on the well-tried old buildings or Wilhelminian style flats. A departure, then, from the dissolute monofunctional living, dining and cooking landscapes that showed us the limits of use during the pandemic.
Now that life is slowly beginning to return to normal, we can be curious about the direction in which future residential buildings will develop. Is the change in needs (or the perception of what was actually already there before the pandemic) so sustainable that clear evidence can be derived for the future development of our living and working spaces? Hopefully, a discussion can take place among the stakeholders that takes better account of the user perspective and that leads to spaces that can be used well in the future.
 Wüst und Partner, «Immobilienmarkt Schweiz 2021/1», 09.02.2021.
 «Immobilienmarkt Schweiz: Prognose für 2021», Hausinfo.ch, retrieved on 15.04.2021.
 Chayka, K. How the coronavirus will reshape architecture. The New Yorker, 17.06.2020.
 Horx-Strathern, O. Wir müssen die Beziehung zu unserem Zuhause überdenken. e-Papier Issue 06, Home Dynamics. (M. Kries, interviewer; Vitra, publisher), April 2021.
 https://www.stadtgaertnerei.bs.ch/freizeitgaerten/anmeldung.html, retrieved on 23.04.2021.
 Horx-Strathern, O. Home Report 2021. Zukunftsistitut.de, November 2020.
 Cieslik, T. «Das Wohnen in den Zeiten der Pandemie», Santos Yvony, «Die zweite Tür» in: Tec21 8-9/2021; Der elastische Grundriss; Wie Homeoffice unser Zuhause verändert.
Andrea Grasser is an interior designer who has worked primarily in residential construction for 30 years. From 2001 to 2012 she ran her own interior design practice in Basel. Since 2012 she has been a lecturer at the AHB and teaches interior design, building and housing culture and construction process management. She is a member of the working group for evidence-based architecture at the AHB.