The term, live-work unit itself is not a new one. It refers to a style of living and working that was trialed and for a number of reasons at the time (the 1980s mainly) didn’t take off.
Many of the reasons behind this were due to housing and governmental regulations. There were issues with spaces designated as housing, then being used for working, and the confusion with property codes that were then created.
The term seems to have been coined first in the US, to refer to live/work schemes that were adopted in the 1980’s to counteract a decline in the country's manufacturing industries - live/work units were supposed to help the regeneration of inner city areas that were the most heavily affected.
That doesn’t mean however that the term itself can not evolve over the years into something slightly or even radically different. In actual effect what has happened is that the definition has been simplified to include anywhere that includes a space to live and a space to work.
This might mean a space to work within an apartment or home - a specially designed home office for example, or even space within a room allocated for working. This is the very broadest definition of a live-work unit because it essentially means anywhere has the potential to be somewhere we live and work - a fact many of us were forced to realize over the past year or so as remote working rates soared. Many of our homes literally became live-work units, even if it meant we were working from dining room tables which even we have to admit is playing loose and fast with the definition of a live-work unit.
Generally however, and as we all have experienced recently, creating a home office within its own designated room or within an existing room where we live is not always easy. Space and the needs of other residents (family, spouses or roommates) is often at a premium and building somewhere to work involves sacrificing something else, or sometimes there is just not enough space available. Working from the dining room table does not count, neither does working from the bed!
A live-work unit may also refer to a housing space within a building, or development which includes a purpose built working area, or as they are now more commonly known, a co-working space. The inclusion of co-working spaces within residential buildings is gaining momentum in global cities around the world and was well on its way to popularity long before the events of the past year.
A co-living unit or complex is a purpose built live/work unit - its inclusion of working spaces as well as places to live define it as such. Co-living and its rise in recent years has probably the largest part to play in bringing live/work units to the fore again.
The reasons for this are many and include -
People looking for more flexible and remote working options without being reliant on a fixed professional office - co-working spaces offer short or long term membership options and generally have a flexible approach to when people come and go. They also cater perfectly for the rise in the numbers of people working as independents or creatives.
People looking to reduce or eliminate their daily commute which in some cities can add hours on either end of a working day. Congestion and traffic and all the negatives those two things bring are a driving force between combining where we work and where we live, to avoid the travel altogether.
People are looking for community. When we live and work in the same place, we surround ourselves with a diverse group of people who may in time grow to become a community of people. There are more opportunities for collaboration and socialising when people live more parts of their lives together.
There are some however who argue that live-work units and their combining of work and home are not right for everyone. How do we switch off fully from work and focus on the other parts of our lives, if our office is in our home, or above it, or beside it. This may be true for those with an in-home office, but for those who live in a building with a co-working space, this doesn’t appear to be a common concern. You leave the co-working space, you leave work behind, as with any office. The biggest threat to our work-life balance is our constant connection through our phones and email, but that’s a topic for another day.
In a different time and place, live-work units did not appear to be the solution to living and working needs at the time. But times have changed and are constantly changing. What we demand from our living and working spaces is changing all the time and they may just be what pulls us into the future of how we live and work.