Multigenerational living: Is this the real model for the house of the future?

Over the years we’ve seen a plethora of futuristic housing concepts, usually sleek affairs combining steel and glass with organic curves and hidden but pervasive electronics.

However, in reality houses often have to work with the surrounding environment, as well as matching the needs of the people they are designed for. And while shiny retrofuturistic designs might work in some parts of the world, they’d be wholly ill-suited to others.

For city dwellers, then, future houses will likely be more reminiscent of something out of a cyberpunk novel, but in the country, their design and function remains more of a mystery. However, a house built this year in the UK, and which last night was given the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) House of the Year 2017 award, could offer a blueprint.

The house in question is Caring Wood, a 1,400 square metre house located in rural Kent in the UK.

Designed to house three generations of the same family under one roof, with multiple sections to provide privacy when the whole Waltons thing gets too much, it has been suggested that this approach could be used to tackle the growing housing crisis that is affecting the UK and beyond.

At present there is a significant shortage of housing, rents are climbing and most younger people will be unlikely to own a house for the foreseeable future. Multigenerational living could, then, be a solution.

“At a time when we are increasingly atomised, individually preoccupied and lost in personalised digital worlds, designing homes where families come together – in their many permutations – is an increasingly important aim. Whilst this might seem to be a particular brief for one extended family, it is one taking huge risks in asking how we collectively might live inter-generationally as social structures evolve,” said RIBA House of the Year 2017 jury chair Deborah Saunt.

“Here we find a family enjoying each other’s time and company, but also enabling timeless layers of support to emerge between generations. Grandparents and grandchildren exchanging experiences and enlivening each other’s sense of self, parents finding a place to catch up alone as children play. Siblings together with cousins, building the foundation for mutual support for years to come, the network that builds a strong society of mutual respect,” added Saunt.

“This is a brave project offering a new prototype. In deploying homes that cater for extended families across urban, suburban and rural sites, this may offer solutions not only to the country’s housing crisis – where families might live together longer- but also by providing care solutions for young and old alike, freeing people from punishing costs throughout their lifetimes.”

The building’s design also presents an interesting alternative model for the buildings of the future. It might not look like your conventional futuristic home, but it is quite futuristic, albeit in a way that has distinctly environmental overtones.

The house is designed to reference the traditional structures in the surrounding area – conical buildings known as oast houses that were traditionally used to dry hops – but does so with a highly angular, almost sci-fi edge.

And while most of the traditional houses in the area are devoid of strong environmental credentials, Caring Wood is packed with green technologies that, along with locally sourced materials that combine to make it carbon neutral.

Images courtesy of James Morris / Royal Institute of British Architects

This may not be the home of the future most of us imagine, but given the influence that previous award winners have had, it could prove to be the one that many of us – particularly in the UK – actually get.

“This ambitious house explores new architectural methods, materials and crafts and allows us to question the future of housing and the concept of multi-generational living,” said RIBA President Ben Derbyshire.

“I’ve no doubt many of the ideas displayed at Caring Wood will influence UK housing for many years to come.”

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