They say that the English gentleman’s home is his castle. For years, on my weekly train commute from London, I hurtled past thousands of them, watching the monochrome boxes (with miniature façades mimicking the grand country houses that all Englishmen aspire to) undulating with the topography of the land, stacked together as if for warmth against the grey skies that helpfully contributed a cold, penetrating rain to the overall atmosphere of the place. Within, you will find the Victorian idea of domesticity (like the Indian 2 BHK or 3 BHK) consisting of a living room, dining area, kitchen, stairway leading to two or three bedrooms, small toilet stashed below the stairway, and a bathroom at the landing.
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Property developers around the world, together with their close allies, bankers and city planners, have converged on a consensus for the model home intended for the model family who now find themselves in the city. To get the best return on the investment on a parcel of land, construct a multi-story apartment block with security, elevator, and parking and limited amenities.
However, that is probably not how people would choose to live. What happened to the idea of community, and of extended families? Why an indoor gym, wouldn’t I rather exercise outdoors? Do I really need a TV, washing machine, and toys and books for my children, can’t these things be shared? And who came up with bedrooms, entire rooms devoted solely to beds and for us to lie in a state of unconsciousness? Isn’t that a waste of valuable space?
In offices, the rise of the computer hardware and software industries is the most significant economic disruption of recent times. We are in the third industrial revolution, the digital revolution, and Silicon Valley is at the epicentre of the new gold rush. Companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, are inhabited by highly paid and pampered workers, after all it is their “intellectual property” that is the source of the new wealth. Taking a cue from the advertising and creative industries, they have constructed, fun, welcoming, homes-away-from-home to attract the best talent and keep them working late.
Studies in the US have shown that some degree of working from home is feasible for all industry sectors, even for agriculture! The Covid-19 pandemic has forced all to implement the remote-working model with varying degrees of success. Having observed this, CEOs everywhere are hungry for the cost savings to be achieved through reduced rent, utilities, food, and even taxes, if more staff opt to work from home. Executives also appreciate that offering flexible work options will be an advantage in recruiting and retaining talent. Individuals may have their own motivations to work from home.
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Tucked into a corner of the average middleclass home is the workspace. A mini-study consisting of desk, PC in an oversized box, monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, printer without ink, cables everywhere and a shelf or two with assorted books and outdated software manuals. It is this typically inadequate set-up has been stress-tested by the recent lockdown that forced millions of us who could, to work from home. To adapt to the new reality, working adults upgraded their laptop computers and splurged on high-speed broadband. Children’s bedrooms were set-up with desks and computers or tablets. Computer and accessory sales boomed. It’s no surprise that the British public rushed to line up patiently outside IKEA stores once lockdown was lifted. Months of confinement at home, sitting on uncomfortable seats, at inadequate desks, missing bookshelves, and countless other irritations had to be addressed before the impending second wave of the virus hit.
As more of us work from home, space will be at a premium. Those tele-commuters will scour YouTube and Pinterest for ideas to remodel their homes, and will notice a recurring feature in the children’s bedrooms, designer apartments, and mini houses: the bed is relegated to out-of-the-way places, up in the air, in cupboards, under raised floors, as sofas, to be pulled out when required. BHKs were not designed for the future home-office and something has to give, and that something is the bedroom that will be increasingly converted into a home-office as more workers choose to work from home.
(An industrial designer and design instructor with nearly four decades of experience, Alex Velasco is the Dean, School of Design, Pearl Academy)