Experiments in Collective Living

Project: Experiments in Collective Living
Date: Fall 2016
Class: Architecture Studio
Professors: Antje Steinmuller & Neeraj Bhatia

This design-research project examines potential new typologies for multi-unit housing inspired by current trends in co-living and the sharing economy, as well as the historic legacy of communal living experiments in Northern California. From Airbnb to Uber, technology is allowing new social and economic relationships to develop outside the institutional models of control, increasingly up-ending traditional power dynamics in the city. These new opportunities for fluid negotiation of resources through time and space are replacing fixed contracts and static urban relationships. Moving beyond the nuclear family, this studio asks: How can architecture structure new ways for us to live collectively and thereby be a political tool?

San Francisco is rapidly becoming a city of “Haves” and “Have-nots”, with the distinction between them often related to access to quality affordable housing. Because of its scarcity, housing in San Francisco is typically regarded as a precious commodity for the few to capture and hold. Might the increasing ability of ‘peer-to-peer’ sharing of resources, including housing, have the potential to realign that dynamic and be a mechanism to distribute resources more equitably?

Our hypothesis here is that if we were to consider new typologies for urban living that are more shared and less precious, housing might be both more accessible and more tuned to the true needs of today’s urban dwellers. In fact, if we see the act of sharing as the foundation of the collective city, then extending that model deeper into the traditionally private domestic interior might open up new ways of living in the city that question the thresholds between public and private, individual and collective, haves and have-nots. Our interest is in the ways in which the design of housing plays a critical role in the often-contentious interplay of dynamic urban forces and our ability as designers to join the fray.

Experiments in Collective Living focuses on how cities constantly evolve, eluding static definition, and how the transformation of an architectural type might help us rethink the grounds of living for a city in transition.