The House has Become More of a Home than Ever
by David P. Pollard AIA LEED AP
Never in my lifetime or possibly in a generation, has the home been so explicitly central to our daily activities. Our homes are supporting 24-hour uses of work, education, exercise, dining, entertainment, retreat, rationing, storage, etc, etc, etc, and our homes have moved front and center to be recognized as the incredible multi-functional and self-contained organisms that they are, and have evolved to be.
Whether it happens quickly, slowly, or somewhere in between, it is hard to imagine the COVID-19 pandemic not having an impact on the future of the American Home as it relates to at least function, typology, and geography. I am curious how the design and construction community can respond to this and how homeowners, present and future will be re-thinking the how, what, and where of their homes. As Perkins & Will CEO Phil Harrison said in a recent BD+C article, ”We believe that design and well-being are inextricably connected, and that, in the future, our clients will value this connection all the more.” I agree wholeheartedly and hope the architectural community will engage the residential world as well to solve for this connection.
Where We Feel Safe
Just as the post World-War II housing boom led to the creation of the suburbs, The COVID-19 Pandemic has the potential to re-shape how and where we live. The last decade had already seen a significant co-working and work-from-home movement. According to Global Workplace Analytics, regular work from home has grown 173% since 2005 resulting in 5 million employees working from home half-time or more in 2019. In a Citrix poll last year, 62% of employees said they could work remotely. Now as 40% or more of the country’s non-essential workforce has been forced to work from home this has led to companies previously unable to work remotely quickly catching up and making it work. Virtual worksharing, Chat apps, video-conferencing, ACH, dropbox, check scanners, CRM, … so many systems and processes that have been developed and slowly implemented in the last 20 years are becoming the last resort of keeping our economy moving, and they are working. Many businesses are learning that they can continue without running a populated office.
After the mortgage crisis of the last decade, there were questions if home ownership would continue to be the “American Dream”. What was once a symbol of safety and security became a major liability worth less than what was paid for it. The rental boom began with single-family houses and grew into dense cities with an apartment boom. The American Dream became being free — Free of the burden of a mortgage — Free to move wherever you wanted every year. The house was just a ball and chain that you couldn’t escape.
Then came COVID-19. We retreated to our homes. College kids came back to their homes. I would guess a lot of young professionals even went back to their parents’ homes… their homes. With all of the economic expansion and glamour that happened in the last decade, we forgot that our home is more than just a house. It is our rock. It is our sanctuary that encompasses everything important and solves for the basic human need of safety.
There is no question that our culture and society will walk away from this pandemic singed at the very least. Business plans will change, risk assessment will change, and whether a new pandemic comes through in the next year, decade, or century; we will certainly be more trigger-happy to shut down and prevent this level of fallout again at the earliest sign of pandemic potential. This will fortify the importance of the American Home as a place of safety, refuge, and all-importance.
Beyond the short term, this mentality is now ingrained in the next generation. After weeks or possibly even months of home isolation and e-learning with their baby sister and parents, my second-graders will always recognize home as much more than a house, but as a place of safety; a place of love, fun, work, learning, and pretty much all that matters… 24/7. My hope is that the design and construction community rises to the opportunity to understand this, embrace it, and make the future of the home better for generations to come.
Macro-speaking there will be huge questions about the viability of the density of the city as we know it today. There will potentially be a big push to the suburbs. Or perhaps a new suburban paradigm – ruraburban, or something of the sort? A shift from the freedom of being, doing, and living wherever and whatever you want, to the freedom of having a place to call your own. We are social beings by nature, so we will always gather, but perhaps with a different underlying sensitivity and appreciation.
It’s also possible the share-culture has hit its peak. A culture that celebrated operating and sharing as a society will now also recognize that social circles may have to break up and retreat to video-conferencing and virtual happy-hours from time to time. This isn’t meant to scare, it’s a reality, and the great news is we are better equipped than ever to connect in separation, but still come back to being together. And the secret is… by doing this we are actually acting as a society and community, just in a new and 21st century way.
Micro-speaking; the house has always been a home, we are just now realizing this every minute of every day. As we have the time to ponder what works, doesn’t work, or could be better in our house… please just take a moment to step back, and look at what your house has been able to provide during these times, and with a little gratitude give a big pat on the back and THANK YOU to it for being your Home.
Full Disclosure: I love houses. I have navigated an architectural career always hoping to arrive at being a part of shaping housing for the greater good. My vested interest in this post is that there is an opportunity like never before with “THE HOME” in the spotlight to make something better out of all of this, for the better of the profession, culture, built environment, and most-importantly… family; simply just through re-thinking what the essence of shelter really is.