This year’s sold out ULI UK Winter Drinks was located at U+I’s impressive office in Victoria, London. The event focussed on new ways of living and participants had the chance to tour two compact apartment prototypes developed by U+I on site.
Liz Waller, Executive Director at ULI UK, kicked off the informal drinks reception by giving a special welcome to participants of the ULI Europe conference, taking place in London for the first time in its 20-year history. She reminded us that ULI was about creating better places by enabling diversity – sectorial, generational but also geographical.
Alex Jezeph, Associate Director at JLL and Co-Chair of ULI YL, expertly moderated a panel of 4 speakers to explore what compact living is, what it means and why people are attracted to living in homes that fall below minimum space standards. Compact living ranges from compact self-contained homes, to the most recent growth in co-living schemes.
For Simon Hesketh, Director of Regeneration at U+I, commented that compact living is part of the solution to the housing crisis. He believes that well designed and professionally managed compact flats, at a London living rate, is a solution for both city dwellers who can’t find affordable and well-located homes but also a solution for Local Authorities that own well located land but are cash-strapped. But he also recognises that compact living is not for everyone and that different people have different attitudes towards it.
For The Collective, compact living is a reality: their scheme in Old Oak has been been running for 3 years and the 540 micro flats have an average occupancy level of 96 %. According to Jill Xiaozhou Ju, Investment Director, The Collective, while cities today look very different from what they looked like 20 or 30 years ago, accommodation has not changed. The Collective believes that co-living is part of a new life style and that it creates better city living. Indeed, for the Collective, co-living responds to the need for a community that they have spotted across many cities including London, New York, Berlin, Frankfurt, Dublin.
From a health and wellbeing perspective, Ashley Perry, Director, LIV Consult, agreed that connections together with air quality were key for making people happy in cities. For Ashley, people go through different stages in life and compact living could be one of these stages. He sees it as a housing solution not only for young people but also retired people who want to have access to good amenities.
Zoku is located in Amsterdam and offers a space that is something between a home, an office and a hotel. Hans Meyer, Managing Director & Co-founder of Zoku, told guests about Zoku’s journey: it started with extensive research, interviews and conversations, the building of 6 prototypes, an extensive testing of those prototype, before they came up with a perfect solution.
The panel then discussed how technology was used to measure the use of facilities and space in the case of The Collective; and to develop and show people different layouts in the case of Zoku.
All speakers agreed that London should be at the forefront of compact living. Especially because compact living is the reality for many people already in London where many residents live in cramped, shared flats. The panel also discussed the impact of the planning system including the challenges of permitted development increasing sub-standard redevelopment and regulation making the reality of planned, large-scale compact living difficult.
Other cities in the world are showing more leadership: New York City is experimenting with compact living on public land. Dublin and Los Angeles are showing real interest in this product.
The Q&A session ended with the question: what are the threats to compact living? Similarly, to what is happening with co-working now, the panel raised the issue of differentiation – the necessity to bring something unique to the table – as one of the key challenge for the future. Quality of operation is another one for co-living as it takes a long time to create a community and a sense of belonging. Finally, regulation focussing on minimum standards for space instead of experience was mentioned again.
Nonetheless, all agreed that compact living, as an income-generating asset, had a potential to become an institutionalised asset class and could be a key contributor to solving the housing crisis.