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Designing for Disruption (Making #WFH Work)

The disruptor industry has incited rapid change across our society and culture — ridesharing, vegan meat, ready-to-assemble meal boxes, short-term rentals and more. And now that much of the American workforce is working from home, with the notable exceptions of essential workers and the construction industry, disruption has arrived unceremoniously in our living spaces. WFH veterans and evangelists will tell you they’ve been efficiently and effectively working remotely for years. They’ll tell you it’s improved their daily lives. They’ll tell you all of the things that make them successful at it. They’ll say they don’t understand why they, or you for that matter, should ever go into the office again. They’ll tell you to meditate. That is, until working and schooling from home became the status quo. (And the WFH evangelist in your house wanted her office back.) When families, roommates, or partners share a house, apartment, etc. 24/7, suddenly the wifi bandwidth isn’t enough; zoom calls need to be taken outdoors or in bedrooms or basements; someone needs to make lunch...and, you do start meditating. Beyond traditional home improvement — new paint, desks for kids, Marie Kondo purging — there is an opportunity, as a result of this disruption, to improve both our home and work lives. Pandemics, climate changes, and the increased need to care for our growing senior population should not all require individualized societal responses and emergency relief. How can our homes and furnishings adapt to unanticipated and potentially major changes in our daily lives? Through deeper consideration of domestic design, spaces and objects can and should take on multiple uses. In our experience, if a design feature serves only a single purpose, whether it be aesthetic or practical, it’s often at risk of being eliminated from a project (as there is often a less expensive solution waiting in the wings). When elements of design serve multiple needs, they have a better chance of project survival and, more importantly, become essential pieces of the overall design. In fact, they are often the elements that become the most admired and well-used aspects of a project.

For instance, home office spaces with built-in Murphy beds for that occasional guest. (It will happen again soon, I promise.) Office furniture systems designed with reconfigurability in mind — so that changes to the workspace and/or accommodation of additional workers (e.g. spouse, kids) are easily accomplished. Transformable furniture — from dining room table to desk to side table.   In the space of architecture, domestic designs can be tailored to exact client needs — e.g. writers’ or artists’ at-home studios. Yoga and meditation spaces that serve as multifunctional pavilions provide for guest accommodations or longer term, accessory dwelling units. Shared workspaces that offer connectivity to others, while also providing privacy and outward views. These examples are highly individual and inspirational, while still applying the core principles of design that make them functional, adaptable, flexible to long-term and unanticipated needs, and at this moment, essential to how and where we work.  Housing must reckon with WFH now that dining rooms, kitchens, basements, living rooms and bedrooms have become our de facto offices and classrooms. But this simply presents an opportunity. A time to reevaluate the traditional functionality of the home and innovate new relationships between living and working spaces. We look forward to continuing the evolution of domestic design that has risen out of this time through reevaluating the potentialities of our everyday spaces. 

– Aaron

Nantucket Live/Work Pavilion

Drop Leaf Tabel

Rooftop Studios

Ruth Reichl Cooking in her home and kitchen by AW–ARCH


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