Architecture : Co-Living and Big Data-Driven Design

Big data is giving us a much more complete understanding of what people really need in their living quarters. Here’s what we’re learning and why it’s important to the co-living sector.

Big data is radically changing the way the world works, and design is no exception. Consider that 90 percent of the data that exists in the world was created in the past two years. The world has so much data now that we don’t even have to conduct sampling. Often, we have full data sets that can be analyzed, and that’s a statistical dream.

Armed with these incredible insights, designers are rethinking living spaces and how they can be designed to better fit a person’s daily needs. Much of what is being discovered through big data points toward the relevancy of shared living or co-living, which is defined as “any shared living space that improves quality-of-life for its residents.” That’s because big data is underscoring the monumental importance of common areas, especially where people break bread together, within any living space.

Practical design according to big data: Common areas are centerpiece of good design

Prior to big data, it was hard to track people’s movements 24 hours a day, and it was too expensive to conduct these ongoing experiments. Living spaces were designed similarly across generations with little change. Today, we’re able to harness the power of technology and see exactly what spaces people congregate in, so that we can better allocate limited space.

Photo courtesy of UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.

David Friedlander, in an article about data-driven architecture, points out what we learned about the modern American family from a study that utilized big data. We see in the above visualization that almost all “activity is centered around the family room and the kitchen.” Many of the rooms in the map above went nearly unused, indicating that the space allocation in most living spaces is probably far from optimal.

The co-living movement can extrapolate these lessons at the intersection of big data and design to substantiate something many operators already know: The really marketable and usable part of a co-living space are the common areas where people gather.

What we’re learning about the importance of common areas through big data is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, we are on the cusp of a revolution in design that leverages big data to make a wide variety of design decisions.

Coming soon: Quantified or “smart” co-living communities

The world’s first “quantified community” is currently being built on the west side of Manhattan. Hudson Yards, the largest real estate project in American history, is being designed with big data as a core and will serve as a living laboratory for future urban projects.

The scope of data that will be collected from day one includes environmental benchmarking such as energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and airborne pollutants, as well as other behavior-driven metrics. City planning officials and academic researchers alike are hoping big data will “really democratize the planning process much more.” In the not-so-distant future, quantified communities will be the norm and drastically alter the way we plan new developments and retrofit existing spaces.

There’s little doubt that these trends inevitably will shape the co-living movement. It’s only a matter of time before a co-living operator designs a space to be a quantified or “smart” community. If an operator built a space that integrates big data into their daily operations, they could, in turn, help inform their own design decisions and help shape future activity and academic research within the rapidly expanding world of co-living.

The elephant in the room: Big data and your privacy

Big data is a boon for many fields, including architecture and design, but it often comes at the cost of privacy of everyday people. As the “internet of things” penetrates all sorts of living spaces, including co-living communities, how can co-living operators maintain their residents’ privacy?

As with all technology, privacy is never guaranteed and must be continuously updated to avoid new security vulnerabilities. We live in an age where data breaches have become part of our daily existence, therefore operators should be optimistic about the prospect of big data while recognizing the pitfalls of wrapping up their operations with technology that can put their resident’s privacy at risk.

Technology is a double-edged sword

In the end, technology solves old problems while creating new ones. We know that design is ripe for disruption, and big data can help us better inform what the future co- living space of tomorrow looks like.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know what the next step is for co-living operators. Certainly, co-living will embrace the latest in technological advancements and make them an integral part of their operations. Entrepreneurs who take the plunge and make big data a big part of their concept while protecting privacy stand to reap the rewards of this budding technological revolution.


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