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Inspiring vision + Provoking change

Envisioning The Urban Living Room

To accompany One Room Mansion, the winter 2017 exhibition at BSA Space, several Boston Society of Architects/AIA (BSA) committees held programs exploring compact housing and its intersections with various aspects of architectural practice. As part of the Focus on Housing series, the BSA Emerging Professionals Network (EPNet) hosted a brainstorming session on communal living for the twenty-first century and how to design successful social spaces for those that elect to live more compactly.

Tamara Roy AIA—the 2016 BSA president who championed housing and small scale living as part of her presidential agenda—introduced the event, alongside Aeron Hodges AIA—co-founder of WHAT’S IN, a research initiative of Stantec and co-curator of One Room Mansion. WHAT’S IN created the body of research that drove the event, identifying the importance of investigating how social space must change as modes of housing do.

Once Tamara and Aeron provided some background for the brainstorming session, EPNet divided into four working groups, each addressing an aspect of the relationship between social spaces and compact housing through a series of questions:

  • What can be learned from historical communal building modes around the world? Can any of them be modified to adapt to modern day urban housing?
  • What’s trending in co-living and which development types will prove to be long lasting solutions?
  • Which elements should be considered when designing a public social space? Which ones are applicable to housing design?
  • Which recent projects can we learn from when designing successful social spaces?

While each team was responding to different questions, they honed in on several of the same qualities that make for successful communal living and shared social spaces, all of which the brainstormers believe encourage engagement with social spaces. Common interests and ideologies are important to communities that live together, fostering ease of interaction and inspiring engagement with shared spaces. A sense of ownership of public space (or privately owned public space) was identified as essential to the vitality and maintenance of the space. While shared ideologies were identified as important to communal living and social spaces, the capacity to allow connection between diverse populations was also believed to be essential. Perhaps the most commonly recognized characteristic of successful social spaces during this brainstorming session was active and engaging programming—the encouragement of socialization and connection within the framework of established activities.

Though this look at “The Urban Living Room” lasted just one evening, it was preceded by substantial long-term research, and it generated ideas about best practices and sought-for goals that can help to inform shared spaces far into the future, as compact living becomes more pervasive and urban dwellers let go of some private space to make room for parks, parklets, and plazas to share.

View images below. 

Photos courtesy of Emerging Professionals Network.


To learn more about how the BSA Foundation is making an impact in communities, please come to BSA Space for a one hour “tour” of BSA Foundation programs. Meet with Foundation leaders and volunteers to learn broadly about the Foundation’s work and its impact. Foundation Conversation meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month. Events are free, but seats are limited. Check for upcoming dates and to reserve your seat.