Book Review

Beyond Live/Work

The Architecture of Home- Based Work
Frances Holliss

Tracing historic and contemporary combinations of homes and workplaces, this book offers a fascinating insight into what we regard as a modern phenomenon enabled by technology, but which is inherent in how people have long lived and earned a living. Citing the White House as the ultimate live/work example, the author seeks to celebrate and learn from cases: from medieval and Industrial Revolution workhomes, iconic architect-designed workhomes , to the everyday reality of combining work and life in one place.

Looking at the modern city and how it detached work from home in an effort to make cleaner and safer living conditions, Holliss explores the suburbs, housing standards, the Garden City Movement and functional zoning laws. These are shown as separating men (the principal breadwinners) from their wives and children, and relegating homebased working to an ‘underground’ activity, rather than a natural part of the city’s social capital, and one of lesser value, a view which lingers today. Charles Booths’ detailed accounts of middle and working class London is used alongside Jane Jacobs’ four generators of diversity in city streets, to show the social and economic value that living and working together can bring. Usefully, the book looks at governance, which has wrongly portrayed home/work as an unwelcome illicit way of working (or conversely living), with planning policies, laws or taxes that penalise homebased enterprise; resourceful workers who have to find ways to make a living without upsetting the neighbours.

Bringing the debate into the 21st century, the final chapter looks at sustainability. The energy consumption involved in corporate vs. home based work typically means that environmental efficiencies are side effects rather than the primary goal. Economically there is a risk that the lessons learned here are not being heeded, so that in modernising many cities in India, the essential but informal economy is being swept away with the slums, eliminating opportunities for homebased working in new western-style housing typologies. The section on social sustainability (and the everyday reality section above) draws upon the views of 76 interviewees that the author surveyed for the book. Despite the problems of working at home or living at work, almost all valued the autonomy and control that the model offered them: to be more involved in family time – young or old – or avoiding time-consuming commutes. The benefits to the local economy are also explored, and where home/work is not allowed, this has the effect of isolating the hidden worker. The book is a great read, well illustrated and seeks to encourage designers to find simple ways to promote living and working in the same building and across neighbourhoods.

URBAN DESIGN 142 Spring 2017 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 142 Spring 2017

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Beyond Live/Work  Publication Urban Design Group
Reviewed By
Louise Thomas