A home is not just a physical world. It’s first and foremost an emotional one. Like everything that is concerned with emotions, the theme of how we inhabit places is a design argument in its own right. Today, it’s tremendously current.

“Living with Buildings” at the Wellcome Gallery in London is one of many recent exhibitions around the world that explore the interconnections between buildings and our health and emotional wellbeing.

The places we inhabit have long stirred designers’ imagination, in terms of inventing technology and stuff to facilitate domestic living, or to create any sort of services to make the most of our homes: our life beyond house thresholds has long represented a test bed for visionary designers.

From Whirlpool’s Miracle Kitchen Home to Enzo Mari’s famous manual, Autoprogettazione, through Studio Azzurro’s utopias and Ugo la Petra’s futuristic intuitions, tens of thousands of designers have devoted their work to imagine the evolution of our homes.

The theme of housing is also a matter of social design. It was definitely a big deal centuries ago, always on the agenda of enlightened architects-think of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, for instance, public institutions and city planners; today it faces enormous challenges, many of whom are related to the new scenarios drawn by technological change.

Unfailingly intriguing, housing as a design topic brings along many other intertwined concepts, like mobility, artificial intelligence, co-housing, sharing economy, minimal-dwelling, nomadic-living and so on.

It embraces ethics, wealth distribution, urban development and sustainability.

It’s a complex system, which explains why through years it has become an important frontier for design thinking and for service designers specifically.

The bigger picture approach which is typical of service design is crucial when it comes to address humanitarian emergencies, to design places for healthcare and to deliver sustainable and affordable living to a growing number of residents in big metropolis around the world.

Today’s challenges and possible responses

By 2030, estimates suggest there will be 1.2 billion more of us70% of us will be living in cities. This exceptional urbanisation “has led to unaffordable housing and, paradoxically, increasing loneliness” says Jamiee Williams, co designer of the project One shared House 2030.

Moreover, in developed countries planning restrictions, local campaigns and initiatives against new developments and speculations, have conspired to make new housing scarce and to price out existing options.

“The wonderful ideas we had about living have been priced out of our lives. and it shouldn’t be that way. The powers that are housing us today – a minority made up of big corporations, governments, public planners, banks – are failing to see how many of us are just ready to experiment new radical ways of living.” Alain the Botton, Interview for Home Futures/The design Museum

There are many ways by which designers and architects are trying to address all these important issues.

  1. Co-housing

The terms refer to an intentional community of private homes which share some environments. The model is becoming popular among citizens of developed countries, as shown by the number of respondents who took the One shared house2030‘ survey, a project co-created by IKEA innovation, and designers’ duo Anton & Irene.


Financial sustainability and integrated services are the pivots of Sharing House (SH+). Introducing a new service model in the sector of housing and home care, the project addressed three different targets and needs: to investors, it offered a chance to invest in fair economic returns; to operators of the third sector, it unlocked the opportunity to work in a different sector; to low income citizens the way to afford good housing facilities and services.

For more information on this project

Networks of shared knowledge

The criticism against developers’ speculations at the expenses of local communities is fierce. Born out of an initiative of a handful of dissident architects, online platform Concrete Action connects professionals and citizens by providing relevant information and private details on development plans and speculations which are likely to affect the wellbeing of local community.

The platform first opened on the dark web, to guarantee the secrecy of its contributors. It aims at hinder the housing crisis which has been vexing London in recent years.

Concrete Action online platform


Another way to tackle the problems connected to house scarcity in big cities is turning the perspective upside down and focusing on mobility and infrastructure to ease the burden for metropolitan areas and make the outskirts of big cities more attractive for citizens.

Designing for housing: empathy and sustainability

Housing today has become a very complex turf. Dipping into its quagmire means clashing with diverse, often conflicting interests. Solving its contradictions is not just about quantity — building more buildings, more quickly — it is also about understanding user needs and connecting them to stakeholders’ ones.

qualitative, systemic approach is much needed when it comes to design sustainable, affordable houses and transform the lives of communities involved.

After all, there seems to be a “tremendous inertia and conservatism in the development of ideas of how housing could be” says Peter Barber, a London Architect, in an interview for the Home Future exhibit, which is running now at the Design Museum.

Service designers being the game changers of that: that’s a kind of realistic set of hopes for the future.💪🏘️

Author: Silvia Podestà