Innovations in co-living

Anna Winston is an award-winning editor, writer and curator. She is a former editor of Dezeen and Bdonline.

MINI Living, Shanghai


is experiencing a boom in cities around the world. With pressures on space and shifts in lifestyle among the under 40s, shared housing is becoming an increasingly attractive option, combining private space with communal facilities and, in some cases, access to unique events.


the co-living organisation launched by co-working giant WeWork, is one of the best-known developers and is planning to add a new residence in Seattle to its already successful properties in Washington DC and New York, while The Collective, dubbed “the world’s largest co-living complex” opened in London earlier this year. 

Much of the conversation around co-living has been dominated by the idea that millennials are less interested in permanence and have been forced out of the conventional property market. But two recent reports suggest that the motivations and age-range for co-living are much broader. 

Space 10,

IKEA’s Copenhagen-based innovation laboratory, launched a mass survey to find out what the future of co-living might look like and found that most co-livers are primarily attracted to the model as it creates new ways of socialising, rather than for financial or geographical reasons. Space 10 suggests this reflects a major cultural shift in many cities, with young people increasingly choosing to stay single and real-life social networks shrinking, despite the rise of social media, leading to record levels of loneliness in both younger and older generations. 

Living Closer,

a new report from the Royal Institute of British Architects and architecture firm Studio Wave, has also suggested that the introduction of a wide range of co-living models could help with both rising levels of loneliness and also the increasing need to assisted living for ageing populations, as well as pressures on housing availability in cities.
Co-living is “not just for ‘alternative’ types, or simply a last resort for those who can’t afford to buy on their own. Instead, it is as diverse as the individuals who live in it,” said architect Je Ahn. 

Community living is not a new idea, but co-living is moving away from the old image of the commune and creating a way of living that has mainstream appeal. Here, we explore some recent examples of different approaches to co-living from around the world, from a townhouse that combines shared living with co-working, to membership networks, co-housing, and modular sheds that are bringing new life to empty buildings.

Robinhood, Berlin

By Dennis Prinz for Robinhood

The creators of the Robinhood project call it the first “Pod Living Space” in Berlin. Named after the historic figure who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, the objective is to reclaim industrial space and empty buildings for affordable co-living by inserting private, soundproof sleeping pods alongside “five star” communal spaces, like kitchens, gardens, pools and saunas. 

The pods are designed by Robinhood’s founder, Dennis Prinz – also founder of Berlin co-working space Enklave – who will unveil three prototypes for members to vote on in September. The modular design means the company could potentially transform a space into a co-living community in a matter of weeks. Residents of Robinhood will pay less than the market rent for a room in a shared apartment and more than 1,000 people have already registered for membership. The team hope that the first development in Berlin will open this year inside a former bank. 


Garden House, London

By Teatum + Teatum for Noaiscape 

Garden House is the latest co-living project from Noaiscape, a specialist developer founded by architects Tom and James Teatum with the objective of developing an “infrastructure for urban renting” across London. Noiascape follows a ‘community’ model, where members have access to a variety of unique spaces scattered around the city.

An old mews house in west London has been redesigned internally with a series of interconnected living spaces made using contemporary materials. Bedrooms are located on the ground floor, so that informal work and relaxation spaces are close to the new roof terrace. The focus is on flexibility, so the house can accommodate a single family, couple or a small group of sharers, but the overarching goal is to encourage younger residents to spend more time at home, after the architects found that millennials were spending just 17 per cent of their waking day at home.


Interconnected living spaces at Garden House

Life X, Copenhagen and Berlin

LifeX was founded by product developers Ritu Jain and Sune Theodorsen in Copenhagen in 2017, after they moved to the city and struggled to find somewhere to live that didn’t involve long-term commitments and having to buy furniture. They now run a collection of apartments in Copenhagen and a new residence in Berlin, with a focus on helping newcomers with relocation. “We know from experience that moving to a new country is a lot of work, can be expensive and most importantly quite lonely since you don’t know anyone,” said Jain. “Our mission is to make this experience what it should be – a great start to new adventure – by helping with all the practicalities of moving, along with a fully serviced flexible housing subscription.”

Each apartment is fully kitted out in Danish style thanks to an ongoing collaboration with the influential design brand HAY. Residents have generously-sized private bedrooms, as well as shared living and dining spaces. 


Shared dining space at Life X

MINI Living, Shanghai

Designers to be announced

Announced by car brand MINI in November, MINI Living Shanghai represents the company’s first major leap into co-living property development. It brings together research developed during a series of pop-up, concept projects around the world by various architects, each with a focus on maximising small spaces. 

MINI Living Shanghai is being built with developer Nova Property Investment Co in the Jing’An district. It will transform a cluster of six existing buildings to create living spaces that will be available to families and single people as well as groups of sharers on a variety of leases. The idea is to use shared spaces to offset the relatively small size of the apartments, with practical services like cleaning available to book, as well as gardens, exhibition spaces, a food market and shops and restaurants that will integrate the development into the life of the city. 


The Shed Project, London

By Studio Bark for Lowe Guardians

The Shed is a concept for creating mini homes inside larger, shared buildings managed by Lowe Guardians, which specialises in property ‘guardianships’, where renters pay a below-market average for a space inside an empty or abandoned building, like a warehouse or old office black, to help protect it from squatters and vandals. 

Despite the pressure for more affordable residential space, London is home to a large number of empty buildings, many of which are difficult to convert into housing suitable for guardians. London architecture firm Studio Bark designed The Shed housing modules based on the archetype of the garden shed. Each one can be built in a day using a mallet and drill, and is made from oriented strand board, insulated using lambs wool. They can be easily relocated when the buildings are redeveloped. According to Lowe Guardians, the target audience are young professionals.


The Shed housing module


MINI, LifeX, Garden House, Luke Hayes, Lowe Guardians