User empowerment is key to designing for future living, agree industry leaders

Eindhoven – How will we live in 2040? On the evening of 22 October, MVRDV’s Winy Maas, Franklin Till’s Julian Ellerby, Johannes Torpe and Leolux’s Sebastiaan Sanders came together to share their visions. The Dutch Design Week talk, held at Eindhoven’s Gasfabriek and moderated by our founder, Robert Thiemann, delved into the topic of future living and included presentations from Studio Lonk’s Anna Dekker and Paula Strunden of Soft Bodies.

Although it’s a large question to explore, admits Thiemann, the purpose of such a discussion was necessitated by a certain reality: spatial design must evolve to accommodate the fast-changing lifestyle needs and priorities of modern society. But how?

Maas thinks that weathering this shift depends on thinking about projects holistically. He notes that projects often focus on a single user concern, but believes that future living spaces need to responsively tackle a full range of them, including sustainability, diversity, porosity and shareability. MVRDV’s recent work revolves around the creation of toolkits that make it possible for users to systematically tailor-make – and adjust – their immediate and shared living spaces.

But our lives don’t happen only at home. Crediting the fact that the separation between work and home is slimmer than ever, Ellerby – Franklin Till’s strategy director – asked: ‘What is the purpose of a workplace when you can work any place at all?’ Adding value to these spaces, he argues, depends on accommodating the mental, physical, emotional and social needs that come with a workday. And, in achieving that, he believes, like Maas, that users should also be given increased autonomy over their space. ‘We’re seeing real positive impact in spaces where people have real control, a chance to choose and to have ownership,’ Ellerby said.

Adding such value to residential spaces relies on the conceptual, too, believes Johannes Torpe. Compelling spatial narratives help users feel more connected to their physical spaces, he explained: embedding personal identity and collective context in spaces and objects are central goals driving the work of his eponymous Copenhagen-based studio. ‘Storytelling is not about language; it’s about culture,’ he said. ‘Our purpose is to give back through storytelling – as architects and designers that is the greatest thing we can do.’

Imagine living space as a rare good instead of a commodity

The results of Leolux’s design challenge with What if Lab – which asked designers to think about how the industry can address future needs today to anticipate consumer collections of tomorrow – touch on each point established by Maas, Ellerby and Torpe. Studio Lonk’s Filter Family – an interactive installation that imagines living space as a rare good instead of a commodity – was the winning concept; Soft Bodies and Rive Roshan were finalists. Filter Family, which was realized and is exhibited at Strijp TQ, is composed of a 12-m-long Leolux Ponton sofa and 14 built-in sliding panels that allow users to define their own personal space. While doing so, ambient noise adapts along with the set-up. The ever-changing piece acts as a prompt to ‘question how much space each individual is entitled to’, according to Sanders.

Appropriately, each point established by Maas, Ellerby and Torpe – the need for spatial responsiveness, choice and personalization – is encompassed by Filter Family, indeed giving users a glimpse into living, decades from now.

Dutch Design Week is taking place from 19 to 27 October across Eindhoven. See more coverage from Dutch Design Week, past and present, here.

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