Evolution of Housing

House & Home Exhibit

Earlier this year, I visited the National Building Museum in Washington DC. The museum has a widely praised special exhibit entitled House & Home which examines how the American home has been shaped by transformations in technology, changes in government policy and consumer culture over many centuries. The exhibit serves as a reminder how much our living environments have evolved and will continue to do so at a rapid pace.

The exhibit is comprehensive and goes beyond construction type and architecture style and shows how technology has impacted our lives within our homes. For example, as noted in the picture above, irons (far left) as well as washers & dryers, dish washers and vacuums have freed up many hours of people’s time each week. It is easy to forget that prior to these innovations, homemakers spent the vast majority of each day washing clothes, cleaning and the like.

Changes of Today

Our homes and living environments continue to evolve. Today, we see greater housing density in thriving urban areas and neighboring suburban areas, particularly in the form of high quality apartment living. Walkability – and even “livability” – is seen as a highly sought after attribute. We are witnessing changes in how people think about and use space.  There is Interest in smaller spaces, such as small houses as evidenced by televisions shows like Tiny House, Big Living and advent of microunits, sometimes as small as 300 square feet, in urban areas. Even bigger homes are being designed in more usable ways. Sarah Suzanka’s Not So Big House book series, which has sold over a million copies, continues to evoke interest and help people design homes for how they really live.

Technology continues to shape how we live. Almost over night, Amazon Echo, or “Alexa”, has become ubiquitous in many households and, in our case, has eliminated the need for a physical grocery list.  Smartphones and tablets have allowed for multimedia viewing from anywhere in the house. There is now less of a need to be tethered to the “entertainment room” or perhaps have such a dedicated room at all. Sonos has done a remarkable job of a making streaming music an easy, relatively affordable and eliminate the need for built-in speakers. With autonomous vehicles available on demand, we may see garages and parking spaces become less necessary.

A Call for New Housing Models

With technology advances, changing consumer preferences and an aging demographic, there is a call for new housing models. Joe Coughlin, Director the MIT AgeLab, believes that “longevity changes everything” and has contributed his vision of the future in what he calls “Gerontopia”, though it is probably more accurately described as “Intergenerational-topia”. This community of the future is designed with all ages in mind and incorporates the right mix of activity, intensity, density and accessibility to work successfully for all people. Naturally, Dr. Coughlin’s model also takes advantage of technology advances, such as easy access to digital and on-demand services, including home delivery of meals, transportation and other elements of the sharing economy.

The Opportunity for Housing to Meld to Desires & Evolving Needs

At Smart Living 360, our vision for housing is to be far more than a place to hang your hat; we believe our living environments should inspire us, create true community and adjust as our needs change. Like Dr. Coughlin, we see an opportunity to develop intergenerational communities in walkable areas which can seamlessly enhance the well-being of a wide range of people. We do this through smart design, an orientation towards community and personal connection and access to important lifestyle and health services. Our onsite Lifestyle Ambassador is key. Evolving technologies also help enrich people’s lives and support on demand services as needs change.

House and Home Exhibit of 2050

Given changes underway and ahead, it will be fascinating to see the House and Home Exhibit of 2050. It’s impossible to accurately predict how precisely our housing will change but we can expect that the iPhone will be considered a relic of the past, which is a crazy thought in 2017.  My greatest hope is that our housing will continue to evolve in a way to help us live an enriching life at any stage in our life’s journey.