Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Sun Oct 25th 2009 at 2:22pm UTC

Do Live-Work Spaces Work?


Do you live and work in the same building?

In various North American cities in recent years, planners, residents, and others have introduced the notion that there should be more housing built that can also be a person’s workplace. Live-Work differs from “mixed use,” in which an apartment or condo tower may exist above an office or retail building, however apartment dwellers will not necessarily or even likely work in the commercial space below.

Under these discussed Live-Work scenarios, a self-employed individual would work from home. The developer of the housing (and/or the municipal zoning) would need to make accommodation for this type of use. I’ve seen some older buildings converted into artist Live-Work spaces, designed for an artist to have a studio space often at ground level, and their home above it. Newer buildings have often been designed with an office beside the front entrance to the apartment or condo, theoretically allowing someone to receive a client without the client needing to see or enter the rest of the home. However, many units in “live-work” buildings simply have an office off the master bedroom.

A few weeks ago in a casual chat, Richard raised the question of whether Live-Work capacity would be something that residents of future apartment buildings in downtown Toronto might require. Given shifts that happened during the recession in which tens of thousands of Canadians shifted to self-employment, one could wonder if this accelerated a trend toward more free agents. Live-Work might be a trend in both how we live and how we work.

All this got me thinking about the attempts to implement Live-Work in Vancouver with some of the new towers (such as The Hudson or Shaw Tower), and how, according to some observers, almost no purchasers bought with the intention of having a home office (they just wanted to live downtown, either because they work in an office building, like the abundant amenities, or both.)

In the case of artist Live-Work spaces, I read (I believe in Elizabeth Currid’s book) that in New York these spaces are typically sub-let to lawyers, accountants, and others who love their locations and trendiness – and who have a lot more money.

In both cases it may be that typical downtown workers (such as lawyers, accountants, bankers, etc.) end up wanting the live-work condos or artist studios and can afford to pay more for them. But these people work in an office building where they interact with myriad other people all the time.

Most people I know who “work from home” as private contractors or consultants do so largely to avoid a commute and because they prefer to live in quieter, suburban, or exurban surroundings rather than in a dense urban area (in part they may prefer more distant living because of the ability to afford a larger home for the same money as a condo).

So, I am wondering whether Live-Work places downtown (or in denser, urban areas) will grow in the future, or diminish – or stay the same, somewhat fringe phenomenon that they are now.

Do you or any of your friends, clients, or colleagues live and work from a downtown apartment? Or from an urban artist-studio?

Would you want to?

9 Responses to “Do Live-Work Spaces Work?”

  1. AJ Says:

    My wife works from home and from an office. The office is a former insurance company building that is converted into a small business birthplace. Home is a typical Dutch ‘30 house. Where we have a small room that is the home-office/computer room/kids homework place. I work at home and at the University. With laptops (Mac’s) and Wifi at home and at the official workplaces it’s near perfect. With this solution there are no more traffic problems etc..
    This solution needs only one criteria. And that’s Permission to work at home. My manager is ok with it and my wife is here own boss. The kids love it to use the office for there homework. It’s becoming an inspirational place in our home.

  2. Buzzcut Says:

    Artist oriented development is an interesting idea, one I’ve often thought about.

    For example, Chicago has a building, “The Old Post Office” that is rather famous (an expressway goes right through the middle of the thing, and it is built on the air rights to the railroad). The Post Office abandoned it more than a decade ago, and it has defied redevelopment because it is so large.

    Now, who needs that much space so close to downtown Chicago?

    Residential has been the preferred development model, but it is such a large space that it could easily overwhelm the market, a market that is currently in the crapper.

    Commercial and office space would have similar issues.

    Manufacturing is out, the space would be low-producivity for manufacturing.

    So who needs massive amounts of space? Preferrably very cheap (the Post Office would probably give the building away at this point, although maintenance is millions per year, not to mention abatement and rehabillitation costs).

    Seems like artists would be the way to go. It could be the “Mechandise Mart” for artists.

    And making it live-work might also be an interesting twist. Again, the building is so large that it could almost be a Chicago neighborhood all on its own.

  3. Rotkapchen Says:

    What this doesn’t address is the opportunity to change the fabric of our communities in other ways. I once did a personal interest design to change the face of a small community (basically a trainstop — official population was less than the size of the high school, due to boundaries ~1400) by creating a destination experience of learning via crafts. To be a collection of ’shops’ (the butcher, the baker the candlestick maker), the units would have been built with the retail/shop on the bottom and a residence above. The services to the units would have been by coop for pricing economies (e.g. paper supplies, even accounting services). The destination would have been a learning experience by the shops demoing in their picture windows their crafts (either by schedule or continuously), with planned weekend events.

  4. Cause+Affect Says:

    I think the Live/Work concept is dead. Outside of a small group of people who need studio space, (artist, photographer) It did not recognize the basic issue that people inherently are looking for a sense of community whether at home or at work. The home office concept simply maintains the feeling of separation and loneliness that causes many self-employed to seek office style employment. I think what we will see grow leaps and bounds over the coming years is the “shared office” concept which caters to the individual but supports them in ways that the home office does not. Have a look at The Hub in London, UK as one example. http://the-hub.net/

  5. Why Not Start Now? Says:

    I have a home office in the suburbs as well as an office where I see clients nearer the city center. I’ve always been interested in a live/work space, because of the convenience as well as the fact that my clients probably wouldn’t want to drive out to where I live. I don’t work a regular 40 hour week, so it would fit my needs perfectly. But cause+affect is right about missing that sense of community. So maybe live/work combined with some form of cohousing?That would be ideal.

  6. Wendy Says:

    Cause-effect hit the nail on the head: community is key. A bunch of artists all living and doing their creative work in the same building would probably forge a community feel.

    But, working from home in a place where no one else does, could be lonely (unless you created an online virtual community for yourself).

  7. David Says:

    In Sarasota, FL, the city approved a live-work artist district called Towles Court. It transformed this blighted area just south of the downtown. However, the live-work part of the plan was less successful, if you were to judge it by having business owners live in the same building as their business. We found that as the artists became successful, they converted more of their housing to commercial space until finally they moved out altogether. By eating into their living space, the success of their businesses made their housing less comfortable, and gave them the wherewithall to move to better and bigger housing. Most of the live-work units are now expensive rental properties, which may be OK so long as they are well maintained. It’s my opinion that owners of live-work units consider them a financial investment, an attitude which is lacking in the emotional fulfillment that one gets from a home.

  8. Beverley Hall Says:

    Hi Wendy, I’m a live / work space utiliser in the UK. Being a bookkeeper, my work space has to be organised and sharing my office with my husband, who is a successful abstract artist, has been a challenge. We use partition walls and have incredible fights over space infringement. I think the knack is to mark out your own space with your heaviest and difficult to move objects … Inertia is our friend ;-)

    Best Wishes

    Bev :-)

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