The COVID effect: how the virus will affect future housing choices in Italy

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Gtres
1 October 2020, Redaction

The COVID-19 health emergency, and its most extreme consequence, lockdown, in addition to causing an economic crisis, has confronted governments, citizens and architects with the reality that the growth rates and urban density of the cities in Italy and beyond are no longer sustainable. To find out what the new housing trends in post-COVID houses may be, idealista/news has interviewed Francesco Roesler, Senior Landscape Architect & Masterplanner of the international firm Dar Al-Handasah.

What changed was the very concept of the home which, in some ways, turned towards an almost hybrid and certainly multifunctional setting. "During lockdown, our houses were adapted to serve as an office, gym, restaurant and even barbershop in some cases", explains Francesco Roesler, who also points out that the real difference during the hardest moments of forced confinement was made by the square metres available: "obviously those who had large rooms to adapt as needed were more privileged".

Lockdown wasn't only a reality in Italy, but in many different countries across Europe and the world, and has provided a clear dividing line that established a before and an after in the way of living at home for so many residents in Italy. "This has prompted many architectural firms to rethink home furnishings and design to meet what could be the needs and trends of the future", underlines the architect from international studio Dar Al-Handasah.

For Roesler, the pandemic has confronted everyone with some of the fundamental and critical issues of the future way of choosing a home and the subsequent way of life. And the components he believes will play a central role in shaping the post-corona home are: common spaces, flexibility and technology, size, context, outdoor spaces, furnishings and materials. The challenge is to understand how these components will change the way we live and how important they will be in future home choices. Let's have a look at the main components to be considered:

Common spaces

"This is generally a central theme and a prerogative of rented houses shared by several tenants" - specifies Francesco Roesler - "but they have also become a trend in Social Housing, a very popular model in northern Europe, where a block of flats shares common spaces such as laundry rooms, cinema halls, play or study areas and in some cases swimming pool and gym, as well as green areas for outdoor play".

And it is precisely the characteristics of the buildings dedicated to social housing that develop what could be the new paradigm of condominiums: "Distance working and the possibility of spending more time at home will further spread this model, conceived as a self-sufficient and economically sustainable living island".

Flexibility and technology

As already mentioned, it is easy to imagine a hybridisation of living environments. And it is precisely on this aspect that the architect from international studio Dar Al-Handasah focuses: "Work and a more flexible lifestyle mean more flexible environments; we will see a sort of hybridisation between home, office and gym where spaces will become increasingly multifunctional and designed to accommodate a plurality of activities".

And how does this new lifestyle trend translate into practical terms for the home? "Sliding walls to temporarily divide rooms and create privacy, furniture that acts as a separator or that is retractable but also micro-solutions, such as electrical or USB sockets integrated in the furniture and more and more portable technology (starting with smartphones) in the management of household appliances, lighting and security".

Size

As for the available square metres, many during lockdown rediscovered the importance of the spaces available. However, for Roesler, the search for larger areas could be a passing trend: "The search for larger sizes will certainly be a reaction, at least in the short term, to the lockdown effect, but it is difficult to believe that this will become a future trend. Bigger houses mean more taxes, more maintenance and more expensive bills".

It will not be the concept of size that will make the difference at all, but its functionality: "I think we will instead move towards a more careful evaluation of the size of the individual rooms according to present and future needs," the architect explains. "This means that there will be a plurality of requests depending on who gives more importance to having a single large open space to be divided more flexibly or who prefers more separate rooms in a clear-cut manner".   

Context

What is increasingly important in the choice of home, however, will be what is around the house itself, especially in relation to the increase in working from home. "The weight that the geographical context will have on the choice of home will change a lot. Those who will be able to work from home, for example, will no longer give priority to being close to the office or the metro, but to a park or sports centre".

A real revolution, the one highlighted by Francesco Roesler, is also a re-appropriation of free time: "The quality of the air and natural lighting, the proximity to natural contexts or extra-urban cycle paths will become more and more attractive for young professionals who no longer need to live in congested city centres".

Outdoor spaces

The lockdown period, in addition to the need for available space in the house, highlighted above all the importance of enjoying moments in the open air: "Whether it is a balcony, a garden or a terrace, the outdoor vent has become for many a must in the search for a home. We have become aware of the value of the outdoors as an extension of the home and at the same time we have increased our awareness of outdoor furniture and, above all, of plants".

However, Dar Al-Handasah's architect himself points out that "houses with gardens or penthouses are often associated with medium-high market segments and the increase in demand will help increase the cost of these types of buildings, prompting buyers with less willingness to move either towards condominiums with large, well-equipped, high-quality outdoor common spaces or to turn their attention outside the city, in more rural settings at lower prices".

For this reason those who sell will have to pay particular attention to aspects that were previously considered almost marginal: "The choice between the two will depend on how much one can free oneself from urban life. It is therefore desirable to invest in the quality of open space because buyers will become more and more demanding, investing in low-maintenance and context-related solutions, choosing the right materials and the right plants".

Materials

The legacy of the pandemic we are experiencing will also leave its trail as regards the choice of materials to be used in the home in the future, which, according to Roesler, will have to be "more and more characterised by easy maintenance, durability but also easy to sanitise".

It is therefore easy to imagine that some trends or classics from the past and present will be set aside: "We will see fewer porous materials that can absorb water and generate mould, fewer absorbent surfaces such as carpets or fabrics, and more metals, treated wood, ceramics or compounds such as stoneware. Technology will then play its part in creating new high-performance materials at affordable prices," concludes Francesco Roesler.

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