How Live and Work Go Together

A new typological idea for residential units designed for live/work integration.

Breathing in the aroma of a Costa Rican brew freshly steeped with cinnamon, I adjusted the belt of my robe as I felt my back caressed by the lumbar support of my task chair. It is 5:30am in Toronto and I had just accomplished the most monumental task: getting out of bed without hitting snooze. “Win the morning, win the day,” I chuckled to myself during my brisk walk to the office, a short commute of only a dozen steps since converting my second bedroom into a home office. This was four years before the world was upended by COVID-19 and I was part of a growing group of self-employed freelancers who worked from home. Over the course of the next few years, I’ve witnessed the continual advancement of digital tools that made running a small business faster, cheaper, and more efficient. I realized then the way we live and work is at the brink of a tipping point.

The design of our home and offices has constantly evolved through the lenses of social, demographic, economic, and technological forces that shapes us. Technology has made remote work possible by dematerializing data into the cloud and reducing the cost of starting and running a business. With the approaching onslaught of the “Silver Tsunami” as baby boomers reach their golden years, it’s speculated that multi-generational housing will be common place as kids who started their careers living at home to reduce expenses warm up to the idea of their parents living with them post-retirement, many of them even starting a second career.

Unconventional patterns of work, from on-demand gig-workers, freelancers, self-employment, and remote work has steadily risen in recent years. Statistics Canada reports that between 2005 and 2016 the number of workers participating in on-demand work grew by nearly 50 per cent, while Intuit predicted back in a 2018-published report that 45 per cent of the Canadian workforce would comprise self-employed, freelancers, or on-demand workers by 2020. That figure has yet to be confirmed, but assuming that nearly half of the total workforce will no longer be confined to the 9-5 environment, where would they work other than co-working spaces or biting the bullet and leasing their own office?

Having designed and assessed a substantial number of residential condo units, it is clear that current market offerings do not cater to the needs of professionals who work from home, so we decided to explore the urban infill townhome as a viable live/work typology. For maximum flexibility, our Live/Work concept is designed to serve as a template for accommodating different lifestyles. The ability to section off specific areas for different uses is crucial: the basement and half of the ground level has the ability to be sectioned off through solid pocket doors. The intent is to create a threshold that separates the zones between living and working.

There is a direct link between the environment and overall happiness, and oftentimes basements can be dark, gloomy and uninspiring. Furthermore, people are also more productive when they are in an environment that promotes well-being. We integrated a sunken entry landing and a small central courtyard garden to further bring in light and vegetation to make it one of the most desirable areas. The space can be configured for either a home office, income property, or guest suite/media/games room. Alternatively, the upper level with outdoor terrace is designed to be the type of space that makes you want to linger a bit longer, perfect for those who spend the majority of their waking hours at the office.

On the exterior, metal screens provide a subtle sense of privacy for the upper levels. Fair-face concrete, metal, and wood were chosen as exterior materials to complement the interior, creating a sense of congruency between the inside and out. A thick horizontal gunmetal band runs through the length of the development to visually anchor the composition while housing planters that allow vines to snake through and vegetate the metal screen above are included.

The world underwent an unprecedented acceleration towards remote work capabilities thanks to COVID-19 and the impact will likely be felt for years to come. Although physical offices will still be a crucial component for collaboration and fostering corporate culture, the geography of spaces for productive work has been liberated. A dedicated work area within every residential dwelling space is a logical next step in the ever-changing evolution of the home and office landscape.

Fascinated with the way people live, work and play, Danny Tseng, architect and co-founder of Toronto-based Syllable, uncovers the untapped potential of any given space and tailors it to the end-user. When he’s not designing residences, offices, and shops, he can be spotted slurping noodles at a local ramen restaurant sporting a perpetually expanding bed-hair.