What does connected living truly mean, and how can design help facilitate it? This question drove a series of talks Frame held in collaboration with Dutch Design Week. Here are the main takeaways from our speakers.

Studio 1:1's map of underutilized spaces for the challenge.

Shared living relies on iteration and smart facilitation

While public spaces are supposed to be for communities, they aren’t always the most inviting places to spend time. Can that change? Lucas Zoutendijk and his team at Studio 1:1 – a spatial design agency based in Rotterdam – investigated the impact it would have if these spaces felt like home, prompted by a design challenge raised by engineering consultancy Sweco. Their proposal takes advantage of unused areas in the city – specifically spots under viaducts and bridges, sites that provide shade and shelter by design. Sections with elements dedicated to sports, play, hospitality, green space and events respectively would comprise these urban hubs. The commonality between them is the ambition to foster connection between inhabitants. 

‘Co-creation plays a big role in every project our studio does,’ Zoutendijk explained. ‘In the process of creating public spaces, participation is necessary. We try to really listen to the community of the neighbourhood – they live there and have their wishes.’ While he champions the idea of ‘getting in touch with your city’ before embarking on such a project, he cautions against letting these wishes totally overrun the design process. Designers should facilitate these conversations and encourage an iterative approach, he explained, while always trusting the insight of their expertise in final decisions.

The Commons, The Student Hotel's Restaurant And Event Space At Its Delft Location. Design By The Invisible Party.

Education is the future of community-building

The Student Hotel’s Tessa Winter, head of Connector programme, and Frank Uffen, partner, describe the ‘hybrid hospitality’ brand as ‘more than a real estate solution’ – rather, a ‘community of global citizens.’ The fast-growing portfolio doesn’t just offer places to stay. In addition to providing student accommodation and hotel rooms, it also hosts dynamic co-working, event and meeting programming. The job of the ‘connectors’ is to facilitate the communities who utilize The Student Hotel and its programming. Since COVID-19, Winter, Uffen and their team have observed a growing desire for groups to build these events themselves. ‘[Our job is to] give people a sense of ownership,’ noted Winter. ‘The do-it-together trend is one you see across sectors.’

In building the foundation for The Student Hotel, the brand invested in a lot of public spaces that were shared and worked with experience designers that focused on interaction-building, instead of traditional architects. ‘This encourages behaviour that helps people serendipitously get in touch with each other,’ Uffen said, pointing out that physical spaces are a tool for fostering collaborations. ‘For those lacking social environments, we fill the void, catering to learning and people looking for connections.’ To continue growing, Winter explained that her team will ‘focus even more on community and education. Education will shape the future of The Student Hotel and transform the experience from individual to collective.

The IoT Sandbox, a research tool developed by Joep Frens and Mathias Funk, shows the communicative relationship between designs. This is visualized in the Data Canvas, above.

Give people tools and methods, not (more) products

Dr Mathias Funk, associate professor in the Future Everyday group in the Department of Industrial Design at the Eindhoven University of Technology, discussed the importance of connected design instruments to integrated living systems. Funk’s work explores what data can add to the end-user experience, and how designers can use data in their processes. ‘How can we think of products and systems as ecosystems, as collages – as things that grow over time?’ he prompted the audience to consider. 

Peekaboo House, one of the projects that Funk worked on with his students, is one such tool. It’s a camera that observes the moments in between the ‘cracks of attention’ in private homes, giving families the autonomy to make decisions about when they share their data. ‘Educating people to work properly with material at hand,’ is critical to the efficacy of design-information streams, he explained. Retrieved properly, this data can lead to tools and methods that meet the tailored needs of cohabitants. ‘This is a challenge – not just a reminder for society, but also for design education: we really need to of designers who are very knowledgeable and capable work intuitively with data.’

Lightship 12, one of the homes in Schoonschip, designed by OTH Architecten. Cover image shows Floating Home, a schoonschip residence by i29.

Design the process, not the rules

One of the red threads connecting the four talks was the need to give people a sense of autonomy in creating their connected communities. As an inhabitant of Amsterdam’s ‘floating neighbourhood’ Schoonschip, there were fewer better positioned to comment on this than Carbon Studio founder Pieter Kool. Initiated by private individuals like Kool, Schoonschip – comprising 46 households on 30 water-plots – is built on a circular community model. The pioneering houseboat neighbourhood is totally connected both socially and ecologically, from its system of solar panels to group dinners. ‘If you’re doing things properly sustainably, you develop an ecosystem,’ he said.

To succeed in an endeavour like Schoonschip, Kool explained that there are fundamental principles that need to be accepted. Among them: residents must have ‘skin in the game’ – a balance of financial and personal involvement is crucial to keep people invested in the continuity of the neighbourhood. Secondly, designers need to develop the ‘process, not the rules’, leading an iterative approach that helps everyone feel involved. What’s more, the roles both the initiators – those designing the process – and the continuators – the ones actually maintaining it – need to be fully embraced. ‘Connection is really about the space that you share,’ Kool pointed out, encouraging people to think about these ecosystems rather than individual homes.

Watch the recap here: