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These London High-Rises Are A Massive Experiment In Co-Living

In a city with rapidly rising rents, the Collective is creating a hotel-like space to house the young, penniless masses.

Move into a newly revamped London high-rise next year, and you can have a few hundred housemates. An abandoned office building is turning into one of the world’s largest experiments in co-living, designed in response to London’s insane rents.

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Inside, residents will have private space to sleep, storage, and a bathroom. A kitchenette may or may not be shared. But they’ll also have access to 12,000 square feet of shared living space, including full kitchens, a library, a spa, a “secret garden,” and a theater.

“The idea is that we provide a compact but well-designed living space where you can have all of your basics. … It’s really your crash pad,” says Reza Merchant, CEO of The Collective, the London startup that is developing the building along with several other co-living spaces around the city. “The wealth of amenity space is the modern form of the living room.”

If you want to have a dinner party, for example, you can book a room for that. “It’s the whole sharing economy phenomenon–when you share things with other people you get a lot more bang for your buck,” he says. “How often are you going to have a 15-person dinner party? You don’t have that every night, so if you share that with other people, you can have access to all these amazing living spaces that you wouldn’t otherwise have.”

It’s designed to be something that someone in their twenties or thirties can afford as London rents–which have doubled in the past decade–keep soaring. Depending on the neighborhood, the co-living spaces The Collective is building can be 15%-40% cheaper than renting a typical apartment.

“At the moment, people earning less than £40,000-£50,000 a year don’t have the option of renting a flat in a decent location,” Merchant says. “So they’re forced at the moment to rent rooms in often illegally converted houses.”

Merchant, who is 26, is also convinced that millennials prefer living in communities. “I think if you look at our generation, there’s a shift toward wanting to be part of a community and share experience with their peers,” he says. “The whole concept of sharing is much more acceptable today than it was previously. So on the one hand, people actually prefer to share. On the other hand, there are simply no options.”

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The building is designed to be suitcase-ready and is a little like living in a millennial-filled hotel. “We change the linen, we clean the rooms, we have an on-site concierge, we fully furnish the rooms, even down to the knives, the forks, the TV, so that people can show up with their bag and they’re ready to live,” Merchant says. “That’s very much part of the psyche of the millennial generation. They don’t want to own material possessions.”

When it opens in 2016, the building will be one of several massive co-living spaces The Collective is planning for London. PLP Architecture, which designed the space, also has plans for another big project, a 30-story skyscraper with co-living on the top and co-working for startups on the bottom.

The Collective isn’t the only company to attempt co-living spaces, but there’s still questions about whether the business model works. Campus, a startup from Silicon Valley, notably failed at the same thing. Others, like a new co-living space in Brooklyn, have been criticized for charging rents that aren’t much better than a studio in the area. Still, more are being planned.

Merchant thinks growing interest in the idea is a logical reaction to the housing affordability crisis many cities face. “There is a massive issue in big cities like London, San Francisco and New York where the lifeblood of these economies simply cannot afford to live properly,” he says. “When you have such an acute issue for what is such a key part of the economy, the market will inevitably come up with solutions.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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