SPACE10 and Dazed Media’s new IMPERMACULTURE report shines a light on what ‘home’ means to today’s youth – and what they want from their homes in the futureSpace10
A few weeks ago, a new housing concept in California made headlines. The big idea? Stackable “sleeping pods” that would allow 14 people to live in a single home. The pods – cubelike capsules roughly the width of a twin mattress, layered on top of each other like containers on cargo vessels – cost between $800 and $1,000 a month to rent. Brownstone Shared Housing, the new start-up behind the scheme, pitched it as a short-term solution for students or people working temporary jobs, and boasted on their website that the pods “have 40 per cent more space than bunk beds.”
The sleeping pods were far from the first ‘ingenious’ space-saving living hack to make waves in the online sphere, but, understandably, they rapidly became a striking symbol of the contemporary housing crisis. Across the globe, the situation is stark, with unsafe living conditions, unattainable house prices and skyrocketing rents, lengthy waiting lists for social housing, and a homelessness epidemic. In 2022, in some of the richest nations in the world, this is the housing system’s new normal.
Meanwhile, multimillionaire public figures such as Kirstie Allsopp (when she’s not busy swallowing AirPods) tell young people they’re lazy and entitled and could easily get on the property ladder if they’d just stop frittering their money away on Netflix, gym memberships, and coffee. That’s right folks, it’s not the fact your rent is over half your monthly income that’s the problem, it's that you occasionally buy a flat white to get you through the afternoon at your underpaid, thankless job.
With this in mind, is it any wonder young people’s ideas about what ‘home’ means have shifted radically? Should it really come as a surprise that for the generation now coming of age, the concept of ‘home’ is more unstable, impermanent, and deeply-rooted in emotion than ever before?
IMPERMACULTURE is Dazed Media and SPACE10’s in-depth report into home and its meaning to 18 to 24 year olds. Borne from months of original research, extensive interviews with the global Dazed youth audience, and consultations with a panel of six expert voices from the worlds of art, architecture, design and media, IMPERMACULTURE presents the stark realities of our present and also imagines what the future may hold.
Across the globe, living conditions vary wildly, and the concept of home naturally shifts with them. Yet, our report has found that there are striking similarities in the ways 18 to 24 year olds understand the concept of home. Many of our respondents voiced the same fears, anxieties, hopes and aspirations, despite living in different cultures and countries.
Here, we dive in, and explore how political, environmental and cultural upheavals are changing young people’s ideas about identity, community, technology, safety, and, ultimately, how to live. It’s time for some home truths.
Kwame Lowe, co-founder of Kin Structures, Associate Lecturer at Central Saint Martins, and one of IMPERMACULTURE’s expert voices argues that “recent generations have been deprived of something very fundamental that we don’t talk about, which is our connection to the land and being able to put our stake in the ground.”
Young people are being robbed of the fundamental right to put down roots. But, of course, for the youth of today, the global housing crisis isn’t the only issue having a profound effect on how home is imagined and how young people want to live. The pandemic threw our homes and habits under the spotlight: as the world went into lockdown, suddenly the demands on homes shifted. Zoom exposed intimate spaces as bedrooms became offices, disparities in living conditions were laid bare, and the global division between stable home workers and precarious service staff highlighted how the home is not only a personal space, but a political one too.
“It’s become accepted that we can exist in isolation from other people and our physical environments,” he continues, “even though both are fundamental to our quality of life as human beings.”
Technology is forcing us to question the boundaries of our homes and communities. The climate crisis is forcing us to rethink how we treat our shared planet. When asked what their top concerns were for 2022, half of the young people we surveyed said ‘the climate crisis’ — more than double the number who said ‘mental health’ or ‘my relationships’. Seismic shifts are occurring. More than ever before, there is now an opportunity and an urgency to reconsider how to live.
“[Home is] a place, feeling, energy, that encourages me to express myself fully with no limitations, that keeps me grounded while allowing me to think and dream big, being surrounded by people who encourage me, motivate me, and keep me in check”
HOME IS TEMPORARY
One of the IMPERMACULTURE report’s most important discoveries was that for today’s youth the concept of ‘home’ is unstable and in flux. As physical space becomes more limited and inaccessible for young people, the concept of home has evolved into something more transient and intangible.
Only 16 per cent of our respondents aged 18 to 24 said they viewed their current living situation as long-term, with 43 per cent saying it was short-term, and 26 per cent saying it was temporary. Almost three quarters said they viewed more than one place as ‘home.’
This shouldn’t shock us. We’re already living in a rental economy as well as a period of mass displacement. This year alone war has forced more than 82 million people to flee their homes, with the conflict in Ukraine driving over 12 million people into exile since February. One of our respondents, Artem, was displaced from Ukraine when the conflict broke out, and is now residing in Mexico. “To be honest,” he told us, “the word ‘home’ has lost all meaning.”
When home is forced to become mobile, temporary, or fluid, basic needs come to the fore. “I guess,” Artem said after some consideration, “home is where your loved ones are safe.”
HOME IS A FEELING
As Artem’s words suggest, in an unstable, unpredictable world, ‘home’ becomes an increasingly fluid and emotional concept. Take a glance at any global news website and you’ll see stories of ecological disasters, school shootings and war crimes, so perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a sense of safety is the top priority for young people when it comes to the idea of home.
That said, the numbers are still striking. In our survey, 42 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds said that a safe space was the most important thing when thinking about the ideal home, and nearly half said they think of home as a feeling – over three times as many as the 13 per cent who described it as a physical space.
Overwhelmingly, this feeling was described as one of safety and refuge, but also of freedom. As one of our respondents put it, “home is a sense, a satisfied feeling. Home doesn’t need to have four walls, it’s more than that.”
We’ve also found that, while only 13 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds associate home with physical space, 15 per cent said they associate it with a sense of self. Although there were notable differences across cultures, young people consistently imagined home as an almost sacred sanctuary — a space to escape, find refuge and, crucially, to be free of judgement.
One 20-year-old from the UK described home as “a place, feeling, energy, that encourages me to express myself fully with no limitations, that keeps me grounded while allowing me to think and dream big, being surrounded by people who encourage me, motivate me, and keep me in check.”
DREAMS VS REALITY
For the youth of today, creativity and self-expression are of paramount importance. Half of all the young people we spoke to said their creative interests were their top priority, and nearly a third said self-expression is the most important thing when it comes to home. Yet, it seems this yearning for self-realisation may stem from feelings of frustration and arrested development, as 48 per cent of respondents said, as much as they’d like to, they cannot currently explore their interests, hobbies and passions at home.
There is a clear, resounding divide between young people’s aspirations, hopes and dreams, and the reality they find themselves in. Currently, a majority of 18 to 24 year olds still want to own a home in the future, but our survey shows that this is increasingly seen as a pipe dream for many. “I would like to buy a home in the future,” one female respondent told us. “I like the idea of having a house I can renovate and make completely my own.”
“However,” she continued, “I really don’t know if this is achievable for me unless I manage to become famous and rich in the next two years.” As she put it: “a girl can dream.”
Jack Self, founder of Real Foundation and Real Review, and one of the Dazed report’s expert voices, suggests that “at a certain point when you’re not presented with any opportunities to buy, the aspiration for ownership will diminish.” He believes that this is what we are currently seeing with the generation now coming of age: “less and less people want to own their own home, because they’re not able to.”
While ownership may seem increasingly off the cards for young people, that certainly doesn’t mean that young people don’t have other aspirations. When asked about the most important features of their ideal home, over 50 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds said “natural light”, a quarter chose “a large space,” and 22 per cent picked “a garden.” Combined, this seems to suggest a deep craving for spaces that can nourish, nurture, and connect today’s youth to the environment.
Clearly, physical safety is obviously of utmost importance to today’s youth, but so is a broader sense of mental and emotional wellbeing. Young people don’t just want to feel safe, but secure and calm too. At the moment, unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case. A new CDC survey found that more than 40 per cent of adolescents reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless,” with nearly 1 in 4 of our respondents saying their mental health was a top concern for the future. And, as Tara Thiagarajan, founder and chief scientist at Sapien Labs, told the Washington Post, this well-being crisis is “not an isolated issue of one country. It’s a global issue.”
“There is growing respect for indigenous wisdom among young people that places community at its core” – Helen Job, Insights Director at SPACE10
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
The picture this paints may seem bleak, but our report has also found reasons to hope. After a period of Covid-induced disconnection, ‘real-world’ communities are experiencing a resurgence, and, for the young people we spoke to, the importance of meaningful social interaction, community support, and mutual aid is only growing. Helen Job, Insights Director at SPACE10, predicts that “in the future there will be an increased interest in and reliance on cultural heritage and rituals – old, re-imagined, and new – to give a sense of control and ‘feeling at home’ in turbulent times.”
In this era of instability and of crisis, Job also suggests “there is growing respect for indigenous wisdom among young people that places community at its core.”
Indeed, as private ownership becomes rarer, and more spaces are designed for shared living, homes might be increasingly centred around community, instead of the nuclear family.
Our report suggests that, in the future, homes will become smaller, modular, and portable. The climate crisis will also inevitably alter the shape of the home, with new technologies used to make homes and communities healthier and more efficient.
Putting sustainability at the heart of home planning – from building materials to energy sources and interior products – could revolutionise the way we all live in the future. Changing the way we think about and construct our homes could also help us to change our behaviour – something we all have to get our heads around as soon as possible, as according to Michele Gorman, Assistant Professor of Interiors, Objects, and Technology at Parsons School of Design, most “waste in our environment is produced from the home.” As global temperatures soar to previously unimaginable levels, when it comes to the future of living, really there’s no time to waste.
You can download the IMPERMACULTURE report and sign up to Broadcasts from Tomorrow here.