Trends in housing

Life in cities in particular is rapidly becoming more colourful and multicultural. Newcomers to the housing market are increasingly adopting a nomadic lifestyle. Combined with the upward pressure on house prices, a larger market is emerging for small and sometimes temporary homes in which residents come and go, in buildings and environments in which life is now lived outside the home more than in the past. Design will need to respond to this. We will see fewer standard solutions, remaining unchanged for decades; instead we will see more flexible, robust, and preferably cyclical concepts that can develop in step with changing needs and new trends.
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Text John Cüsters
Illustration Cyprian Koscielniak

Continued urbanization

The world is becoming more urbanized, particularly in the emerging economies – more so than in the western world. This is a logical development because most economic growth takes place in the larger cities. For the first time in history, the majority of the 21st century world’s population lives in cities. According to the United Nations, this figure was 54% in 2014. This is set to rise further to 66% by 2050. Cities expand and thrive not only by taking up more space; they are also being built up more and more densely because this generates higher revenues and better business cases for aspects such as public transport. The growing number of skyscrapers in the world bears witness to this. Building upwards increasingly seems to be the best way to meet the great demand for housing in cities.

Flexibilization and transience

Cities have an almost magnetic attraction for labour migrants, students, expats, and starters in the labour and housing markets in particular. Their lives are becoming more flexible. There is no such thing as a job for life any more, and they are ‘quick seekers’ on the housing market, needing somewhere to live fast. The more uncertain prospects for a long-lasting career mean that this housing can also be temporary. As a result, there is a growing need and market in cities for shorter-stay and temporary housing. These can take shape through the repurposing of vacant properties, as well as through the new construction of residential units with a shorter useable life and/or faster turnover of residents.

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Residents are taking care of the necessary work themselves.

A need for smaller-scale housing

Demographic developments, individualization, and the magnetic attraction of cities for starters and newcomers mean that the small-scale household is set to dominate the urban housing market. It is not uncommon for this type of household to make its home available to tourists for part of the year, partly in order to be able to afford the high house prices. Traditional families are much less ‘at home’ in big cities in today’s world. Younger couples often move to towns and villages just outside the cities once they have children. In cities themselves, homes are becoming smaller and smaller. People are living in affordable studios of up to 40 or 50 m2. Many activities take place outside the home. The modern city dweller eats out more often, spends their leisure time outside their home, and spends time with fellow residents in large communal areas in their own residential building.


In the meantime, the current population of a city is getting older, and people are living independently for as long as possible. There is therefore also a growing need for homes that are suitable for the provision of care or that have been designed for continued use by their inhabitants as they age. The integration of technology into housing design to enable more care to be provided remotely is set to increase enormously as a contribution to the necessary containment of growing health-care costs. However, there are also opportunities in new housing concepts in which different target groups live together in the same complex, for example elderly people with students and asylum-seekers with official status (the so-called ‘magic mix’).

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Residents at the helm

Another new development is that of citizens’ initiatives. The number of initiatives is increasing whereby residents of a city – often highly educated residents with expertise and skills in attracting funding – set up their own projects, for example as a cooperative, with clear ideas about the design. Residents can also take the lead in repurposing vacant properties, taking over the management of them and taking care of the necessary work themselves. Citizens’ initiatives often arise from ideological motives (such as the need for a climate-neutral lifestyle) but can also arise from financial motives. For middle-class citizens, it can be the best way to obtain affordable housing.

Tasks for the city

Amid these trends, a number of general tasks have to be faced by cities, which often also affect the built environment and living conditions:

  • the growing need for sustainable material use and cyclical construction;
  • making the city climate-proof;
  • ensuring the affordability of housing, especially for people who are indispensable to the smooth functioning of a city (from hospital nurses to dustmen);
  • maintaining cohesion in cities by encouraging encounters between increasingly diverse population groups;
  • responding to new issues relating to the sub-economy. More and more people in cities make their homes available to tourists on a temporary basis or longer term, or set up separate accommodation for tourists.
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Tasks relating to design

In short, there are numerous different developments at play in the field of housing in cities in particular that each set their own requirements for the design and layout of buildings:

  • the response to temporariness and flexibility calls for modules that can be applied quickly, and that can preferably be reused due to the need for cyclical construction;
  • the response to the requirements of ageing residents in terms of the long-term suitability of their homes and the suitability of their homes for care provision requires an adaptable design with a high level of quality and sustainability into which technology can also be incorporated (such as sensors that enable remote monitoring);
  • there is a greater need for high-quality public and communal meeting areas, also to reduce segregation;
  • residents come and go and temporarily make alternative use of their homes for the sub-economy: how can a design with a shorter lifespan remain sustainable?;
  • with more residents involved, the designer needs to be able to adapt more easily to sometimes widely varying wishes.

The challenge for designers is to link these new tasks in the built environment and homes. In contrast with the past, their role is no longer limited to designing concrete homes, but also involves devising concepts for project-based construction that can be applied by clients (investors, developers, housing corporations, residents’ cooperatives, etc.).