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Live/Work Could Help Fill Our Commercial Buildings

Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB


While the Pandemic appears to be behind us, it has fundamentally changed our work patterns. Remote working is not new, but the pace of work-force transition has accelerated to all realms of our world of information management. We are producing less physical products and more of us are directing information in an office or at a remote location. Architects and engineers have been using remote drafters and consultants for years, so this transition is not new for us. Some architects start off working at home on a laptop as “kitchen-table architects”. While we know face-to-face interactions are essential, communicating concepts and ideas remotely has been working pretty good for “The Big 7” of info manipulation that requires minimal direct human interactions.


Decentralized or remote working will accelerate in coming years as more employers-not employees who are hankering for it- embrace this. At the same time, Live/work is making a come-back. Live/work is one of the oldest forms of human habitat. Civilization has been built on living within or over the store where work commerce and all living existed on the same property. The Industrial Revolution and advanced transportation systems created new settlements outside the traditional urban areas and the creation of 20th Century zoning codes imposed separation of family living from industrial and commercial uses. Codes became strict and unnegotiable. In many ways the concept of live/work became illegal in the 1950s in America.


Most cities allow individuals to have a home occupation permit with a corner of their home for business or a craft. Many municipal home occupation ordinances have very tight limitations to avoid additional traffic, excessive client visitations, noise and additional employees which makes sense for residential areas. But as any home occupation becomes successful, they grow out of their basement.


And, who wants to commute? A dreadful daily experience for most who spend up to a day of the week commuting. And we should not forget our desire to create smaller carbon footprints, reducing transportation costs and creating work flexibility.


Building and planning codes have not kept up with the times. As live/work options change, the regulatory process remains daunting. Typically, a live/work space must be built to commercial standards for fire, life safety, egress and HVAC systems as well. Understandably, high-risk hazardous commercial /industrial-type uses should be regulated through planning but many building requirements are excessive.


I have found two obstacles to Live/work: one is the commercial requirement for ADA accessibility throughout. As with apartment complexes, common ground floor units should be ADA accessible, however upper floors that aren't served by an elevator should not be required to meet this standard. Secondary, many cities require live/work uses to have higher parking standards. We're learning that we’re able to use less space for our parking and allow overlap. This should apply to mixed-use and Live/work units. The live/work concept has been a great way to bring small businesses back into our communities, converting industrial and existing commercial spaces into mixed-use sustainable communities. Think about your local strip shopping center and how it could be a mixed-use live/work community.


The rise of the internet, telecommunications and remote work has advanced the live/work concept, whether you are a home occupation in an apartment or an artist studio downtown. While remote work will thrive, interaction among employees is vital to any industry. In our increasingly web-oriented environment, an office hub becomes an essential touchstone for both client and team building. We must never lose sight of that. Remote working is here to stay. Only those industries producing widgets will need a horde of factory employees to fill the freeways in the morning.


Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB has half his staff working remotely from other states.

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