During the first wave of COVID-19, homes were tasked with simultaneously providing manifold city services and functions. How did the pandemic affect the kind of dwelling that Swiss residents consider as ideal?

For the attention of: National and local level decision makers; Practitioners and professionals (e.g. architects, urban planners); Housing providers; Residents.

The problem: During the first wave of COVID-19, our homes were tasked with simultaneously providing manifold services and functions (e.g. working, studying, doing sports). This revealed deficiencies in our dwellings, through the increased time spent at home, such as lack of comfort, increased energy usage. Proposed requirements to address these were, for the most part, formulated using a linear top-down approach which disregarded potential changes in residents’ preferences during the confinement. Studying the effects of COVID-19 on housing required a systems perspective, which recognized people as agents who have agency to change their environment for their own health and wellbeing.

What we did and why: We investigated the effects of the first wave of COVID-19 on residential preferences in Switzerland using an online survey of 5378 residents. We adopted a ‘systems perspective’, whereby changes in the functions assigned to ideal dwellings are be observed in relation to other elements of the housing system, and in particular occupants’ characteristics, changes in leisure activities, and the conditions of their environments (physical, social, legal, economic).

What our study adds: Our results show that for the majority of respondents (60%) the ideal function changed during the confinement. The most relevant changes concerned the increased desire for a place of ‘self-representation’ and the decreased desire for a place for ‘production, consumption’. This finding shows that maintaining healthy environments during a confinement means providing access to more than four walls and a roof; it also means responding to sociocultural needs for which our dwellings are unprepared to provide alternatives (e.g. cultural activities, social interactions).

Implications for city policy and practice: Architects, housing providers and policy makers are responsible for ensuring that housing is compatible with and enhances access to a wide variety of experiences, resources, contacts and interactions while containing the virus spread. This can be achieved via the provision of shared but individually rented spaces in residential buildings (e.g. for music or teleworking), or via the design of private but visually interconnected external spaces such as balconies for safe community interactions (e.g. from balcony to balcony, from street to balcony).

In particular, we urge housing stakeholders to acknowledge the increasing need for housing as a place for self-representation and consider the added value of empowering inhabitants to respond to this design challenge.

For further information: 

Corona Citizen Science: A research on the Covid-19 experience in Switzerland

Citizen Think Tank: Mon logement à l’épreuve du confinement: Quelles orientations pour l’après?

Swiss Corona Citizen Science: A collaborative investigation on housing conditions and wellbeing in times of COVID-19 containment: exploring the social effects of the crisis and co-creating sustainable post-crisis futures.

Full research article:

How the first wave of COVID-19 in Switzerland affected residential preferences by Anna Pagani, Livia Fritz, Ralph Hansmann, Vincent Kaufmann & Claudia R. Binder