How has the pandemic changed how we use and perceive our home? Many were working, eating, living, playing, sleeping, and learning in the same space. Has changed perceptions influenced ideas of the design of our homes, and potential for happiness and wellbeing?

For the attention of: Those responsible for regulating minimum space standards and housing regulations, such as government departments with responsibilities for housing or health, and city mayors.

The problem: While there is substantial research on how a lack of space and poor-quality housing adversely affects wellbeing, stronger evidence is needed to determine internal space standards and support in making them mandatory. In England, current minimum space standards are based on numerical values and fail to acknowledge a broader more inclusive range of uses and activities of the home.

What we did and why: We conducted online survey and semi-structured interviews with London residents in 2021. We wanted to understand how people used and experienced their home and how this might have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were interested in what changes people had made to better meet their needs, and how the quality and design of their domestic space affected their physical and mental wellbeing. This research aims to address the evidence gap between wellbeing and architectural design.

What our study adds: We found how people’s wellbeing was affected, both positively and negatively, due to the design and quality of their homes:

  • The agency to make changes at home mattered.

  • Changing socio-spatial relationships led to a shift in understanding issues such as privacy and safety.

  • Dwelling size became even more problematic during the lockdowns.

  • Perceptions and dwelling preferences changed for many participants. Many had not previously been aware of the effect of design and quality of their homes on their wellbeing.

Implications for city policy and practice: To improve housing quality and design, the following policy recommendations should be considered: 

  • Making minimum space standards mandatory across all tenures and sectors and giving greater flexibility in the distribution of floor space to meet them.

  • Adding to the existing technical evidence though studies focussing on lived experiences and actual use of home.

  • Acknowledging the need to include a wider range of home uses and household compositions for housing provision and design standards. 

  • Making access to outdoor space compulsory.

For further information: Laboratory for Design and Machine Learning – The Home, the Household, and COVID-19

Full research article: The impact of housing design and quality on wellbeing: lived experiences of the home during COVID-19 in London by Lucia Alonso & Sam Jacoby