Co-living: “The best of two worlds”
As the current version of the KTH Testbed is soon coming to an end, we met with the five students living there. How were their experiences, and what can we learn going forward with developing the next edition of the co-living?
The Testbed KTH at Live-in Lab is currently in the last stretch of its second edition. It was transformed during the summer last year from the initial four single apartments into a co-living: communal spaces and amenities all shared, and a private room including bathroom for each tenant. As the five students (LIL accepted a couple in one of the four rooms) have lived there close to a full study-year, we were eager to have a chat and learn about their experiences.
What attracted you to the co-living at LIL?
Matteo: “The rent was affordable, the location on campus is great, friends and community, and contributing to science just by living there.”
Yang: “For me it was much about the social aspect. I wanted to improve my English. And I was a bit shy, so I wanted to challenge myself to become more open. It was good practice and I’m happy about it now.”
The convenient location and the fact that the rent was a bit lower than the market price were, of course, two important reasons – but it goes without saying that the offer of community, meeting new friends, was the most appealing aspect of why they chose to live in a co-living.
How has it been living together these past nine months or so?
Adrien: “It’s been really nice. We are all getting along, and we do things together. Like going on walks, having conversations in the living room, and cooking delicious meals in the communal kitchen. We are four nationalities here, so it has been great to enjoy genuine Italian, Spanish, Chinese and French cuisine.”
Boyu: “And now we also have movie nights. We were given a budget for the living room but spent it on other things than a TV. After some time, we felt it would be nice to be able to watch movies together, so we asked for a projector and got one. I got to watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time with my girlfriend and friends.”
Yang: “I like that there is often something going on in the kitchen and living room, so if I want to chat or something I can do that. And if I want privacy, I have my personal room, which is big, much bigger than the previous place (a dorm).”
Matteo: “I agree, it’s the best of two worlds. You have friends just outside your room, and if you want privacy to have a friend over or to study, you have that, too.”
That’s great! But you have also lived with Corona, as we all have and still do. How did that impact your living conditions?
Adrien: “We had a rough time for a while. Some of us were infected and we did our best to help and protect each other. But also in general, we were cautious and followed recommendations. That felt more important now when we were living together, as nobody wanted to infect another one.”
Matteo: “I got the virus probably from Flavia, who we believe was infected first. And as soon as I could I moved out because I didn’t want to risk infecting Adrien. Boyu and Yang had already moved out. We found a way to isolate ourselves. There wasn’t any contingency plan.”
Adrien: “During Corona especially, it felt safe that we weren’t alone, we had roommates.”
Sustainable development through participatory design
Co-kitchen is currently one of the central research projects at LIL, and under which the co-living is run. It is continuously developed through a participatory design process that involves partners and the residents.
You have participated in different studies to help further the development of the co-living. What are your experiences related to the research and do you feel that you have contributed?
Adrien: “Yes, we have been encouraged to contribute in several ways, LIL has been very interested in getting our feedback. For example, we have been writing a journal about our experiences of co-living. I also suggested that improvements can be made regarding lighting, both natural and artificial. Another issue had to do with the ventilation. When somebody cooks in the kitchen the smell spreads to all rooms, because of the central ventilation. It’s not a big deal, though.”
Matteo: “For one study we could wear a health tracking device, called the Oura ring. But it was quite thick and uncomfortable, and I didn’t feel that comfortable with all the data it collected about me, so I only wore it during the night.”
Yang: “I didn’t wear it the whole time, either. It was too thick, and I was afraid to damage it in any way.”
The co-living also being a testbed means that data would be collected through a lot of sensors, which of course you knew about beforehand. How was it living in a house full of sensors?
Boyu: “I was curious in the beginning. I remember waking up one day with a dry throat and immediately went to check the humidity levels.”
Flavia: “After the first week I didn’t think about it at all, it’s just like living in a normal apartment.”
Matteo: “The data collection, I could sometimes feel it became a bit personal, but not invasive. The sensors didn’t affect my behavior at all.”
Flavia: “When it comes to personal privacy in my room, I wish there wouldn’t be any insight from the outside street. There are curtains, of course, but it’s not the same thing.”
Adrien: “The advantage of contributing to science outweighs the small disadvantage of our consumption patterns being monitored. Besides, I don’t feel it’s intrusive and the personal data is not being shared.”
Sustainable or transitional living?
Can co-living be a part of the solution to social, economic, and ecological sustainability? Well, that is what the KTH Live-in Lab is trying to find out. If the students’ experiences are anything to go by, the potential is promising. And with increasing rents and growing problems of loneliness, the need is perhaps greater than ever.
The couple, Boyu and Yang, have already found a new apartment, they are keen on living together in their own apartment. Adrien will apply for the next and last edition of the co-living at LIL. Everyone could see themselves – while students – staying in a co-living again.
”How can buildings support us in our daily activities?” (KTH Live-in Lab’s Elena Malakhatka with the latest on her project Service layer design for pro-environmental behaviour in the built environment)
Text & photo: Dragan Pavlovic