Dr Frances Holliss is an architect and Emeritus Reader at the Cass School of Architecture at London Metropolitan University.

Designing for invisible businesses

More than ninety-five per cent of UK businesses employ less than ten people. Although largely invisible and generally ignored, new research shows that these micro-businesses make a major contribution to the economy, currently providing a third of all employment and contributing just under a fifth of annual UK turnover. And they are proliferating – they grew in number by 55% between 2000 and 2013.

Most are, or have been at some point, run from their owner’s home; this has substantial implications for the way we conceive and design our housing and our cities.

More than ninety-five per cent of UK businesses employ less than ten people. Click To Tweet

Before the industrial revolution, home-based work was almost universal. But since the start of the C20, ‘home’ has generally been conceived as spatially separate from ‘workplace’, a separation enforced by planners, developers and policy-makers. Owners often, as a result, run their home-based businesses covertly either because they fear they are – or because they actually are – breaking some regulation or other. And housing is, duly, generally designed as somewhere where we cook, eat, bathe, sleep, bring up children and watch TV – but little else. As a consequence, people squeeze all kinds of work into home (or, surprisingly often, home into workplace) in buildings and neighbourhoods that serve them poorly.

This raises interesting design issues, for home, workplace and city. Because so often hidden, little is known about who these people are and what they do – and therefore how to design for them. When we reconceptualise the ingrained but outdated spatial separation of home and work, however, many different approaches emerge.

Exploring a range of types of home-based workers that have radically different spatial and environmental requirements, this paper will outline crucial design issues affecting home-based workers, and will introduce recent developments in the Netherlands that address these issues in different ways.