Oliver Holms

Is this what future homes will look like?

Artists and designers share visionary ideas in the Welcome Home installation, writes Eddie Mullan.

The idea of what ‘home’ truly means has changed significantly throughout history, but the evolution of our daily routine and who we choose to live with between these four walls reveals so much about the powerful times we are living through – even more so than the workplaces where we spend the majority of our waking hours. We are living longer than ever before, but face the challenge of population explosions, which has led to housing crises in urbanised areas.

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What does this all mean for us as we hunch over our phones, shuffling into the increasingly digital days ahead? For the weary city commuter, the home’s function has shifted more than ever into becoming a healing space – a place to rest after surviving the daily melee of the metropolis.

It’s a theme that pervades a series of immersive installations in Welcome Home at Elephant West, London. Inviting a group of artists and designers to imagine a room for a future home, gallery curator Becca Pelly-Fry asked them to consider the functions they would want them to serve in order to address concerns about where our future is heading.

“I think the way that we are living in urban environments is really cheek-by-jowl. Our cities are getting busier and busier,” Pelly-Fry tells BBC Designed. “Personally, I feel my home is a sanctuary space where I can escape from the city and find some calm and peace, rest and restoration before going back out into the fray the next day.”

The idea of the nuclear family of the 1950s feels like an old-fashioned concept to today’s city dweller. The paradigm where people would traditionally live in single-family homes in stable two-parent families, with children who spent mealtimes together around the dining table, feels like something that Britain lost after the 1960s.  Recently the idea that this was ever the predominant way of living has been questioned by academics. 

Pelly-Fry says exploring the idea of home feels urgent during these times: “Now it’s becoming much more fractured, I suppose the idea of family is changing, shifting as well from that to all these other questions around society setup,” she explains. “Also the price of living has changed the dynamic, like [the increase in] shared living spaces.”

“When I think about my own flat for example, we don’t have a dining room, we don’t have a place to sit around a table. I work from home [and] so does my brother who I live with, which is also an interesting thing,” she laughs: “I’m in my late-30s and living with my brother – because we live in London!”

Along with the blurring of the line between informal and formal rooms in the home, in a lifetime we’ve witnessed the death of the dining room, as mealtimes became informal events where we sprawl in front of screens. Although our love affair with our phones isn’t showing any sign of abating, perhaps our future selves will reflect on this behaviour.

In an increasingly nomadic society an inflatable lilo is perhaps the ideal place to relax

It’s a concern shared by artist David Rickard who considers the future of the bedroom within what he calls “our interconnected culture of sharing and self-surveillance, through our devices always connected to the omnipresent Internet of things”.

In his installation Adrift, a surrounding copper Faraday mesh (a material used to block electromagnetic fields) calls attention to the issue of digital privacy in data sharing, and protection against what some call ‘electromagnetic smog’: magnetic fields from laptops, wi-fi routers, and phones that we carry with us every day.

Pelly-Fry explains: “David Rickard is particularly interested in ideas of safety, security and boundaries that we draw. What [the boundaries] are and why we draw them...  we are thinking of the bedroom as a boundary we draw ourselves [and] that we withdraw our bodies into for rest and privacy, in particular for all those things you don’t want other people to see.

“And now [Rickard] is reimagining that, especially in a world where we might be looking at much more shared living space, where instead of hot-desking, you hot-rest on a large memory-foam floor, so you can sleep anywhere on it.” Rickard suggests that in an increasingly nomadic society an inflatable lilo is perhaps the ideal place to relax, staying afloat as sea levels rise. 

‘Messy antidote’

Somewhere between a garden and a bathroom medicine cabinet, Amanda Baum and Rose Leahy’s installation Host aims to address the concern of the increasing sanitisation of modern domestic spaces. According to the artists, this could trigger a “silent microbiome crisis” in which the loss of diverse microbial communities puts our overall health at risk.

In response, they created what they call “a messy antidote”, a space that you go to in order to heal your body cell by cell, from the inside out. Through collaborations with scientists and designers, the pair aim to translate complex ecological dynamics into experiences that engage all of the senses – in this case, they invite visitors to immerse themselves into a future of microbiophilic living.

In the future our surrounding surfaces could be designed to host different forms of life

Glass vessels are suspended over soft, gut-like cushions that host live microbial communities. The cultures flow between the vessels, distributed via mist and reside on the surrounding surfaces. Porous tiles, developed with architect Richard Beckett, imagine how in the future our surrounding surfaces could be designed to host different forms of life through regenerative architecture.

“They’re really concerned with the state of our microbiome,” explains Pelly-Fry. “There is research to indicate the health of our collective gut is massively in decline. For a number of different reasons the toxins we’re ingesting, even the water that we drink is not really pure and clean anymore. It’s gradually degrading the quality and health of our internal world – which is terrifying.

“So… imagine a room in your home where you go to replenish your microbe, so a bit like you might go do some meditation to replenish your mind”  

Our bodies require essential nutrients like the sodium in salt, but not too much. Research has found that too much salt can cause high blood pressure, but a recent study has suggested a low-salt diet could be just as dangerous. So maybe we need to re-evaluate the ubiquitous kitchen staple?

The experiential food-based events company Bompas and Parr landed on the map a few years ago for their architectural jelly, but for Welcome Home, they have created a highly ornate Rococo-style salt cave, based on the kind used as a healing space in what is known as halotherapy, particularly in eastern Europe where they can be naturally found as subterranean environments.

Visitors are invited to walk through an illuminated temple, feel their way among a bed of salt and savour common and rare salts in a choreographed tasting experience. One might even reflect on an altar of precious 'salts' from The Worshipful Company of Salters – including a solid silver Georgian ladle and Sheffield plate salts from the 1800s. The Salters are one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, whose motto is: Sal Sapit Omnia, Latin for ‘Salt Savours All’.

Bombas and Parr’s Temple is informative about what salt has meant through the years – wars have been fought over salt, trade routes formed for it, vocabulary and tradition developed alongside it – but it suggests that its intake should not be demonised as much as we think. However, like all the other visionary ideas behind rooms we could see in a future home, it’s one that should be taken with a pinch of, well, you know.

Welcome Home is at Elephant West, London until 6 October

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