The idea of a single building where you live, work and play may seem very much of the moment, driven by advances in communications technology. But mixed-use developments have been around for as long as mankind. Research has revealed that complex cave systems hosted multiple uses hundreds of thousands of years ago. The Romans built large multi-use complexes across their empire. And during medieval times, people used to manufacture, sell and live in the same building.
It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that industry and trade were separated from homes. Advances in mechanical and agricultural technologies brought on board processes that were highly toxic and dirty, while instances of plague and infestation grew as larger volumes of food were stored to feed a growing urban population. Large-scale industrial automation also required special access and ample spaces to accommodate large and noisy machinery and production systems.
To address these issues, cities around the world began to segregate uses, by either locating different functions in separate buildings, or through the regulatory zoning of land.
Much has changed since industrial times. The gradual move from a “manufacturing” to a “services” era, the growth of specialised fields of expertise and advances in communication have all meant that organisations could operate at a smaller scale, giving more people the opportunity to work from home.
What’s more, sustainability has become an increasingly important consideration over the past few decades. As a growing body of research shows that flexible spaces can be more economically viable and land efficient, mixed use schemes are gaining popularity once more. In some countries,legislation and financial incentives embrace the view that all different aspects of life can successfully be performed at a local level, in a shared place.
But making the switch back to mixed use isn’t quite so simple. Growing population densities in cities, intricate property ownership models and the need to share limited land resources all present a challenge to changing the way people live and work.
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