sharing economy and buildings

Buildings Join the Sharing Economy: So Can You


Have you ridden in an Uber?  Stayed in an Airbnb space?  Then you’ve joined the sharing economy.  (If you haven’t, come right on in.  The water is fine.)  The concept of sharing is not new.  The difference is primarily that technology now offers a means of connecting people who don’t already know each other.  Social sharing options are popping up all over these days and they make having access to experiences without having to maintain possessions so easy.

“I don’t need a drill. I need a hole in my wall.”

You’re likely most familiar with the flagship industry of sharing – transportation.  Don’t want to maintain a car?  Try Car2Go, ZipcarLyft, GetAround, Relay Rides, Sidecar.Snag a  half an hour of bike time from Divvy, or borrow a neighbor’s unused bike through Liquid.  The possibilities are nearly limitless and moss couldn’t be more excited about it.  

How the Sharing Economy Works

The concept is so simple.  Why own something that you use only a few hours of the day, or days of the year – or if you do, why not let someone else share the use of it, and recoup a little of the cost.  The Economist sees several benefits:  Owners can make money on their unused items, borrowers pay less than they would to buy or rent from traditional agencies and fewer items are needed overall, making a lighter manufacturing footprint on the environment.

Sharing works well for “items that are expensive to buy and are widely owned by people who do not make full use of them,” like cars, apartments, costly tools etc.  

The system makes a lot of sense, even to traditional business advisors.  PricewaterhouseCooper has produced a detailed Consumer Intelligence Survey (worth a click) with information about the current system and what it can mean for businesses that want to tap into the concept and start sharing.  They found that 44% of surveyed adults were familiar with some element of the sharing economy and 19% had engaged with it.  People felt that sharing resources is fun, less expensive and better for the environment.

Buildings and the Sharing Economy

Beyond widening vacation options (like Airbnb), what does the sharing economy mean for buildings.  There are a number of ways the residential and commercial landscape are changing.

The choice of young professionals to spend longer renting instead of rushing to buy their first homes is an offshoot of the sharing philosophy.  Rented spaces tend to be smaller but closer to urban amenities, and rely more heavily on urban infrastructure for transit and social time than does a far flung single family home.  (Note: the choice is partly due to pandemic student loan debt.)

In many cases nothing needs to be built new, or even adapted, to turn a regular indoor space into a shared one.  Existing offices can be turned into shared workspaces with the click of a link to Desktime and dedicated Coworking spaces are popping up all across Chicago.  In other situations, designing with possible shared use makes buildings more useful and future proof.

One of Moss’s recent design projects, the SAAGE Culinary Studio, is a shared kitchen space intended both as an incubator for small food businesses and simply as a part-time space for food trucks, caterers, and producers of artisan goods who don’t need the hassle of their own space to manage – just a cutting board and oven for a few hours a week.  We’ve designed a segmented but comprehensive commercial kitchen space that can be use by one or several groups at a time, in line with the vision of project creator,Gayatri Borthakur.

Designing to share is just one way we can make buildings more livable, sustainable and resilient.  How do you share?