Home as a workplace, Informal housing, Informal employment, Global South, Live–work habitat, Neighbourhood planning, COVID-19 pandemic

Homes that Work: Editorial

About this issue

Issue number
Volume 49 – Number 3


Until the Covid-19 pandemic, home-based work was comparatively rare for people of the Global North, but commonplace in the Global South. Covid resulted in a sea change with huge implications in both North and South, but especially in the North. Frances Holliss, Howard Davis and Shalini Sinha, each of whose work has long focused in various ways on homeworking environments, have come together to edit this issue of Built Environment and to invite contributors from both North and South to join the discussion on homeworking in the post-Covid era. Before outlining the aims of the issue, it is perhaps helpful for readers to understand the backgrounds and qualifications of each of them to be the editors.

The initial invitation went to Frances Holliss of London Metropolitan University, as a result of her 2021 Built Environment article ‘Working from Home’ (Holliss, 2021). In her research into the architecture of home-based work, Holliss has identified, established the existence of, and analysed a previously largely invisible and little-written-about building type that, combining dwelling and workplace, has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years in every country and culture across the world (Holliss, 2007, 2015). Positing its invisibility to be a result of its nameless status, she coined the term ‘workhome’ to refer to all buildings that combine dwelling and workplace, from medieval longhouse to contemporary live/work unit, to facilitate the accumulation of knowledge and the development of a theoretical framework for this hidden and under-researched building type. Holliss traced the history of this building type in England from medieval times to the present day as a way of establishing its existence (ibid.). 

An analysis of the lives and premises of seventy-six English home-based workers from across the social spectrum, in diverse occupations and inhabiting a wide range of different sorts of buildings, led to the development of a series of typologies and design principles that underlie good design for home-based work (Holliss, 2017). The first typology identifies eight different categories of home-based worker, each with distinct spatial and environmental requirements. The second – simplest, but arguably most important – typology identifies three types of workhome depending on the dominant function. Put simply, some people (often information workers and service-providers like childminders, for example) work in their homes, while others (artists, craftworkers, and caretakers, for example) live at their workplace. A third group (such as shopkeepers living above the shop, for example) inhabits buildings in which the home and workspace have equal status on the street. Other typologies explore the relationship between home and workspace within the workhome, and the patterns of use of individual spaces (Holliss, 2015). Three primary design principles identified include: (a) the need for homes to be larger where they include workspace; (b) the need for housing to be designed to be flexible in use and adaptable over time to accommodate a wide range of different home-based occupations, household structures, building types, and personalities; and (c) the need for (free) collective public space to encourage the development of community and reduce social isolation for home-based workers (Holliss, 2021). 

Challenging ideas of ‘home’ and ‘domesticity’, Holliss’s research has a central concern with issues of social injustice. Her analysis of London’s historic development reveals a deliberate eradication of, particularly male, working-class home-based work from the city (Holliss, 2015). The ongoing impact of this played out during Covid-19. When most middle-class workers were working from home full time in May 2020, safely out of the way of the virus, only one in five working-class worker was (Smith, 2020). The infection and death rates reflect this (Platt, 2020). 

Howard Davis of the University of Oregon is the author of the book Living Over the Store: Architecture and Local Urban Life (Davis, 2012) that describes buildings that combine dwellings and workplaces from architectural, functional, and urban points of view. This is an architectural phenomenon that has been little studied, as much architectural theory and history deals with buildings of single uses, like churches, civic buildings, theatres, and large houses. But the book makes the point that the real world is often more complex and ‘messy’ than that described by architectural historians and theoreticians and incorporates buildings in which building occupants have inhabited and used, and had built, in ways that bring together daily activities of ‘work’ and ‘living’ that modern practice has largely neglected as belonging in the same place.

 The book describes buildings in which the same family occupies and uses the workplace and dwelling, as well as buildings – often larger, apartment buildings – in which dwellings and shops are occupied and used by different people and families. Historical case studies include the shophouses of China and Japan; the insulae of ancient Rome and their typological descendants in Italy and around the Mediterranean; the merchants’ houses of Lübeck, Amsterdam and northern Europe; and, finally, the urban houses of the UK and the USA, in which the ground floor was often spatially flexible allowing for temporal changes incorporating spaces for either work or dwelling, or both. 

In the United States, the fate of these buildings (i.e. their decline and in many cases elimination) is described in some detail with the advent of zoning, that made permanent the economic and social separations that had begun decades earlier, with the ‘Jim Crow laws’ that followed post-Civil War Reconstruction, and which had the unstated but incontrovertible intention of racial segregation. But fortunately, with a renewed recognition of the importance of these buildings, laws are changing again that promise to re-unite the functions of dwelling and work/commerce that had been legally separated from each other for at least a century.

Shalini Sinha is Home-Based Workers Sector Specialist and Asia Strategist at WIEGO. WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) is a global research-policy network that seeks to improve the status of the working poor, especially women, in the urban informal economy. WIEGO is distinct from other global research or advocacy organizations in the way that it mobilizes credible research, statistics, and policy analysis in support of the everyday struggle for rights and dignity of the working poor – especially women – in the informal economy. Sinha straddles the space between academic discourse and grassroots activism, with a grounded understanding of the informal economy in South Asia, and years of experience in contributing to informed analysis and global advocacy. 

‘Home’ as a place of work is an area of abiding interest for Sinha. She has worked on issues related to home-based workers of the cities of the Global South for many years, contributing to the design and implementation of projects on home-based workers as well as supporting movements and networks of home-based workers. Sinha’s approach to work from home is essentially from a labour perspective, looking at how the house is used for economically productive work, and the constraints that the built environment imposes on income and productivity when work happens at home. In her initial years, Sinha worked on bringing visibility and voice to home-based work (for the poor, informal home-based workers) with trade unions and civil society organizations, notable amongst them being the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the largest trade union of women informal workers in the world, and the force behind the ILO Convention 177 on home-based workers (Sinha, 2013).

In her work at WIEGO she has, for over a decade, primarily looked at home-based workers in the informal economy, highlighting the deep intersections between housing and livelihood which are largely unrecognized in urban policy. In her most recent work, in the city of Delhi, Sinha has been part of a campaign called Main Bhi Delhi, along with Gautam Bhan, one of the contributors of this issue, and a host of other individuals and organizations. One of the demands of the campaign has been a more inclusive city and a livelihood-centred approach to master planning (Narayan, Sinha and Majithia, 2021). A livelihood-centric approach that pushes for the formal recognition and integration of homes as sites of work for the urban poor into the plan would prevent penalisation and stigmatisation by acknowledging them as equal stakeholders with legal rights to the city they inhabit (Sinha and Narayan, 2019), and could prompt development plans for the work and housing of informal workers through other government policies as well (Narayan et al., 2021).

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Holliss and Davis were part of a loose collaboration of professionals, the Workhome Project, that met weekly on Zoom to discuss the implications of Covid-19 for the built environment. Holliss and Sinha realized in 2021 that they had been following each other’s work for twenty years without making contact – their first collaboration was on a panel at the 2022 Indian Institute of Human Settlement conference ‘Beyond Binaries’. Collaborating as a guest editorial team based on three continents, Holliss, Davis and Sinha have set out to explore and link the issues and lessons of home as workplace in the Global North and South in order to bring out a global message about designing quality housing and building equitable cities. The issues for the two hemispheres emerge as distinct but interrelated. 

In the Global North, post-Covid most employees who worked from home during the pandemic continue to do so for at least part of the week and most employers now offer a hybrid option, resulting in office buildings being severely underoccupied – currently at just 25 per cent in the UK (Fletcher, 2022). While potentially this has serious consequences for many city centres, addressed creatively it could solve a number of societal problems, including a shortage of housing, and inexpensive workplaces for artists and small, start-up businesses. 

In the Global South, small-scale manufacturers, service providers, piece rate workers, crafts and embellishment workers and many such workers have always worked from home, grappling with major constraints with regard to space, invisibility, and marginalization. Ironically, as the more developed world increasingly accepts working from home in post-Covid times, the economic recovery of home-based workers in the South has been slow and staggered. And yet it is this informal home-based work, widespread in ‘informal’ settlements, which offers home and income to some of the poorest members of society. 

In both the Global North and South, home-based work tends not to be reflected in city zoning regulations and is discouraged or prohibited in social housing, adding another layer of vulnerability to the least privileged. This special issue will challenge the traditional notion of home as purely domestic and discuss issues and priorities for cities organized around homes as sites of work. The strapline for the issue could be: good quality housing and equitable cities must include home-based workspace.

Although the pandemic was the immediate cause of a great increase in home-based work, it may represent a more fundamental societal shift. Covid-19 forced a lot of people to question their lives and livelihoods, and their relationships with their families. It also had the effect of contributing to the revival of the power of the labour movement – at least temporarily.

The people who can take advantage of working from home (WFH), either full-time or part-time, work in two very different occupational worlds:

  1. People who can work largely alone, often with most of their work done with computers. These are largely people who are working for large firms or who are sole-practitioner professionals. They include financial workers and consultants, engineers and architects, customer-service representatives of large companies, professionals such as psychologists and therapists, sole-practice lawyers and insurance agents. 
  2. People working for themselves or in very small firms, with jobs that require a relatively small amount of space that they can control. These include such jobs as freelance designers, programmers, artists, tailors and garment workers, florists, craftspeople, some food preparers. 

But for all the benefits of home-based work, it also needs to be recognized that many people cannot take advantage of it. These include workers in many sectors: transportation, building and infrastructure construction and maintenance, manufacture and goods distribution, postal workers, clinic and hospital based health care workers, those in retail sales in large shops, much food service including restaurant operations, and others. It was these people who were called out as ‘heroes’ during the pandemic. But despite this, working from home has the possibility of catalysing major changes, for the better, in buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. These include the following:

  1. More efficient land use and consequent amelioration of climate warming. If neighbourhoods include both dwelling and work places, with many people working at home, car use is greatly reduced with consequent savings in the burning of fossil fuels.
  2. More diversity of land use and consequent increase in the vibrancy of neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods will be active for more time during the week in both the central city and suburbs.
  3. The revival of city centres as well as suburbs. Working from home has contributed to a rise in the office vacancy rate in central business districts as large employers have downsized. Some people see in this the death of the CBD. But what might happen instead is more hopeful. Office buildings are already being converted into residential buildings. And those that are not will see their rents decrease, bringing back into the city those who have left because of high rents: artists, entrepreneurs, small business start-ups – which together can help give life to city centre streets again. 

Working from home became the new norm for many workers during Covid-19, and this has resulted in a long-term shift in work culture and organization. Ironically – simultaneously but shrouded in a cloak of invisibility – another group of workers, many of them women and almost all informal, have always worked from their own homes, but have not benefited from this spotlight on WFH. 

The importance of distinguishing between these types of home-based work – and opening a debate that includes both – lies behind this special issue. 

The ‘new’ category that has expanded as a result of Covid – which has actually been steadily growing for decades – is made up of professional and clerical workers who, used to commuting to an office, began working remotely from home using information and communications technologies. The findings of repeated surveys found that for these people, working from home has been popular, providing both social and economic benefits to most of these workers. However, the ‘old’ category of home-based workers, who traditionally worked from home, even before Covid, suffered a contraction of their work and earnings. Their supply chains and markets dried up and, without employment protection, many were left destitute. For some, therefore, ‘working remotely’ is a benefit that provides flexibility and control over their lives, but for others home-based work continues to be associated with precarity, lower-quality conditions of employment and low incomes. Even when homes are sites of work for both these categories of workers, there are significant differences by class and by residence. The middle and the upper class – engaged in the ‘new’ forms of work from home – live and work in larger homes in affluent neighbourhoods while the working class live and work in small homes in low-income neighbourhoods or informal settlements, across the world but predominantly in the cities of the South. 

The binary of home versus workplace does not exist for most informal workers of the South: housing provides space for economic production for many whose entire work takes place within their own home (Chen and Sinha, 2016). These homes-cum-workplaces are often located in informal settlements, public housing complexes or low-income neighbourhoods:

They are therefore affected more directly than other informal workers by government housing policies and practices (notably, slum upgrading and/or slum eviction-relocation schemes and public housing), basic infrastructure services (notably, the availability and cost of electricity, water and sanitation), and zoning regulations (notably, whether commercial activities are allowed in residential areas). (Ibid.)

However, homes are also key productive assets for those who use them for part of their economic activity such as food vendors who prepare and store their goods at home, and waste pickers who may do waste sorting at home. A recognition of the widespread existence of these informal home-based workplaces needs to be followed by the development of better housing norms, including improved work-related infrastructure (Narayan and Sinha, 2021). 

Pre-COVID-19, 260 million women and men globally produced goods or provided services from in or around their homes: 86 per cent (224 million) were in developing and emerging countries and 14 per cent (35 million) in developed countries (Bonnet et al., 2020), thus highlighting the large numbers of workers who use their homes as sites of work. While all types of home-based work can be found around the world, certain types predominate in specific geographic regions and country income groups. Among home-based workers, self-employed professionals, teleworkers (white-collar and pink-collar) and digital platform workers are more common in developed and emerging countries; traditional self-employed and industrial outworkers are more common in developing countries. Digital platform workers who perform ‘crowd work’ from their homes are dispersed across all country income groups (Chen and Sinha, 2022). Homes often double as workplaces in the cities of the South, especially for the urban poor, and slums are domains of significant economic activity. Here, the housing units for those who work from home are often small and overcrowded with little natural light and ventilation. The physical space has to be constantly adjusted and rearranged to accommodate their paid work and all other domestic activities, which is an added burden that remains uncompensated. Poor quality housing leads to equipment, raw materials and finished goods getting damaged. There is often limited or no access to water and sanitation, and poor construction and little or no security of tenure. The financial and time costs of using and accessing these utilities are fully borne by the workers. High rents use up a large portion of workers’ earnings, while state actions like eviction are a constant threat. Single land-use norms in residential settlements makes home-based work illegal and open to being penalized. It also prevents the conception of any work-related infrastructure even in fully planned housing for the poor.

So, when home is a place of work, the constraints are at multiple levels. At the unit level, home-based work can have a temporal and spatial dimension of division of space for work and living. At the community level, infrastructure provision and the nature of housing has implications for productivity and income. At the macro level, the current urban vision including stringent zoning leads to non-recognition of the productive activity of work happening in homes. A preconceived notion which sees homes as being only for shelter or residence or habitat adds many layers of vulnerability to the worker. Therefore, when homes are sites of work, this does not automatically translate into decent working conditions and flexi-timings for all. For many, it involves unacknowledged costs and burden – of space and infrastructure, and invisibility – which eat into daily earnings and general wellbeing. Already earning very little, in insecure and precarious work, but making a substantial economic contribution to their family, and city and local economies, these workers pay a high price for working from home. 

In most countries, the majority of home-based workers are women. When women work from home, their productive work is seen as a continuation of their care responsibilities, and they are widely assumed to be working for subsistence production or earning ‘supplementary incomes’ (i.e. to their husband’s or other male earner’s income) even if they are the sole breadwinner in the family. Even as co-breadwinners their earnings are often crucial to the survival of the family. This has implications for how their home-cum-work sites are designed and managed by the municipalities and planners. There is an assumption that women prefer to work at home but, in most cases, women do not have a choice. In some communities the gender division of labour combines with gender norms prescribing women’s seclusion to condition women to ‘prefer’ working at home. Also, in many sectors and countries, there are more home-based work opportunities than workplace-based work opportunities for women. This is because employers prefer to outsource work to home-based producers in order to avoid social security contributions, to pay lower wages, and, thereby, to increase profits. Also, the lack of formal employment opportunities forces many workers to take up work from home. 

WIEGO assessed the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on home-based workers in five cities around the world, providing evidence and insights on the degree and pathways of impact. Home-based workers in the Global South suffered a significant decline in work and earnings during the peak lockdowns/restrictions in April 2020 and experienced a slow recovery by mid-2021. Less than 20 per cent of these home-based workers were able to work in April 2020 and only around 60 per cent by mid-2021 (Chen and Sinha, 2022). 

Living and working in homes, buildings, and neighbourhoods that were conceived and designed purely for domestic use inevitably results in a mismatch. However, many of the disadvantages of home-based work identified amongst the home-based workforce in the cities of the North can be solved through good design (Holliss, 2015). 

One challenge globally post-Covid, therefore, is to identify and address design issues and areas of policy that impact negatively on home-based work, and to propose solutions that would contribute to the development of a more equitable built environment that supports and encourages this working practice, for all. While there are significant areas of overlap in the North and South, some issues are distinct. 

A reliable infrastructure of utilities, such as electricity, water and sewage, is taken for granted by home-based workers in the North. But the lack of this provision has substantial negative social, temporal, and financial impacts on their peers in the Global South. The recognition, acceptance, and validation, of this workforce and the important contribution it makes to the economies and social cohesion of the cities of the South, would represent a first step in ensuring that what is taken for granted in the North also becomes the norm in the South. 

Conversely, while home-based work breaks most official zoning frameworks and governmental ordinances, and post-Howard Garden City planning principles, globally – designed as they are around the embedded spatial separation of dwelling and workplace (ibid.) – this has a different impact in the two hemispheres. In the tightly regulated North, while hidden, informal home-based work does exist in the most deprived sectors of society, the prevention or prohibition of home-based work – generally written into tenancy agreements that regulate both the social and the private rental housing sectors – contributes to high levels of unemployment amongst the poorest (Holliss, 2021). In contrast, while also in contravention of local planning regulation, the informal home-based workforce in the cities of the South is so vast that it flourishes regardless, providing (albeit basic) homes and employment for the most deprived sectors of society there.

While home-based work puts spatial pressure on homes globally, the physical conditions of these workforces in the North and the South are incomparable. Many of the workhomes described in contributions from the South to this special issue are tiny, while accepted space standards – although not mandatory (in the UK at least) – prevent such levels of overcrowding in the North. A few innovatory projects are emerging in the North, that provide models for affordable purpose-designed workhomes. A House for Artists – designed for low-income artists in a working-class borough of London1 – offers a model for flexible, adaptable and affordable workhomes, with shared workspace and plentiful free collective space, for a wide range of different creative occupations (Holliss, 2021).

The concept of deprivation may be interpreted in a range of ways. Holliss writes:

The economist and Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, makes the powerful argument that the assessment of a standard of living should focus on neither commodities, nor characteristics, nor utility, but something that may be called a person’s capability (Sen, 1983).

‘Being deprived of the capability to work, as part of a micro-enterprise or of the informal home-based workforce that hovers around the periphery of all modern economies, is a basic “unfreedom”.’ (Sen, 1999)

This approach to deprivation turns conventional thinking about poverty on its head. The Mumbai slum-dweller, with the capability to ‘truck, barter and trade’ but with only a communal toilet and tap, emerges as less deprived than the UK social tenant whose home, despite having a private bathroom, is designed to discourage and managed to prohibit home-based economic activity. (Holliss, 2015, p. 177)

Our ambition as guest co-editors of this issue is to contribute a discussion of some of these concerns to an important but as yet under-developed global debate in which the North learns from the South, and vice versa, about the development of a built environment that is supportive and encouraging to home-based work for all. This moment of blurred boundaries between home and work in the face of a worldwide public health crisis provides an opportunity to reorient the generally held perspectives on work and cities, to enable and promote better living and working conditions for all home-based workers, in the context of the clear potential social, economic, and environmental benefit of this working practice. But this must not just be for the elite, for the comparatively wealthy knowledge workers of the North, it must also be for the large number of vulnerable and often invisible, home-based workers in the cities of the South – and for the most deprived communities of the North for whom home-based work is currently not generally a viable option. Much remains to be learned about how to design effectively for this working practice at both the architectural and the urban scales – and how to generate supportive governance frameworks. The movement towards building more equitable cities that facilitate working from home must leave no-one behind. 

These issues form the background for the detailed papers of our contributors. Our initial aim as co-editors was to include a paper from both the South and the North that addresses issues for the built environment at each of the scales of home, building, street, neighbourhood, and city. The final publication includes papers from twenty-one authors and co-authors across six continents, but not quite so tidily. Four discuss research based in the North and six in the South – and of these, three address issues at the scale of the city, one at the scale of the neighbourhood, one at the scale of the street, five at the scale of the home and/or building. The authors include architects, urbanists, and planners, as well as economists, a social and an urban anthropologist. Most have been researching and writing about issues relating to the impact of home-based work on the built environment for years. 

Canadian architect and planner Penny Gurstein, Professor and Director of the School of Community and Regional Planning and the Centre for Human Settlements at University of British Colombia, carried out seminal research into design for home-based work at the end of the twentieth century, published as the book Wired to the World, Chained to the Home (Gurstein, 2002). We are delighted to include her reflection on what has and has not changed since then. She concludes her paper by saying:

Social policies need to be created that allow more balance and options to fulfil work and family responsibilities, and integrated approaches to the planning and design of homes, workplaces and communities need to be introduced that promote that balance. (Gurstein, 2023)

Urbanist Gautam Bhan’s work at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) focuses on urban poverty, inequality, social protection, and housing. His paper, co-authored with architect Nidhi Sohane (senior associate in the IIHS), looks at informal home-based work spatially, infrastructurally and materially. They argue that:

A framework to assess the spatiality of home-based work must work at three scales: (a) the spatial adequacy of the work-home; (b) the infrastructural adequacy of the settlement or neighbourhood in which the workhome is located; and (c) the economic geography of the workhome with respect to its location in meso-level spatial aggregations in the city. (Sohane and Bhan, 2023)

Social anthropologist Matias Echanove and urban anthropologist Rahul Srivastava’s paper draws on their work in the ‘homegrown’ neighbourhood of Dharavi which they term ‘a famously unplanned settlement in the heart of Mumbai, that is usually described as Asia’s largest slum’ (https://urbz.net/homegrown). Coining the term ‘tool-house’ – a sub-group of Holliss’s workhome for a live/work typology prevalent in Dharavi – they argue ‘The tool-house typology is emblematically situated at the crossroads of all the dynamics that create neighbourhood life: built form, economic activity and people, or as Patrick Geddes put it: place, work, folk (Lanchester and Tyrwhitt, 1947). We believe that its role must be recognized, particularly in contexts where people must optimize resources to sustain or enhance their livelihood. This would pave the way for a more humane urbanism, as opposed to the reckless, greedy and definitely unsustainable type of urban development we witness today, not just in Mumbai, but all over the world’. They consider that:

All homes – whether in the favela or in a high-rise apartment – need to be conceived of as tool-houses of varying degrees, as this facilitates a genuine diversity of built-forms and economic activities to co-exist within an urban fabric. (Echanove and Srivastava, 2023)

Architects Susinety Prakoso and Julia Dewi’s paper is based on an investigation of home-based enterprise carried out during Covid in the Indonesian cities of Jakarta, Tangerang, and Cirebon, that includes homeowners across the social and economic spectrum, inhabiting diverse sized houses in various types of formal settlements. Aiming to identify a ‘sensible adaptability and flexibility concept that facilitates income-generating activities while maintaining the quality of living spaces’, their study finds that indeterminant spaces – such as slack spaces, neutral spaces, joined spaces, and kitchens adjacent to other spaces – allow for the juxtaposition of home and work activities day and night. They conclude:

… this study may bring a sense of urgency towards how housing designers and policymakers should respond to this situation and how typical housing designs should accommodate the changing landscape of the world, including after the COVID-19 pandemic. (Prakoso and Dewi, 2023)

The paper contributed by urban planner Matthew Zenkteler from Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia, and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology, offers a critical appraisal of the implications of increased levels of remote work for neighbourhood planning and (home-based) workplace design. It offers a summative account of a survey conducted by the City of Gold Coast that explored the spatial distribution of remote, nomadic, and home-based workers in cities, in order to uncover related socio-economic, design and built environment features – and illustrate the impact an uptake of home-based work has for urban planning and community design. It employs human-building interaction design scholarship to argue for the design of healthy work environments, both at home and in the neighbourhood, that increase productivity, reduce sick days, and yield better health outcomes for the home-based workforce (Zenkteler et al., 2023).

Architect and philosopher (and Associate Director for Global Housing Policy at Habitat for Humanity International) Maria Carrizosa’s article, ‘No House is Just a House’, explores space-use intensity as city-making. Arguing that to understand housing as domestic only is a misconception, the research she presents introduces the concept of space-use intensity and the ‘house interview’ methodology that she devised to investigate and document this phenomenon. Presenting data from houses in informal settlements in Bogota, Colombia; Kampala, Uganda; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Dakar, Senegal, Carrizosa finds the function of the houses she researches to be less than a third residential, almost half economic and, in addition, to include a fair share of urban or community services. She shows that ‘homes significantly contribute to the urban economy and public services’ and argues ‘space-use intensity analysis [to be] instrumental in the design of effective housing, urban, and social protection policies’ (Carrizosa, 2023).

Urban planner and lecturer at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Nigeria, Nkeiru Ezeadichie, examines the implications of post-pandemic home-based enterprise for the built environment in global South cities through a study of Enugu-Nigeria. She recommends the inclusion of home-based enterprises in urban planning, and particularly in neighbourhood schemes and city master/regeneration plans, with urban planners in the global South called on to re-strategize (Ezeaichie, 2023).

Architect and urban planner Ana Slade investigates and analyses the urban space of Rio de Janeiro’s peripheral neighbourhoods, transformed by their residents, as a reference for thinking about alternatives to housing and cities that have been planned. She finds the need to generate income benefits the community: shops and services within walking distances; interaction of houses with the street, creation of spaces for meeting and gathering among residents; intensification of the use and appropriation of pavements, activating urban life and transforming the street into more inhabited, cared for and safer spaces (Slade, 2023).

And finally, the contribution of economist, and Senior Data Scientist at CoreLogic, Matthew Delventhal, and co-authors Eunjee Kwon from the University of Cincinnati and Andrii Parkhomenko, University of Southern California, describe the big picture of pre-2020 remote work in the US and summarizes how that picture changed during the subsequent three years. It then introduces a mathematical model designed to calculate the possible long-run impacts of increased remote work on where and how Americans work and live. They conclude: 

The model predicts a fall in both residents and in-person employment downtown… It also predicts that commercial real estate that is unable to be converted to alternative uses could see large declines in value. This raises the spectre of a fiscal ‘doom loop’ as warned of in Gupta et al. (2022), as falling property tax revenues hit municipal budgets, degrading the quality of public services downtown, further reducing its attractiveness as a place to live and work. (Delventhal et al., 2023)

It is the hope of the editors that the papers included here will contribute to the knowledge and debate about home-based work and its architectural/urban manifestations.


  1. A paper on this project, planned for inclusion in this special issue, sadly did not come to fruition. Described and analysed elsewhere, however, The House for Artists offers a model for a different approach to public housing design that recognizes the need for flexible, affordable accommodation, see: https://architecturetoday.co.uk/a-house-for-artists-apparata-barking/.


  • Bonnet, F., Carré, F., Chen, M.A. and Vanek, J. (2021) Home‐Based Workers in the World: A Statistical Profile. WIEGO Statistical Brief No. 27. Available at https://www.wiego.org/publications/ home-based-workers-world-statistical-profile. 
  • Carrizosa, M. (2023) No house is just a house: house interviews, space-use intensity, and city-making. Built Environment, 49(3), pp. 440–463.
  • Chen, M. and Sinha, S. (2016) Homebased workers and cities. Environment and Urbanization, 28(2), pp. 343–358. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247816649865.
  • Chen, M. and Sinha, S. (2022) Home-Based Work during the COVID-19 Crisis: Pathways of Impact and Recovery in Five Cities. WIEGO Resource Document No. 28. Manchester: WIEGO. Available at: https://www.wiego.org/sites/default/files/publications/file/resource-doc....
  • Davis, H. (2012) Living over the Store: Architecture and Local Urban Life. London: Routledge.
  • Delventhal, M., Kwon, E. and Parkhomenko, A. (2023) Work from home and urban structure. Built Environment, 49(3), pp. 503–524.
  • Echanove, M. and Srivastava, R. (2023) Mumbai’s tool-house. Built Environment, 49(3), pp. 370–396.
  • Ezeadichie, N.H. (2023) Post-pandemic home-based work in cities of the South: lessons from Enugu, Nigeria. Built Environment, 49(3), pp. 464–478.
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