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A new generation is rising to shape our today.
Illustration of a workplace
image © Westchester Magazine

Millennials, also known as the Gen-Y, are the most studied generation to date. With their economic, social and political influences growing in today’s world, what does it mean for the evolution of architecture?

Defining Millennials

Millennials are the generational demographic mostly referring to the group of people born between 1980 and 2000, reaching their adulthood in the early 21st century. This is why you might be seeing an increasing coverage of millennials in the media for the past decade: as a new generation rises, so does a new economy model.

According to Goldman Sachs, this new generation is marked by particular characteristics that create a stark contrast with the preceding generation.

  • Digital natives: Millennials are very comfortable with new emerging technology. They are able to embrace and adapt to the new developments in a short time. According to Elza Venter, an educational psychologist and lecturer at University of South Africa, the new generation has a familiarity of communications, media and technology developments, and therefore is more socially connected.

  • Financially insecure: Emerging into the professional life at the start of the 2007 financial crisis, the millennials have had a rough start in the economy. They are generally more in debt, and less likely to be able to spend. (Hence the endless articles about the industries the millennials are “killing”). As a result of this financial insecurity, “sharing economy” has become popular over the past decade, encouraging the renting/borrowing of goods instead of purchasing. Popular examples to this are Über, home sharing and music streaming.

  • Health-conscious: Millennials seem to be more health conscious than the previous generation. In general, they are less likely to smoke and more likely to exercise on a regular basis.

The millennials are the largest generation in the US history, and are very significant in the other regions of the world. Making up such a large demographic, the millennials will have a significant impact on the world economy, and hence hold the power to change the shape its course. As a result, the millennials are bringing a new, flexible and innovative outlook that is shaping everything, including architecture. Now is the era of providing the maximum convenience at the lowest cost.

Infographic about traits of the millennial generation
image © WhyMillennialsMatter

So, what does all this mean for the future of architectural design in an economy targeting the millennials?

Perhaps, the most important factor to consider in the new design process is the fact that the current economy shapes the millennials’ behavior. With the great recession of the late 2000s and the subsequent economic decline that affected the world markets, the new generation is facing a tougher economic climate. The increasing cost of housing and higher education delays their ventures into independence, supported by jobs and house ownership. A large number of millennials, especially those living in urban areas, still live with their parents, but wish to own a home in the future.¹

It is not possible to be a homeowner as easily as the previous generations, and so we see an increase in house sharing and co-habitation.

Therefore, the architects must consider the requirements that come from sharing living spaces. In today’s economy where even the smallest spaces are expensive, architects must utilize space to the maximum of their potential, while still allowing for a possibility of self-expression.

The ability to turn the smallest of spaces into liveable spaces with personality and flexibility is crucial in the 21st century.

The high unemployment rate among the Gen-Y can also be important when thinking about architectural design. Millennials seem to have more dynamic and less predictable career paths, where many opt to provide freelance services or work in small-scale start-ups. In these cases, where the workplace can be a dedicated corner at home, a multi-functional and flexible space can help to create a healthy balance of work and personal life through architecture. In the cases where the millennials work in an office setting, they prefer open spaces that encourage collaboration and sharing, prompting a more open plan, with varying sized spaces.

The effects of digitalisation should also be factored into designing for millennials. With the current generation’s affinity to technology and social media, it is perhaps possible to create new spaces that have less need for strict boundaries for privacy and more inclination to share experiences among cohabitants. The current culture of over-sharing could mean that the millennials are likely to be more comfortable with open, shared spaces. This also triggers the birth of a new set of functional spaces: quiet rooms where the phone usage is not allowed, creating a refuge from digital invasion, or co-working spaces uniting people from different careers over a certain set of provided technical devices.

Image of an open plan working space in Airbnb Home Office
Airbnb Home Office – image © 42Hire

Finally, the new generation seems to be less interested in marriage. They either don’t marry, or tend to marry later than the previous generations. They are also less likely to have children. These tendencies that change the structure of what is seen as the typical nuclear family could lead to a shift towards different priorities in home layouts. A smaller family size with few or no children could mean less focus on bedrooms, and more priority over living and shared spaces at home with the ability to change between social or professional functions.

Gif showing a small apartment space that can be used for many different functions
Spatial flexibility is a crucial component for the millennial home. – image © Yojigen Poketto/elii

In conclusion, the millennial age in architecture could mean smaller but more flexible and open spaces with the possibility to personalize to the inhabitants’ wishes.

Millennials as Architects

But what about the millennials who are in the architecture profession?

Currently, there is a gap between the previous and current generation of architects that stem from the turning point in technology in the 21st century. We are living in a world, where hand-lettering and drawing are rapidly becoming obsolete, replaced by the faster, more flexible digital alternatives. This creates a divide between the new generation, who is very adept at the new technological developments, and the previous generation of architects, who grew up with the emphasis on the value of hand drafting. However, the current economy favors the use of the digital, which is faster, more flexible and more efficient among team members. This is a clear advantage for the millennials in the profession.

The millennials also show an increasing concern with the future of the world. As a result, we can observe a more sustainable, and environmentally/socially conscious approach to design, as opposed to the previous trend of providing luxury.

The millennial generation is working to reshape the world of today. And that reshaped world is pointing to a more sustainable and flexible future.


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