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As people in the US started working from home last spring due to the impacts and restrictions of COVID-19, there were endless articles about how to set up a workspace in your home, how to create different areas for different activities, and more generally how to adjust to having all aspects of your work-life and your home- or family-life overlap. This state of affairs was in fact new for many in the US, and other countries as well, as many work-cultures previously functioned with the assumption of total separation of activities, or at least total focus on work-related activities whenever one is “on the clock”.

And yet, there is a long history of living space overlapping with many different kinds of work from agriculture, to childcare, to commerce. Take a look at the pictures from around the world below and see what comes to mind as ways in which physical spaces can support functional co-existence of multiple activities. While most of these images are from the exterior of buildings, once can infer flows of people and activities within.

How are activities zoned within a space? How are they connected? Where do they overlap? How are these arrangements complementary? What challenges do they present?

Peri-urban community, Haiti. Photo by author, 2015.
Residence, shop, and food stall. Tacloban, Philippines. Photo by author, 2015.
Interior of a ger (yurt) in the semi-developed, semi-formal, suburbs of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Notice how space is divided within this single room house for different activities – domestic (sleeping), religious (altar), and work/study (table with office supplies and storage). Photo by author, 2014.
Same interior of a ger in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Additional uses are indicated by items stored on the shelves. Photo by author, 2014.
Vertical divisions of space – living above, commerce below. Medellin, Colombia. Photo by author, 2014.
Horizontal divisions of space – commerce in front, residence in back. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo by author, 2014.

Share your ideas, thoughts, and perceptions below. We’d love to hear from you!

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