Vision by VdV

A Recipe for Good Living

What components of habitation provide wellbeing, decrease loneliness, and facilitate worthwhile social interactions –– yet do so within the ecological carrying capacity? The recipe lists the crucial ingredients for good living in the future. 

The future vision concocted by Virkkala de Vocht Architects lists the necessary ingredients for a future living model that supports eco-social well-being.

Future living is about housing and living with a good conscience. Our emotional well-being will increase when we can live our everyday lives knowing that our lifestyles and activities do not put more stress on the planet than it can bear. Sufficient solutions have been found for the environmental triple crisis of the 21st century – i.e., global warming, overuse of materials, and biodiversity loss. Excessive use of energy and materials has been halted, and people value their homes and their living environments. The constant cycle of reusing materials is also reflected in the built environment.

The recipe for good living is based on Sofia de Vocht’s urban planning work and Inari Virkkala’s work as a developer of affordable housing. During the research phase of the Expo2100 exhibition project, the two designers analysed future megatrends, sensitised themselves to weak signals, and tested their ideas about the future with experts of different fields. The ingredients of good living in the 2100s were defined by combining foresight with basic human well-being needs, and anticipating the possibilities and impacts of technological developments on the built environment.

The 10 ingredients for good future living:

  • Housing first, housing as a human right
  • A positive sense of community: shared spaces and resources reduce loneliness
  • Living in a bio-based circular economy
  • Emission-free energy production and quiet transport
  • Green cities as part of nature
  • Housing is always connected to outdoor access
  • Buildings have an enriching relationship with urban space and the city
  • Care is decentralised from institutions to housing units
  • Production space instead of storage space, individually optimised building management systems
  • Connecting to space colonies via the Meetverse

The visualisation of the work was created by Areality and Sergio Rod Gorostizaga with video animations by Joonas Hyvönen. For the work, we interviewed service designer Merja Lang, researcher Lotta Junnilainen, housing programme manager Hanna Dhalmann, designer Mikko Kutvonen, and writer Emmi Itäranta – who has also written four fictional storylines that provide a glimpse into the life of a future human.

‘A meadow path crackles under my feet and I’m surrounded by the scent of linden blossoms and the humidity of the night. Early summer mornings are the best time to walk to work. The city forest is still cool all around and beyond the tree trunks in shadows of green, buildings loom in the distance like big sleepy animals. Not a single transporter can yet be seen in the sky. A hare stops to stare at me a short distance away, then leaps away and disappears behind a fallen trunk covered in moss. I am the first to arrive in the shared garment workshop of our district. The lights come on over my workstation as I enter. In the course of the night, automation has sorted the day’s tasks at my workstation and I start with the most urgent ones: vintage jeans that have been patched in layers and embroidered that the owner now wants to have readjusted. As I place them on the desk in front of me, I hear the door cling as a new customer walks in. They are holding a steaming travel mug and a pile of clothes in a mini-transporter. ‘Good morning,’ I say. ‘What would you like fixing today?’

1. Housing first, housing as a human right

Uniform international legislation guarantees a minimum standard of housing for all – a baseline to build one’s life upon.

The dimensions of housing derive from the basic physical, mental, and social needs of people in a way that allows both privacy and social interaction. Housing is designed in such a way that the option of social interaction is always available – either through areas within small housing zones, or shared spaces.

Well-being can be enhanced by an experience of ownership of space and the possibility of reflecting one’s own identity in the surrounding physical environment. Buildings are designed in a circular economy: the floors, furnishings, and nearest wall surfaces can effortlessly be replaced and personalised.

Flexible possession allows renting spaces by zone according to individual wishes and needs, and according to the varying and diverse configurations of family units.

Technological advances, robotics, and automation have made housing almost completely accessible – an important factor as life expectancy grows.

2. A positive sense of community: shared spaces and resources reduce loneliness

Family relationships and constellations are increasingly diverse, so flexible and zone-based living spaces create flexible housing arrangements. The possibility of altering and modifying living spaces, integrating other spaces into the default frame, or freeing up space for shared facilities is taken into account as early as the design stage.

The number of people living alone will also increase throughout the 2100s. In addition to dedicated private areas, residential buildings offer a variety of life-enriching spaces for social interaction. To be able to meet changing needs, digital platforms can be used to ensure flexible access for building residents as well as to manage building spaces. Access to private spaces in residential units is carefully designed to create natural meeting points and low-threshold communal spaces along passageways.

The spaces with the most need for privacy (for rest, sex, or washing, for example) will alternate with less private spaces. Some activities currently regarded as belonging to private homes, such as cooking and entertaining guests, can in the future also be pursued in shared spaces. The design and dimensions of shared spaces have been carefully considered to facilitate a positive – but not forced or compromising – sense of community. Household robots are there to handle the age-old issue with communal kitchens: no dirty pots and pans will prove a nuisance to the next user.

3. Living in a bio-based circular economy

Buildings can be repaired and aesthetically renovated where necessary, but building frames are rarely demolished anymore. A complete shift into bio-based production and manufacturing has stepped into the production of new materials. The use of mineral-based virgin materials like concrete, steel, and burnt brick is now seen as unsustainable. It is not considered ethically correct to use building materials that have taken billions of years to form on Earth and nearby celestial bodies for buildings that will remain in use for mere decades or centuries.

The production of bio-based building materials is still very resource-intensive. To avoid the high carbon load of new construction, buildings – and especially their frames and other components – are being recycled almost indefinitely.

The sharing economy is evolving through technologies that support it. It is more common to access consumer goods through renting or borrowing than through direct ownership.

The disposal of bio-based materials – such as carbon for soil improvement – returns carbon released during the industrial era to the soil.

In the 2000s, there was considerable interest in the exploitation of materials and minerals from other celestial bodies, but societal debate resulted in an ethical code of conduct dictating that each celestial body is to remain as self-sufficient a possible.

4. Emission-free energy production and transport

Energy will be produced entirely from renewable sources. Renewable energy production is partly decentralised to huge wind farms in offshore areas. Geothermal energy in particular is used locally and in a decentralised way. Efficient bio-based energy storage balances the fluctuations in renewable energy production.

In the future, passenger and freight transport will be optimised and based on demand in real time. Vehicles will be smaller in size and part of the transport will be airborne, without the same need for road space. Shared ownership of vehicles has greatly improved the efficiency of materials needed for electric vehicles. The raw materials for electric batteries are fully recyclable.

Traffic is almost silent, making urban living a pleasant experience. The fastest mode of transport is the vacuum-tube metro, which also operates between major cities. For journeys of more than two hours, electric planes are used. Automated transport has evolved to be completely safe, and fatal accidents no longer occur. In cities, everyday activities are located within a 15-minute walking distance.

5. Green cities as part of nature

An effort to actively make cities greener and merge with the surrounding nature is in full swing. In the 2020s, around a quarter of urban land was paved. But now, as traffic becomes more efficient, many pavements can be dismantled.

Impervious hard surfaces have been largely demolished and urban soils have been brought back to life. Tree branches offer shade for buildings from excessive summer heat. Nature is present in everyday life: the shadows from trees make beautiful shapes on the walls of apartments. Residents have access to cultivation and there is plenty of opportunity for them to stick their hands in the soil in courtyards, on balconies, and on decks – exposing city-dwellers to a more diverse microbial population and resulting in the virtual disappearance of allergies.

Cities are important habitats not just for humans, but for a wide range of other species, too. Living spaces for birds, insects, and other creatures are integrated into buildings and residential blocks. Hives and nests in buildings are not considered strange: burrows and nests are in fact integrated into façades for birds and small mammals.

6. Housing is always connected to outdoor access

Apartment housing resembles the townhouse living of the early 2000s. Outdoor spaces associated with the home extend living space, designed for microclimates suitable for both cold and hot seasons.

Residences become associated with a variety of zone-like outdoor spaces. The ‘street’ offers the opportunity for anonymous urban living, the ‘front yard’ for interaction with neighbours, and the ‘backyard’ for private peace and relaxation. Balcony zones and vegetation serve to protect living spaces from overheating and bring privacy – as do advanced types of glazing that allow for the adjustment of transparency on glass surfaces.

Living in interaction with the environment is increasingly valued. The use of natural light in residences is maximised, and there are always windows that face in more than one direction.

A high number of balconies have been installed on existing older buildings, and indoor-outdoor connections have been improved.

7. Buildings have an enriching relationship with urban space and the city

Buildings are connected to the street in a soft and porous way. The narrowing of driveways allowed the construction of large balcony zones in existing buildings, which in turn created ground level arcades to serve as long weather-protected walking routes that also improve the flexibility and thermal regulation of housing. Large windows bring natural light into homes. New balconies and decks are extensions of the personal living area that also serve to boost a safe sense of community and active life in the streetscape. The ground floor of buildings houses shared spaces for social encounters and office space.

‘I pop down to the exchange room for fun almost every day. Today I’m returning a plant emulsifier I borrowed for the weekend. I place a cutting on the plant shelf – an angel wing begonia – and pick out a hare’s foot fern. The exchange is automatically registered in my account. Across the room, a teenager and her hologram parents are looking around the sporting goods section for soccer equipment to replace the outgrown ones. A cleaning robot rearranges plates on the dish racks. On the roof garden of the house across the street, families can be seen tending the vegetable patch and attaching signs to plots: protein potatoes, golden beans, courgettes. Behind the tall windows of the new upper floor, some nursing home residents are watering plants in the green room while others sit in their chairs, dozing. A cat takes a sniff at the care robot that is cleaning the dining area and then jumps into the arms of an elderly woman. The woman’s hand reaches up to stroke the cat – they are old friends. I’ll take the fern to my great-grandma’s later. She has yet to have one in the green room.’

8. Care is decentralised from institutions to housing units

As people live longer, it is not uncommon to have even several generations of grandparents still alive. Using lightweight bio-based materials, care home extensions can be built on the roofs and upper floors of existing buildings and residential blocks. Housing for the elderly and childcare for children can be easily integrated into the daily lives of adults. Working-age people and children can meet their bonus parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents frequently, as they increasingly live in the same block with the rest of the family.

Human-robot pairs work in teams. Care robots handle the hardest and most tedious tasks, allowing people to focus on the social side of care work. Robotics and automation have facilitated a return to small, home-like care units. There is no need to leave home when ill, and for the most part care services can be accessed virtually.

9. Production space over storage space, individually optimised building management systems

Growing your own food and printing supplies on 3D printers serves to decentralise production and bring it close to the end user. Almost all supplies are created by bio-growing or 3D printing using various clay, biomass, and mycelium mixtures. The consumerist lifestyle and the expression of identity through materials is something of the past.

Urban environments have become more mixed and the need for mobility has been reduced – empty parking garages can now be used for local production. The use of self-driving cars and shared vehicles has made a lot of parking space redundant.

Apps are used widely: from optimising individual diets to house maintenance. Instead of heating an entire interior space, the appropriate temperature, soundscape, and lighting can be adjusted next to the body – for instance by directing thermal radiation to the human skin.

The growing and printing of food locally allows for an optimised individual diet – with ‘cheat days’ allowed, of course.

‘Pizza Friday is unfortunately cancelled – the printer is out of order! I’ll post a message on the housing association’s message stream. The maintenance person is checking out the hologram model, opening trays, detaching tubes, and sweeping some dried dough crumbs on the floor. “A-ha!” They flip their long hair braid back and send a robotic cleaner into the depths of the appliance. The robot soon scoops out a clump of dried tomato sauce. “Might wanna service this more often,” they say. “So you don’t get these blockages.” “We’ve used it according to the instructions,” I defend myself with all the authority of a pizza manager. “The instructions don’t tell you everything,” says the maintenance person. “But it’s fine now. Get baking.” I thank them as they are already on their way out, and punch in a new message: The upstairs balcony’s pizza printer is running again. I’m printing veggie salami – otherwise bring your own toppings. The early evening is warm, and outside swallows are cutting through the pale sky.’

10. Connecting to space colonies via the ‘Meetverse’

Artificial intelligence and automation account for a huge number of the activities that took up the time and brainpower of humans in the 2020s. Digital and automated data management enable ever greater complexity and make it easy to plan and program a multifunctional city, for example.

In buildings, the virtual world and interaction are ever-present, but an essential part of digital culture is the ability to switch off the virtual environment and focus on being present in the physical environment.

The Meetverse is a way of communicating with space colonies. In the 2020s, it was predicted that humans would visit Mars in the 2040s – and by the year 2100 the idea of permanent colonies on Mars or other celestial bodies has become a closer reality. Experiences of dense habitation in space have brought back to Earth an understanding of living in an absolute circular economy. Material possessions have lost their meaning for many – it is impossible to transport property on space journeys, as every gram of weight has its price. Surprisingly, the living environments of space colonies resemble in many ways the green urban environments of the 2000s. We have succeeded in creating such good cities that we want to replicate the same habits on other celestial bodies as well.

When we think of life on Mars, we think of a frugal, material-scarce lifestyle. Yet following the same thought – do we really think that the materials on Earth are made for us to waste?

‘The door of the Meetverse room on our floor slides shut behind me and the screen covering the wall lights up. I sit down on the sofa opposite it. “Repeat the message,” I say. My little sister is sitting in her combined bedroom and living room. A green wall twinkles in the background and behind the window the right hand side of the blue sky appears dusty. My sister tucks a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and shares how the children are doing: Nina has started a gardening club, and Elia has just recovered from a stomach bug. “I miss the lighter gravity of Mars sometimes,” says my sister. “But it was a good decision to move here.” Osiris scurries to her feet holding a chew toy, tail wagging and letting out a bark. “Talk soon. I love you.” The screen bleeps into the dark energy-saving mode. On my way back to my apartment, I stop to have some pizza on the communal balcony, searching the sky for a brighter blue star that is actually a planet. I raise my hand and wave at it, at my sister.’


Virkkala de Vocht Architects is made up of urban planner Sofia de Vocht and social housing project manager Inari Virkkala. While having other full-time jobs elsewhere, our shared architectural practice serves as a tool for us to develop our own thinking and skills. The Expo 2100 exhibition has been a valuable professional opportunity to find out for ourselves how to consider design, architecture, and construction to truly support the best frameworks of the built environment of the future.

The visualisation of the work was created by Areality and Sergio Rod Gorostizaga, with animations by Joonas Hyvönen. The working process included interviews with the following experts: service designer Merja Lang, researcher Lotta Junnilainen, housing programme manager Hanna Dhalmann, designer Mikko Kutvonen, and author Emmi Itäranta — who also wrote four fictional glimpses into the lives of future humans.


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