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Linking spatial characteristics to residential lifestyles

A framework for analysing the hospitality potential of urban and architectural designs
Sophie Lufkin, Marie-Paule Thomas, Vincent Kaufmann and Emmanuel Rey


Today, in many European countries, increasing opposition tends to thwart urban densification projects. To enhance public acceptability of such projects, which are likely to promote sustainable urban development, it is essential to better anticipate urban programming based on target groups of inhabitants with different lifestyles. The purpose of this innovative, upstream interdisciplinary research is to forecast and analyse the needs of these populations in accordance with their lifestyles and subsequently propose an urban and architectural vision adapted to the lifestyles considered desirable for the site. By doing so, it addresses the often-neglected social aspects of sustainable urban development projects.

This article presents an application of this approach to the strategic Waldstadt area (Bern, Switzerland). Six urban visions are compared and assessed, each offering promising leads and recommendations for the site's development. Lifestyle urban planning gives architects and planners a powerful decision-making tool for integrating social considerations into the design of sustainable neighbourhoods. It is also a concrete solution to acceptance issues and their resulting tensions.

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1Today, in Switzerland, as in other European countries, urban planning is facing a serious crisis. On the one hand, for several decades now, a clear consensus has emerged among experts and planners in disfavour of urban sprawl; on the other hand, increasing local opposition often thwarts projects designed to turn urban densification strategies into a reality because these projects appear unadapted to the aspirations of the population’s lifestyle (Kaufmann et al. 2001). This antagonism is particularly the case when projects are limited to constructing housing with no plan for community-level services and facilities. Thus, to overcome this obstacle, the challenge is to improve public acceptability of such urban and architectural projects, which are likely to promote sustainable urban development by ensuring the upstream integration of users’ needs. In other words, it becomes a necessity to develop housing and transport guidelines that are adapted to changing lifestyles and the population's residential aspirations in particular, which tend—especially as far as families are concerned—to favour attractive, peaceful environments (Rérat 2010). Our research on this issue has shown that the benefits of truly taking lifestyles into account in the design of neighbourhoods are twofold: it makes these neighbourhoods more attractive to live in and reinforces their attractiveness by making them look like places offering desirable lifestyle models. We have witnessed such dynamics in Bern in the framework of our investigations into housing for families in dense urban areas (Thomas 2013).

2To develop urban and architectural projects such as these, it is essential to go deeper than conventional target audience criteria—i.e., income (social mix) or household type (intergenerational mix)—and to identify the dynamics associated with residential choice. A clear understanding of what households are looking for makes it possible to better design urban programming measures based on target groups of inhabitants with different lifestyles. By lifestyle, we are referring to all social and spatial ties relative to housing, activities and travel. In other words, lifestyle refers to all activities performed in everyday life and during the weekend, their content, their localization and the way they are conducted in terms of means of transport, as well as how they are experienced. However, early on in the process anticipating these factors requires real-estate developers—public and private—to begin thinking about the site’s hospitality and attractiveness for distinct groups of inhabitants. By definition, each newly developed neighbourhood brings together more or less large and diverse populations and thus requires cohabitation, mingling and sharing of facilities. The purpose of upstream sociological research is to forecast and analyse the needs of these populations based on their lifestyles and to propose an urban and architectural programme considered desirable for the site accordingly. Hence, the often-neglected social aspect of sustainable urban development projects, normally limited to considerations of multi-functionality or user participation, can be addressed by promoting urban planning based on lifestyles (Pattaroni et al. 2009; Thomas 2013). Integrating inhabitants’ preferred uses and spatial qualities in the early phases of the project’s process can provide concrete solutions to address acceptance issues and their resulting tensions.

3This paper aims to pinpoint the considerations of households when deciding where to live: Are they seeking a secure, dense, convivial, peaceful or elite neighbourhood? The main assumption behind this approach is the existence of a crucial link between residential choices, lifestyles and urban/architectural features. Showing that urban and architectural projects offer distinct "hospitality potentials" for distinct aspirations, this paper provides a concrete illustration of an operational implementation of lifestyles urban planning.

4This article starts with a literature review on lifestyles and urban quality and then presents how this approach was applied to analyse the hospitality potential of urban and architectural visions designed for the Waldstadt area, a strip of forest bordering the city of Bern (Switzerland) and separated from the Bremgarten forest by a highway. The site, likely to attract new inhabitants and employers with efficient public transport and a well-preserved natural landscape nearby, is therefore highly strategic (ARE 2013). Its development would allow for the construction of a new mixed neighbourhood with a potential to limit spatial segregation in close proximity to public transport, thus fitting into a sustainable urban development perspective. Six urban visions for the site, developed at a design studio at the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), integrating criteria from both the architectural and social sciences fields, are compared and assessed. The results of the analysis offer promising recommendations for the site's development.

Lifestyles urban planning”: towards a pluralistic quality of life

5Contemporary cities are facing multiple challenges, such as the on-going financial crisis, global climate issues and local housing shortages. As Porter et al. (2013) reminds us, urban planning itself is largely responsible for these crises by reducing planning to a "growth-approving, exploitative arm of the state." As a result, urban planning is also facing a serious crisis (De Roo 2012), which has led to the birth of the postmodern view of cities and planning (Portugali et al. 2012) and results from “… the dramatic changes that mark the last three decades namely: globalization, the decline of the welfare nation-state and the rise of a stronger civil society, in short, of the new postmodern condition”. While there is growing pressure to act on these problems, current planning policies tend to be of little help, in part because of the change in scale, from urban to interurban (i.e., the area of influence of cities has expanded beyond their traditional limits) (Peck et al. 2013). One of the symptoms of the current crisis is the rise in opposition to new projects, which can often be explained by the NIMBY ("Not In My Back Yard") phenomenon (Schively 2007), but which also result from more complex public perception dynamics (Devine-Wright 2005). All of these factors combine in a call for change in the current urban planning praxis, which does not seem to dispose of adequate tools to enable institutions and practitioners to grasp the increased complexity of contemporary urban reality.

6In response, several authors have proposed an approach that we refer to as lifestyle urban planning or usage urban planning, based on the idea of “usage value” in the literature. This concept emerged in the 1970s in response to the widespread technological paradigm, which stated that technical standards provided a comprehensive guarantee of quality (Faure 2000). This advocacy for lifestyle urban planning is therefore an incentive to update the culturalist approaches developed by sociologists and anthropologists in the 1980s, who prompted debate in order to break with the one-track thinking of urban design quantitative analyses.

7Bearing this in mind, we propose to address the issue of lifestyles, focusing initially on everyday life and activity schedules. Lefebvre and Bassand et al. notably group the daily activities in different spheres: the private sphere (home and family), the work sphere, and the leisure and free time sphere (Lefebvre 1977; Bassand et al. 1988). Daily mobility is defined as a series of activities in time and space that makes it possible to move from one sphere to another. The social and functional fragmentation of cities and metropolitan areas necessitates extensive travel, since daily activities are often done in different places (Juan 1997; Ascher 2004).

8The concept of "lifestyle", however, does not have a consensus—neither in its definition nor in its approach—caught between Bourdieu “structuralist” approaches (Bourdieu 1979-1980), the reflexive consumer (Beck 2003 [1986]) and more inclusive approaches that seek to identify lifestyles based on resources, aspirations and values (Giddens 1987; Müller 1992; Di Méo 1999; Bögenhold 2001; Ohnmacht et al. 2009; Hradil & Spellerberg 2011). For Grafmeyer (1999), lifestyle "includes not only consumer practices but also forms of sociability and free time schedules," while "way of life"—if the two concepts are not used synonymously—refers more to representations and values. The latter approach has given rise to abundant literature on the spatial and temporal dimensions of daily life (Hradil 1999; Thomas & Pattaroni 2012).

9Other authors emphasize the situated nature of lifestyles. Rössel and Otte (2011), for instance, highlight the fact that lifestyles are dependent on a site's hospitality potential; Scheiner and Kasper (2003) observe that people’s lifestyles localize them in a spatial environment; Jansen et al. (2011) describe lifestyles as an additional piece of information for understanding residential choice. Combined with demographic data such as age, income and social status, lifestyles can help us better understand residential preferences.

10Thus, urban neighbourhoods, with their various components (transport infrastructure, supply of goods and services, laws and regulations, etc.) and the opportunities they offer, influence the experiences and aspirations of individuals and households, thus favouring or limiting certain lifestyles. In this respect, the concept of lifestyle has been used in research on residential choices and gentrification. Residential choices and gentrification highlight multiple ways of inhabiting, independent of socio-professional categories (Ley 1996; Rérat & Lee 2011; Thomas & Pattaroni 2012). Similarly, in research on mobility, lifestyle is used for understanding people's daily modal practices; for example, certain wealthier social classes do not favour the car—once a status symbol—but rather public transport and/or cycling (Götz 2003; Scheiner & Kasper 2003). It is in this latter perspective that we focused our investigations, based particularly on the work developed by Pattaroni et al. (2010) and Thomas (2013).

11In this optic, which easily dialogues with urban design, what defines the scope and openness of a site's hospitality potential for distinct lifestyles largely depends on its urban, architectural and infrastructural characteristics, which form its backbone and which we refer to as its material features. All actions are situated and depend on the environment to offer the footholds necessary to carry them out (Gibson 1979).

12While material features are important to a neighbourhood’s hospitality potential to accommodate projects, they also and more fundamentally have an effect on actors' projects. Recognizing that the plethora of urban forms, their aesthetics, ambiance, how they are inhabited, their cost of living, etc. defines a neighbourhood’s hospitality potential is obvious (Rérat 2010). Likewise, potential access afforded by the various means of transport defines hospitality potential for travel and mobility plans and opens up different options in terms of lifestyle.

13However, it seems necessary to go further by showing that all the material features impact the very existence of projects and tend to significantly influence their nature and success (Rose & Davies 1994). For instance, the existence of industrial wastelands or derelict workshops in a city is conducive to projects of re-appropriation (Pflieger et al. 2008). Similarly, the possibility of living without a car thanks to high-quality public transport services helps make this lifestyle desirable and more likely to be adopted (Hommels 2005).

14This finding suggests that not all projects can find a place in a given context; certain places are more receptive to certain projects than others, given their urban ambiance, history and morphological characteristics, etc. These features, which define a given context’s degree of openness, are contextualized. Therefore, in European countries (or in some cases, in French cities, if we follow Marc Wiel's (1999) analysis on housing supply), cities have developed around very diverse types of urbanization, thus generating different systems of opportunities and constraints. For instance, a family that wants to live in a townhouse near an urban centre will have no trouble finding something that suits them in Great Britain, a country where the housing supply is essentially composed of "terraced" and "semi-detached" houses. However, families who want to live in a "detached" house will have less trouble doing so in France than in Great Britain, where this type of housing is very expensive. One could follow the same logic for car use. In Switzerland, where the public transport networks serve the entire country both time-table-wise and geographically, it is potentially easier to live without a car on a daily basis than in France.

15The planning of tomorrow should therefore be able to accommodate individuals’ and families’ varied lifestyles. Urban residents should not be compelled to adapt their lifestyles to the city but, on the contrary, the city should be receptive to individuals and families with different lifestyles and aspirations (Groth & Corijn 2005). For this reason, we suggest lifestyle urban planning based on differences between households' ways of living in the city, from building to regional scale (i.e., their urban practices), and their daily use of the city, relationship to the built environment and resources. The challenge here is to produce a built environment with functional, social and sensitive features that are adapted to and encourage each lifestyle (Thomas 2013). Functional qualities facilitate daily life; they characterize the functional environment, including the type of transport infrastructures (public transport and car accessibility) and the local amenities (schools, kindergartens, childcare facilities, neighbourhood shops, cafés, restaurants, etc.). Social qualities promote social relationships (social integration, neighbourly relations, importance attached to conviviality or anonymity). The social environment is defined by the quality of public and intermediary spaces (community life, atmosphere of a neighbourhood, and dominant values). Finally, sensitive qualities promote well-being (aesthetic and emotional sensitivity). The sensitive environment can be analysed based on descriptions of the urban and architectural features of the built environment (nature, green spaces, period of construction, charm, architectural language, and sensory evaluation).

16By taking into consideration each of these features, lifestyle urban planning can provide an urban and architectural response to all or a portion of the lifestyles within a population in keeping with the objectives of the project in question (in terms of energy consumption, income groups, architecture, urban programming, etc.).


17Based on this premise, an innovative, interdisciplinary methodology has been developed to bring together various sociologic and architectural design approaches to operationally implement such lifestyle urban planning (Pattaroni & al. 2009, Pattaroni & Thomas 2012). The following chapter describes the two main phases of the methodology.

Identification of different types of residential lifestyles

18Based on the conclusions of the literature review, the development of future neighbourhoods should take into account all three core aspects of quality of life that meet the functional, social and sensitive features of lifestyles. Using these core aspects as a framework, the first phase of the methodology aims to identify different types of residential lifestyles (4.1). To do so, Pattaroni et al. (2010) analysed the representative Swiss urban area of Bern, a somewhat compact agglomeration whose urban influence is essentially dependent on rail infrastructure.

19The sociological approach developed to analyse this urban context combines a very precise description of the environment at regional, neighbourhood and building scales with qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys, which allows for an understanding of different expectations and behaviours. Thus, about twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with households living in the urban area of Bern. In parallel, a twenty-five minute quantitative phone survey was performed regarding the residential choices and lifestyles of a representative sample of 800 inhabitants from this urban area.

Analysis of the hospitality potential of urban visions

20Based on these results, the second step in the methodology is an analysis of the hospitality potential of different urban designs for the various types of residential lifestyles, using architectural design tools. The selected site is the Waldstadt sector, located within the Bern urban area. Measuring 46 hectares (Figure 1), this strategic site is likely to attract new inhabitants and jobs; it offers public transport and a well-preserved natural landscape. It is therefore particularly adapted to urban densification strategies aimed at enhancing inhabitants' quality of life. Its development would allow for the construction of new mixed neighbourhoods, thus fitting into a broad sustainability perspective targeting more efficient use of resources and increasing attractiveness of the entire urban region.

Figure 1. Aerial photograph of the Waldstadt site, a strip of forest bordering Bern (Switzerland) separated from the Bremgarten Forest by a highway (Rey 2013)

21Six original urban and architectural visions were developed for this site in the framework of the GREEN DENSITY project (Rey 2013; Rey 2014a; Lufkin 2015; Rey & Lufkin 2016), initiated by the EPFL's (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Technologies (LAST). First, approximately sixty projects were produced by the students of Professor Emmanuel Rey's architectural design studio at the EPFL in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, from urban design to construction detail. Then, in parallel, two summer workshops, organized in 2011 and 2012, enabled a dozen students—led by the research assistants—to optimize and radicalize the projects to create the six synthetic visions.

22To analyse the hospitality potential of the six designs, the first stage compares the uses favoured by the different residential lifestyles and translates them into functions and spatial qualities. The visions are then evaluated using an architectural analysis framework, which characterizes their hospitality potential for one or more target groups. This exercise was not conducted directly from the lifestyles typology but based on the essential qualities sought by the proponents of these lifestyles. A more detailed definition of the architectural analysis framework can be found in Table 3 and in Thomas (2013).


23Before presenting the results of the two main phases of the methodology, we will present a preliminary analysis of the context at urban and neighbourhood scales.

24At the structural level, the urban region of Bern stands out for its efficient public transport system. Ongoing coordination of transport and urban planning policies has long been one of the major goals of both the city and the urban region of Bern (Bern 1982; Jemelin 2008). As a result, the Canton has the country’s largest regional train network in terms of train-kilometres, and urbanization follows a pattern of dense and mixed-use centres that are well-connected to public transport nodes (Maksim 2011).

25At the cultural level, Bern is characterized by the widespread ecological and post-materialist values commonly found in the German-speaking part of Switzerland (Walter & Bergier 1990). Indeed, throughout Europe, researchers have noted the early emergence of environmental concerns in German-speaking regions (Galland & Lemel 2007; Schuler & Dessemontet 2007), which are strongly influenced by a Protestant conception of social integration, collective belonging (conviviality), solidarity and environmentalism (valorisation of density and rejection of material values).

26In Bern, increasing public transport and soft mobility use, as well as strong ties with nature, clearly illustrate this cultural atmosphere. In addition, strong local spatial anchoring is facilitated by the homogenous distribution of amenities in the territory. This highly focused local life entails intensive use of the neighbourhood at both the social (community and associative commitment) and functional (shops) levels (Thomas 2013).

27Bernese residents' appreciation of sedentariness, friendliness and density draws the outlines of postmodern lifestyles, especially those aimed at environmental and community practices. Such lifestyles are encouraged by Bernese urbanism, which was briefly described in the preceding paragraph: rich in local amenities and associative life, decentralized around public transport access and a strong community culture.

28The Waldstadt site borders the Neufeld neighbourhood in the Langgässe-Felsenau area. Functionally speaking, such as all of Bern, it is easily accessible by public transport. This area also has a number of local amenities, bars and restaurants and school infrastructures, including the University of Bern campus. In addition, the site borders Bremgarten Forest, a favourite recreational area for the entire urban region. Socially speaking, the area has undergone much gentrification in recent decades (Smith 1987), a phenomenon that began in Europe in the 1960s and accelerated in the 1990s-2000s in certain historically popular, downtown neighbourhoods. This led to an influx of residents with high levels of education, often with top professional positions in communications, advertising or cultural industries and strong ideological power. These populations—commonly referred to as the "new middle class," "bobos" (Brooks 2000), yuppies, cultural creators or creative class (Zukin 2000; Bidou-Zachariasen 2003; Préteceille 2006)—have received a great deal of attention in the international literature since the 1980s.

29Located between the city centre and the forest, the Langgässe-Felsenau neighbourhood is a gentrified area, where lower-income households and small businesses have been moved. It is an alternative neighbourhood where multicultural residents, artists, designers, musicians and students live side-by-side in harmony (Craviolini & Heye 2009). It is characterized by an authentic atmosphere that combines the old, dense urban fabric with trendy cafés, popular bars and restaurants.

30Moreover, this site just next to the forest could also be adapted to peace-seeking families in search of calm and quiet surroundings. Among other things, Neufeld offers good infrastructures for families. Thanks to Bern's efforts to bring young urban families back to the city, this site—perfectly located between city and nature—offers great potential for family households.

Typology of residential lifestyles in the cases of Bern and Lausanne

31The quality of life in the future neighbourhood greatly depends on its design and programming, in order for diverse populations to find the elements necessary to develop their own lifestyles. These elements are defined according to six main dimensions, which we call residential preferences, and represent six ways of evaluating the qualities of the urban environment sought by households: density, tranquillity, conviviality, elitism, social anchoring and family friendliness (see Table 1).

Table 1. The six dimensions of residential preferences.

This table provides a synthetic overview of the six dimensions of residential preferences, which are six ways of evaluating the environmental qualities sought by households (Rey 2013).

32By combining these six residential preferences, the outcome of the first phase of the methodology is a typology of six “residential lifestyles”, i.e., the encounter between distinct ways families have of organizing their daily lives, of building social ties and of "dwelling" in a place, with preferences in terms of residential location. It is based on the idea that there is no universal “quality of life” but rather innumerable “qualities of life” based on distinct aspirations and lifestyles.

33The advantage of such an analysis is to be able to understand how the different facets of lifestyle create a system and to identify the patterns of households' selection criteria. Thus, each type corresponds to a specific “residential lifestyle”. To better highlight their relational dimension, here is a brief description of the types.

Committed city dwellers

34Committed city dwellers appreciate dense environments and neighbourhood life. They give great importance to cultural life, convenient facilities, the existence of socio-cultural associations and social diversity. These families use public transport and soft mobility more than others and prefer popular, lively, dense, urban environments with high walkability. Community housing is an option for them.


35Communitarians have high expectations with regard to all three aspects—functional, social and sensitive—of their living environment. More than other types, they value a neighbourhood’s reputation and safety, as well as the presence of a social network of friends and family, and employment proximity. They greatly appreciate an elite but convivial environment and, being more traditional, are less urban than the previous group. Their ideal is not necessarily living in the city centre but rather having strong social ties.

Reputational individualists

36Households in this category have little interest in neighbourly relations and do not seek to live close to friends or relatives—preferences that indicate a rather conservative and individualistic attitude (i.e., a traditionally bourgeois way of relating to the built environment). Their two main selection criteria are safety and the neighbourhood’s reputation, in particular for the education of children, in other words its “spatial signature”, to use Monique Pinçon-Charlot and Michel Pinçon’s (Pinçon-Charlot and Pinçon 2001) term. This group prefers living in chic, calm and green residential areas, preferably in individual houses. They often combine car use and public transport.

Individualistic city dwellers

37Individualistic city dwellers mainly seek a dense, well-connected environment with a rich cultural life. They do not value a neighbourhood’s safety or conviviality. They have a taste for urban settings, likening them to committed city dwellers. While both exhibit traits of the new middle class, the latter are more rooted in their context.

Rooted bucolics

38The lifestyle of these families, in which car use is central and a key social anchor, is similar to a form of rurality. As they appreciate tranquillity and nature, these typically young families live outside of cities, which they tend to avoid, in towns to which they have emotional ties, and with family and friends nearby.

Peace seekers

39For the peace seekers, the only residential location criterion is the presence of a calm, green environment. Finding peaceful and comfortable housing, preferably an individual house, is their main concern. They essentially travel by car. In this category, we find families whose social networks are spread out in Switzerland and elsewhere and who therefore do not have social ties in their place of residence but are not necessarily seeking them.

40It is interesting to observe that the six residential lifestyles described above are not statistically related to households' income or composition (Thomas 2013). We can therefore conclude that residential lifestyles go beyond differences of income (rent level or occupancy status) and household type (housing size and generational diversity). What makes a residential location attractive varies even within similar income levels and equivalent household sizes. Lifestyles similarly may vary greatly at a single location.

41Our analysis of the extremely diverse residential lifestyles highlighted here indicates that inhabitants’ expectations with regard to quality of life and their relation to the territory differ greatly. Committed and individualistic city dwellers are much more likely to use public transport and are less likely to have a car than other groups. They prefer organizing their activities on a pedestrian scale rather than scattering them across a territory. Naturally, being close to a train station and public transport, as well as local amenities, is of great importance. Conversely, groups that use the car in a more marked way are less likely to cite public transport and train stations as important features (reputational individualists, rooted bucolics, peace seekers).

Hospitality potential of the six visions

42Because they promote some uses more than others, each of the six projects developed for the site has a different hospitality potential for the various residential lifestyles identified. On the basis of the investigations undertaken for this research (Thomas 2013), which follows the spirit of works from Gibson (Gibson 1979) and Rapoport (Rapoport 1977), the first stage (Table 2) compares the uses favoured by the different residential lifestyles (4.1.1-4.1.6) and translates them into functions and spatial qualities.

Table 2. Uses preferred by different lifestyles and their translation into functions and spatial qualities (Rey 2013).

43Following similar principles, it is then possible to evaluate the six visions developed for the Waldstadt sector, respectively titled “Transition,” “Interface,” “Outposts,” “Checkerboard,” “Continuities” and “Hyperdensities” (Figure 2), using an architectural analysis framework to characterize their hospitality potential for one or more target groups.

Figure 2. Plans of the six visions developed for the Waldstadt site

From top to bottom, and from left to right: “Transition,” “Interface,” “Outposts,” “Checkerboard," “Continuities” and “Hyperdensities (Rey 2013). A more detailed presentation of the visions (plans, sections and elevations) can be found in (Rey 2013).

44The “Transition” project involves the development of a series of medium-sized buildings and systems at the domestic level. Private balconies, shared terraces (for use by two dwellings) and neutral, sunny designs with open views of the forest target individualistic households of all kinds in search of calm, tranquillity and secure housing in the heart of the forest. In spite of the openness of the outdoor amenities, the project is also adapted to families, as children can be easily supervised from the home. This setup is ideal for peace seeker families and, to a certain extent, individualistic city dwellers.

45Interface” is a more anonymous project. It promotes conviviality and social exchange through its system of passageways, community rooms and collective terraces at each floor, and a series of three-sided interior courtyards. These courtyards are easily used, as are the upper floors, with wide open spaces conducive to family life and children's games. The natural target groups for this project are communitarian and committed city dwellers households seeking an extremely friendly neighbourhood setting as well as proximity to nature and access to the forest.

46The “Outposts” project features more anonymous buildings. Their large size gives them an imposing character, and their layout leaves little possibility for use of outdoor spaces. The main square is very large and somewhat disconnected from the scale of its users and thus not "user-friendly." The project is geared towards individualistic households seeking luxury apartments overlooking the forest but with a guarantee of anonymity. This project is undoubtedly the least adapted to family life but is adapted to peace seekers and individualistic city dwellers, singles or couples.

47Checkerboard” and "Continuities" are projects with a maximum of six floors. The closed or semi-open island design makes for intense neighbourly relations, where exchanges can take place in both the outdoor spaces and the passageways. Unlike "Interface," the projects also allow for residents to enjoy their privacy, thanks to private balconies. The inner courtyards can easily be used as play areas or urban vegetable gardens. These projects are interesting because they offer considerable built density while providing both an intense neighbourhood life and the possibility of retreating into the private sphere. "Continuities" also offers a common room for gatherings. These projects are suited to committed city dwellers and communitarian families.

48Hyperdensities” is a very compact project that is strongly geared to individualistic households who want to experience a certain "urbanity," where one can observe or bump into one's neighbours without necessarily having exchanges with them. The outdoor areas are very open and only partially connected to the dwellings. The project is more suited to single people or couples without children who are seeking to live in a lively, trendy urban environment (i.e., individualistic city dwellers).

49Table 3 provides a synthetic overview of the hospitality potential of the six visions for the different residential lifestyles

Table 3. Analysis of the hospitality potential of the six visions for different residential lifestyles (Rey 2013).


50Although the objectives of this work are resolutely geared towards practical, operational results, it remains clear that the academic research context confers a rather theoretical character to its outcomes. Due to this conceptual nature, there are several inherent limitations—starting with the identification of six different categories of lifestyles. The reality is naturally more complex and nuanced, as in the case of most typological approaches. Indeed, some households will represent the core tendencies, while others will certainly appear as more marginal. Furthermore, inhabitants’ expectations regarding their environment are, by nature, bound to change according to the evolution of their life trajectories. This flexibility over time is extremely difficult to take into consideration in the framework of an academic work. However, when applying this conceptual framework to a practical case study, practitioners should bear in mind that the sharp edges of the identified categories need to be softened. The different lifestyle types are far from being exclusive and some overlapping between different groups could occur, as the evolution of life paths are gradual, non-linear processes. An ideal way to integrate this complexity would be to develop the capacity to follow up on the evolution of the inhabitants’ profiles in a specific neighbourhood, in order to adapt its hospitality potential accordingly. Such principles have been implemented in Strasbourg, for instance, with the lifestyles urban planning project led by the Agence d’urbanisme de la Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg A-Urba.

51In this sense, this approach would be similar to the “monitoring phase” of a building or a neighbourhood, which has become an integral part of sustainable architectural design processes. Therefore, the lifestyle categories, which might appear stark and overgeneralized at first sight, need to be contextually and temporally adapted to a specific situation.

52Beyond this limitation, the recognition of diverse types of households is of great interest to stimulate urban planning thinking in a heuristic perspective. The categories are extremely useful to identify inhabitants’ expectations according to their lifestyles, which can then help practitioners design a living environment suitable for these needs. However, this adequacy of the spatial features of the neighbourhood does not necessarily lead to creating homogenous enclaves by fostering socio-spatial segregation dynamics. In contrast, such an approach calls for urban territories with a broad spectrum of affordances (Gibson 1979) or, in other words, with a high hospitality potential. These territories have the capacity to be not only flexible and resilient in the long term but also inclusive for a wide variety of lifestyles.


53The present paper has highlighted the fact that the quality of life of the new neighbourhood will be perceived within the context of each resident’s lifestyle. The elements that must be considered are the design of public and intermediary spaces, the dynamics of social life (associations), the conditions of accessibility (public transport, car or soft mobility), the variety of local services/urban programming (schools, nurseries, medical services, etc.), the neighbourhood’s reputation and, finally, the project's architectural language.

54Lifestyles can be understood as the search for coherency through the spatial ingredients that define our daily existences, such as accessibility, facilities, social context and architecture. Lifestyles urban planning shows that it is not the individual pieces of an urban project that are important; the latter only take on significance when they facilitate activities and experiences that are meaningful for us.

55By anticipating user’s preferences in the early stages of the project, urban planning based on lifestyles effectively provides guidelines for urban and architectural planning. The major challenge here is creating a built environment that is adapted to the lifestyles identified as desirable, focusing simultaneously on sensitive qualities (green or mineral spaces, light, etc.), social qualities (design of public and intermediary spaces to promote community life or privacy and individuality) and functional ones (typologies of apartments, architectural layout, etc.).

56The preliminary analysis of the context at urban and neighbourhood levels has helped to identify tangible ways of providing preliminary insight on which residential lifestyles should be encouraged or avoided by the project. At a regional scale, the "bourgeois" for instance—with their conservative and individualistic stance—may not be attracted by the "Bern model." Interestingly, none of the visions favours this type of lifestyle. Communitarian households, conversely, would likely find most environmental qualities they are looking for in the Bern context. For the latter, “Interfaces,” “Checkerboard” and “Continuities,” due to their specific functional and spatial qualities, offer the most appropriate hospitality potential at urban scale.

57Similar thinking can be extended at the neighbourhood level. Once again, some neighbourhoods can be very attractive to certain residential lifestyles and, at the same time, be very marginalizing for others. Developing hospitality towards a high number of lifestyles is much more than a question of environmental sustainability. It is a central challenge both for the urbanity of neighbourhoods and for combatting social segregation. Building a part of the city entails accommodating a wide variety of populations, including diverse lifestyles. Failing to do so would run the risk of increasing socio-spatial segregation because, in just a few years, lifestyles have become a new social differentiation which joins those operated by income (Rérat and Lees 2011).

58The analysis at the neighbourhood scale has highlighted the tremendous potential for urban lifestyles, notably individualist or committed city dwellers, who value urban intensity and innovative environments. To a varying extent, all six visions target these types of lifestyles and would therefore provide an adequate living environment in the proximity of the Neufeld neighbourhood. In parallel, the Bremgarten Forest could also attract residential types in search of calm, green settings: rooted bucolics, for instance, might appreciate the combination of social ties and access to nature, while peace-seeker types would probably value the tranquillity of the forest. This latter remark could potentially give an advantage to visions such as “Transition” and “Outposts”, which favour these kinds of dimensions.

59These findings suggest that the visions developed for the Waldstadt sector meet the residential aspirations of the population in terms of changing lifestyle thanks to their diverse, yet context-appropriate, spatial and functional qualities. In this sense, they are likely to increase public acceptability of urban densification projects and therefore represent a positive step towards more sustainable lifestyles.

60At this point, it is important to keep in mind that lifestyles refer solely to the social dimension of sustainability, which, due to its intrinsic holistic nature, involves the simultaneous and optimal consideration of a wide range of environmental, sociocultural and economic parameters. Therefore, residential lifestyles, which are the focus of this paper, only address a small part of the multiple aspects that need to be taken into consideration in the creation of a sustainable neighbourhood. The creation of sustainability involves a search for global quality by implementing interdisciplinary strategies that are technically adapted, environmentally friendly, economically viable and which create added value at the sociocultural level.

61In addition, because of the different perceptions of what defines quality of life, it seems irrelevant to designate any single vision as the "best" one. However, one urban project could be favoured over another because it is in keeping with a regional or urban policy, or, in other words, because it is geared towards the lifestyles that have been deemed "desirable" at a higher planning level. Urban and architectural planning thus needs to be consistent with the residential lifestyles the territory desires to attract. For instance, a neighbourhood with large apartments, which are attractive to families, but no parking availability would not be coherent given that the majority of families travel by car. It is possible to define which types of populations could be interested in living on the site based on the neighbourhood’s qualities and future project (the hospitality potential). Finally, beyond the classic target audience criteria, i.e., income (social mix) or household type (intergenerational mix), it is important to assess the attractiveness of the site for different lifestyles, which encourages varied services and urban forms.

62The objectives of such an approach are threefold: the purpose is to make dense and energy-efficient habitats attractive for a wide variety of populations but also to make lifestyles in dense and energy-efficient habitats more attractive. Ultimately, the goal is to preserve the diversity unique to the city by ensuring the presence of a broad spectrum of lifestyles within a neighbourhood.

63Thus, the main social challenge of densification processes is tweaking a project’s architectural features and urban programming to enhance the quality of life for a variety of lifestyles (Rey 2014b). By doing so, lifestyles urban planning tends to better fill the gap between the social sciences and architecture. While still relatively unexplored, it allows for us to turn theoretical concepts based on residential preferences and lifestyles into concrete urban projects. As such, there are several advantages to this approach. On the one hand, it helps us move beyond the social sciences' analytical stance to kick-start innovative, project-oriented dynamics. On the other hand, by opening up opportunities for interdisciplinary approaches, lifestyle urban planning can provide architects and planners with a powerful decision-making tool for integrating social considerations in the design of sustainable neighbourhoods. This type of comparative approach can also be integrated in the practices of local governments for expanding strategic urban sectors (for example, to compare in greater detail the various proposals presented in an urban planning competition).

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List of illustrations

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Caption Table 3. Analysis of the hospitality potential of the six visions for different residential lifestyles (Rey 2013).
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Electronic reference

Sophie Lufkin, Marie-Paule Thomas, Vincent Kaufmann and Emmanuel Rey, “Linking spatial characteristics to residential lifestyles”Articulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], Varia, Online since 20 June 2018, connection on 19 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Sophie Lufkin

Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Development, Ecole polytechnique de Lausanne, Switzerland

Marie-Paule Thomas

iConsulting SA, Switzerland

Vincent Kaufmann

Urban Sociology Laboratory, Ecole polytechnique de Lausanne, Switzerland

Emmanuel Rey

Laboratory of Architecture and Sustainable Development, Ecole polytechnique de Lausanne, Switzerland

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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