Friday, 5 September 2014

A solution to our housing problems: the co-housing community

Next week, ideas for a housing cooperative will be fleshed out in Exeter:
Futures Forum: A solution to our housing problems: the housing coop: Transition Exeter meeting Weds 10th September

A similar but different idea - that has been very much alive and kicking on the Continent and in the States - is 'co-housing':

Cohousing in a nutshell.

Cohousing communities are intentional communities. They are created and run by their residents. Each household has a self-contained, personal and private home but residents come together to manage their community, share activities, eat together. Cohousing is a way of combating the alienation and isolation many experience today, recreating the neighbourly support of the past. This can happen anywhere, in your street or starting a new community using empty homes or building new.

Welcome to the UK Cohousing Network
Cohousing - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Building Design people have shown interest in a particular project in London:

1-6 Copper Lane by Henley Halebrown Rorrison Architects

Cohousing is a concept proving popular in North America and parts of mainland Europe but, despite being a potentially viable answer to the housing shortage, it is yet to catch on in the UK. Ike Ijeh visits the first cohousing build in London to see if it’s an idea worth sharing
London’s housing crisis is well publicised but solutions to the problem are harder to find. While there is a housing shortfall across the entire country, particularly in affordable housing, (construction of social housing in England fell by 26% last year) the problems associated with this chronic lack of supply are most acutely felt in London.
With a rising population of 8.3 million, the amount of people living in the capital is set to increase by a million within the next decade, easily surpassing London’s all-time population peak of 8.6 million in 1939. It is estimated that London needs to build 52,000 new homes per year to sustain this growth, last year we built just 17,000. The effects of this shortfall are plain to see and range from spiralling house prices.
But what of the solutions? Several have been proffered, some of which, like building more luxury high-rises or developing the green belt, lack both logic and credibility, while others, such as expanding the private rental market or prohibiting land-banking, offer more intriguing prospects. But one strategy rarely mentioned is cohousing. But that could all be set to change as London’s first cohousing development opens in Stoke Newington.
One to six Copper Lane is a small development of six houses designed by Henley Halebrown Rorrison Architects. Its design is based on the cohousing model, a housing arrangement that is widespread in much of Europe, Canada and the United States but is relatively untested here. 

1-6 Copper Lane by Henley Halebrown Rorrison Architects | Building Studies | Building Design

And here is an extended article from last week's Observer:

Copper Lane review – an appealing, harmonious, cost-effective model for communal living

London's first co-housing project strikes an elegant balance between communal living and leafy seclusion

Rowan Moore The Observer, Sunday 31 August 2014
Jump to comments (184)

‘One of the pleasures of the project is the multiplicity of ways of occupying it’: Copper Lane in Stoke Newington, London. Photograph: Henley Halebrown Rorrison

This sounds like the reality show from hell: seven adults and six children, not all known to each other at the start, get together to design and build six houses for themselves. They borrow money, buy a piece of land with no planning permission attached, hire architects, other professionals and a building contractor. They negotiate with each other as to who gets what bit of the project for what money. Six years later they move in. The builder has recently presented the final bill, making a total construction cost of £1.8m, against earlier, inevitably optimistic, estimates of £1.45m. "We've only just figured out how much each of us will pay," says one of the residents, Simon Bayly.

Their development, called Copper Lane, has no private gardens or washing machines, but shared open spaces, a laundry and a communal room for parties, music and games, which have to be collectively managed and maintained. The project could have been a fusion of Big Brother, Changing Rooms and, for the bravado with which those involved seem to have taken on a possibly impossible task, The Apprentice. Yet, far from sinking into a stew of acrimony, they seem to be on as good terms as ever, as they discuss who gets to use the new communal leaf-blower.

It is, as far as they know, the first example in London of co-housing, a concept developed in Denmark in the 1960s, although Bertrand Russell floated a similar idea in an essay in the 1930s. The best-known example in Britain is Springhill, a 34-home settlement in Stroud, Gloucestershire. In its fullest form residents cook for each other in a shared kitchen, and their guests can stay in common spare bedrooms. Regular communal cooking won't happen at Copper Lane, in which respect "it's not hardcore", says the architect Simon Henley. "But it has been pretty hardcore to share the construction process, and to get this far."

Copper Lane's upper floorplan. Photograph: Henley Halebrown Rorrison

His practice, Henley Halebrown Rorrison, was chosen after 10 were interviewed. They were selected, says Bayly, because of their "sociological vision". Henley says that the architecture of other co-housing schemes is often indistinguishable from conventional homes, apart from the addition of the communal facilities. If the residents wanted "to live that life", he felt, "we needed to find a new typology for it".

It was necessary to judge "the extent to which they expose and share, and the extent to which they are private and individual. It's not about a forced communality, but allowing people to share if they want to," Henley says. The architects also had to achieve some sort of equality between the houses, in a situation where some parts of the development would be different from others. The site is placed in the backlands of north London terraces, surrounded with rear gardens. Some parts will inevitably have better light or aspect than others. "There was always going to be a north corner," says Ken Rorrison of HHbR. So it was not a case of making each house exactly the same, but of balancing and compensating the attractions and disbenefits of each.

The idea of building a conventional terrace was quickly discarded. The architects spent longer considering a single large villa, carved out internally into six homes, before settling on a concentric arrangement. In the middle is the single-storey communal hall whose flat roof makes a first-floor courtyard. It is wrapped in the six homes, which rise two or three storeys and are in turn wrapped by a perimeter garden.

'Interiors can have their kitchens on the top, middle or ground floor. They can be extrovert or enclosed.' Photograph: Henley Halebrown Rorrison

It can be read as a single structure, with a consistent palette of pinkish-cream brick and timber cladding, and an irregular roofline that goes up and down as it tries to minimise its impacts on the neighbours. It can also be read as a collection of houses, although it's not always clear where one ends and the next starts. At times balconies and windows face into the court; at others they are turned away, to give privacy and seclusion. The interiors are also consistent in their finishes – unpainted plaster, Douglas fir, screeded floors – but they achieve a surprising variety in their arrangements. They can have their kitchens on the top, middle or ground floor. They can be extrovert or enclosed. They can look into the courtyard and join the co-housing microsociety, or they can look into treetops and feel miles away.

One of the pleasures of the project is the multiplicity of ways of occupying it. It's like a small castle or a large climbing frame, something that can be clambered over and explored. Each bit of the encircling garden, although the landscaping is still raw, already feels different from the next. Each house has two or three entrance doors – you can come and go through the communal hall, or through a separate entrance. Your neighbours can know your movements, or not.

Copper Lane is about achieving "a balance of what is good for the group and what is good for the individual", says Giovanna Mabanta, who with her partner initiated the whole idea. The building has some flawed details – it could do with some more handrails on the stairs, for example – but it convincingly realises this balance. It has happened, she says, "against all the odds. You had to be tough to decide things. Group work is hard." Decisions were not by majority, but consensual. Anyone could oppose an idea but they would have to propose an alternative. They couldn't just say no.

Different people would have their own skills and knowledge, for example in design or finance, and would contribute them. Some have psychotherapeutic experience, which may have helped. The level of mutual support seems to have been extraordinary: "People were lending each other money, six-figure sums, on trust," says Bayly. Ultimately "everyone knew we were doing this for a good reason. If you didn't share the ideal, why would you sign up?"

Houses can look into the communal courtyard or ‘into treetops and feel miles away'. Photograph: Henley Halebrown Rorrison

The outcome is a vision of city life in which, for example, the garden is a far richer place than it would be if it were divided into six private handkerchiefs. Others, such as children at a nearby Steiner school, are invited in. It has its advantages for almost every stage of life, from childhood to old age, and one of the residents has said she only wants to leave feet first. It doesn't require everyone to be close friends but, as Bayly puts it, "really good neighbours. We've seen each other in times of stress, but we don't have to have everything in common. That's what a community is."

"If we can survive the building of it," says Mabanta, "we can have a peaceful, harmonious life. It's an example for everyone."

It has the added advantage of being cost-effective, as other houses in the area of similar size can sell for 40% more than the cost of those at Copper Lane, which is not to say it's exactly the solution to southern England's notorious housing problems. It is too singular for that, the creation of an unusual group of individuals who had the advantage of having some property to start with. But, compared with the stacked-up investment units that pass for much new housing, it's an appealing model.

Copper Lane review – an appealing, harmonious, cost-effective model for communal living | Art and design | The Observer

See how the idea is doing in the States:
How to Own a Home Before Your 20th Birthday - Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

1 comment:

Charles Durrett said...

Greetings Fellow Communitarians,

Who do you know who would like to create more Cohousing?
We would like to get the word out for anyone contemplating a cohousing community: The way to do it is to start right, with the tools to set you up for success. You can get those at Study Group I, a 5 day workshop with North America's 3 leading experts in cohousing in a small setting, with others like yourselves, trying to follow their dream.

I am on fire to get more cohousing communities built, and make sure their founders have the resources and knowledge they need.

We’ll be hosting our cohousing development seminar Study Group I 2014 at the Nevada City Cohousing Community. This year the syllabus will expand to include topics related to "How to Get Senior Cohousing Moving at a Faster Pace in North America." The cohousing concept honors seniors and offers its residents community, security, and a healthy lifestyle that enables them to successfully age-in-place. It's a concept that works for intergenerational communities, senior cohousing, in urban, rural, and small town settings alike. I think that you would have a lot to contribute to this conversation.

This 5-day workshop will bring together professionals involved in cohousing and senior cohousing around North America who are motivated to look at the big picture as well as the particulars of budget, siting, and the other details involved in getting specific projects built.

This is the most comprehensive training available in North America to help seniors plan for successful aging and create new senior cohousing communities. Five days of hands-on learning with the world’s premiere experts in creating cohousing:

Charles Durrett
Chuck is the award-winning architect who pioneered the cohousing movement in the U.S. with, his partner and wife, Kathryn McCamant. McCamant & Durrett Architects has designed more than 50 cohousing communities in the United States and Canada. Chuck lives in the 34-unit Nevada City Cohousing community with 20 seniors.

James Leach
James has developed innovative housing since 1965 and is president of Wonderland Hill Development Company (www.whdc.com), the largest developer of cohousing in the U.S. Since 1990, Jim has developed 18 cohousing communities, including Silver Sage, one of the first senior communities in the U.S. and where he lives.

Kathryn McCamant
Katie is a founding principal of McCamant & Durrett Architects, The Cohousing Company, and Cohousing Partners. In her 20 years of experience, she had acted as project manager and developer for cohousing groups, developing eight communities in Northern California, and consulting on dozens of others. Katie lives in Nevada City Cohousing.

Come join us for Aging Successfully 2014 this October 6–10 in Nevada City, California. You can be instrumental in creating the vibrant small town community life that today’s seniors truly want, right now.

Please refer to our website, http://www.cohousingco.com for workshop details and additional information. Feel free to share this information with your friends, family, and network. If you or they need help or have questions you can give me a call (530) 265-9980 [Mon-Fri, PST].

Let’s reinvent community together!



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