Last week in Modena, Italy, was held a TEDx entitled Vision of Super. While the title choice might have been influenced by the surroundings (in those days the city hosted also the Motor Valley Fest), the event celebrated a number of personalities that brought innovation to their field of study or work, thanks to their unique forward-looking vision.
And there really was something for everyone. From an aerospace engineer to a PR specialist to an opera singer. But the one that caught my attention the most was the talk by Community Organiser Chiara Casotti.
Ms. Casotti taught art history and worked as an architect for 15 years, then, from 2005 focused on local community development promoting sharing and cooperation within different social organisations. Along with this activity she has also been researching and promoting hybrid living solutions that put collaboration and human relationships at the centre of the development.
Her talk was focused on Co-housing. And thanks to her varied experience, the speech was not only insightful but took the topic from different perspectives, including the one that might affect developers and designers more directly.
The last ten to twenty years brought lots of changes in our lives, the livelihood of many people around the world and crucially how we live our homes. First was the financial crisis, and then the pandemic. The feeling of uncertainty, the forced lockdowns, remote working and consequent financial difficulties, mental health issues and loneliness suddenly became a major problem for a large share of the population.
This impacted, even more, those demographics which are more at risk or live in more precarious situations. Older people are one example because co-housings are generally aimed at a different audience than co-living, which usually cater to the needs of young professionals and digital nomads. In this respect, the house and the way we approach its space regained central importance in everyone’s life.
And it is here that the Co-housing concept comes into play. A similar concept to the one of co-living, the idea at the base is the development of a tight, collaborative community. Differently from co-living though, co-housing presupposes a more stable and long-term kind of arrangement. For this reason, there is less need for a community ‘driver’ such as managers or values to live by as it happens in co-living development.
Image by Keizer Koopmans
What is still important, however, are the shared spaces. Like in other shared-living schemes, larger and more functional communal areas are key in co-housing.
Shared living in co-housing
Co-housing private units are flats or houses complete of every space you’d find in a normal home. Bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and so on. Different from co-livings where residents usually have a bedroom and private bathroom, and all the other spaces are shared, in co-housing, the common areas are an addition to a regular residence. For this reason, co-housing is suited for families too.
Tv lounges, kitchens, libraries, playgrounds for children, gyms, gardens, and other outdoor spaces are the options that co-housing can include. Spaces for people to socialize and tighten relationships developing a true sense of belonging.
The concept was born in Denmark in the 70s. At that time, this idea was important for women entering their professional lives and reconciling it with motherhood. While it was initially developed privately, today, especially in Northern Europe this model is quite popular and various institutions support it. Right now, in fact, co-housings for rent are available as well.
The design and layout of a building and especially of its areas dedicated to the community will then have a huge impact on how the community develops, considering that there are no managers involved. And as stated by cohousing.org site design is a crucial initial step that is usually required by municipalities for permitting, zoning changes. So, it is important to have professionals involved in the early stages as well.
Images courtesy of Alberto Caroli, Angela Cutecchia and Miriam Conte on Behance
Common spaces can be featured within a building or in the case of different houses clustered in the same area, they can also be located in a common house. As for other shared living models, flexibility is extremely important to consider ahead of development. The possibility for residents to adapt to specific needs and preferences is essential. Communities are often developed in suburban or rural areas. The wider spaces allow for more freedom when organising, building, or retro-fitting communal spaces. Also, they promote a greener lifestyle, reducing wastes through sharing of facilities, and the careful development and use of outdoor spaces. Last but not least, sharing could also give easier access to some more luxurious facilities like swimming pools.
Co-housing is usually developed with the collaboration of residents more than via the initiative of a third-party developer. So, it is up to each community member to work along the others to define and prioritise common facilities instead of the private units. This is what ensures success in making a project feel welcoming and functional, but also affordable and energy-efficient.
Images courtesy of Danchun Yao on Behance
Co-housing is a relatively new model that can help people achieve a healthier lifestyle and overcome the difficulties that these two years brought upon us. Most of all, it caters to a wider variety of groups and doesn’t require them to adhere to any specific value or premise outside of the will to cooperate and live close to others. In many ways, it’s still in its infancy, so the opportunities for new ideas and development are many, and while the majority of these projects are started by private groups of citizens, there is room for developers and designers to get involved and collaborate in the growth of this new lifestyle.
Cover Image by Keizer Koopmans