Urban Cohousing: An emergent form of high-performance supportive housing

“The City is like a large house, and the House is like a small city.” Leon Battista Alberti

In May I was given the opportunity to travel to Portland to attend parts of the Living Futures Conference and to document the recent housing-related developments around the city. One of these sessions featured at the Conference was a tour showcasing a concept of multifamily housing known as ‘cohousing.’ There are many reasons why people may choose to organize and live within a cohousing community, but I am particularly excited about the concept’s potential for shaping more resilient communities.

I toured PDX Commons, a 4-story, 27-unit building that is very much like any other multifamily housing development. Unlike typical forms of housing, cohousing developments tend to be organized around a few common characteristics:

PDX Commons Lobby, Library, and Living Room – the ground floor sequence flows from front door through the common living spaces to the backyard patio as with any familiar home.

Because so much emphasis is placed on shared spaces, resident participation and group consensus, a substantial amount of work goes into building the community before an architect is ever selected to design a building for the community. Once the future residents know what kind of spaces they desire and what they hope to get from their future building, the design of the building (or buildings) and its complementary spaces can be designed to engender the community the residents have already started to build. Research has indicated that many individual benefits come from living within a community:

t the heart of PDX Commons, the Great Room opens onto the second-floor courtyard. Residents gather here to share meals (prepared in a kitchen behind the photograph), socialize, study, and make decisions.

The cohousing concept isn’t new. Societies around the world have lived in similar situations for thousands of years, but the modern form of cohousing was developed in Denmark in the early 70s. While the model has grown worldwide, it has increased in popularity in recent years as baby-boomers have desired a down-sized, invigorated social life and young families search for flexible and enriched ways to raise children. Newer cohousing developments are more likely to engage LEED and Living Future projects because of this emphasis on generational wellbeing, diversity, and legacy. Because cohousing communities focus decision-making on modes of consensus-building, high-performance buildings are more likely to be successful as a result of the committed buy-in.

As cities large and small continue to grow, designers need to grapple with the challenges posed by limited space and resources, the mental and physical healthiness of city inhabitants, the environmental impact of buildings, and economic diversity in the current paradigm of design and construction. Cohousing may only be small part of the mix of designed solutions to these challenges, but the social, environmental, and financial benefits arising hold a promise of highly-resilient supportive housing in the many positive outcomes of this mode of living.

External corridors organized around a common court not only provide light access to all units but also encourage social interactions. Residents in each stack of units worked together to determine their unit layouts. Residents can get to Downtown Portland by an 18-minute bus ride right from their front door. Another 10 minutes on the bus will get residents to parks, hiking, and other recreational destinations.

Cohousing examples:
Daybreak Cohousing, Portland, OR: http://www.daybreakcohousing.org/SiteandDesign.html

Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing, Seattle, WA: https://capitolhillurbancohousing.org/overview/

Silver Sage Village, Boulder, CO : http://silversagevillage.com/look-around/

Vancouver Cohousing, Vancouver, BC: https://vancouvercohousing.com/the-project/

Vashon Cohousing, Vashon, WA : http://vashoncohousing.com/

Mosaic Commons, Berlin, MA: http://www.cohousing.org/Mosaic%20Commons

Additional resources:
The Cohousing Association of the United States: http://www.cohousing.org/what_is_cohousing

UK Cohousing (and research): https://cohousing.org.uk/information/research/

Canadian Cohousing Network: http://cohousing.ca/

Additional reading:
Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves ­https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22851499604&searchurl=tn%3DCohousing%253A%2BA%2BContemporary%2BApproach%2Bto%2BHousing%2BOurselves.%26sortby%3D17%26an%3DMcCamant%252C%2BKathryn%253B%2BDurrett%252C%2BCharles.&cm_sp=snippet-_-srp1-_-title1

Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities – https://www.newsociety.com/Books/C/Creating-Cohousing

The Senior Cohousing Handbook: A Community Approach to Independent Living – https://www.newsociety.com/Books/S/The-Senior-Cohousing-Handbook-2nd-Edition

CoHousing Cultures: self-organized, community-oriented, and sustainablehttps://cohousing-cultures.net/uber-das-buch/?lang=en

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