Cohousing is a housing development movement that started in the late 1960s in Denmark, where it is called Bofaellesskaber or 'living communities'. With increasing numbers of women going to work there was a desire to reduce the burden of housework, and in particular childcare and evening meals, through shared communal services. Cohousing is also seen to improve social relations and develop a sense of community. What started as a middle-class housing solution popular with young families, is now a well established housing model for all social groups, and has spread to a number of Northern European countries where governmental policy and funding has encouraged development. It is also becoming increasingly popular in the US, Canada and New Zealand, where cohousing has a more explicit environmental agenda, sharing many similarities with ecovillages but usually in a less radical, smaller and more urban version. Historically, cohousing has its roots in communitarian and feminist movements of the C19 and C20, including Charles Fourier's phalanx, the co-operative housekeeping model developed by Melusina Fay Peirce and Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities movement.
Usually purpose built, cohousing neighbourhoods consist of private homes with shared facilities, where residents own their dwellings as well as a share in the communal facilities. Neighbourhoods are self-managed through regular meetings usually operating a form of consensus decision making. The size of such developments varies in scale from 10-40 units and the ratio of common to private amenities also differs, but most tend to include private kitchens in addition to a communal kitchen. Other shared facilities can include laundry, heating, transport, open spaces and guest rooms. There are many successful cohousing schemes in Denmark, one of the older examples built in 1978 is Tinggården, which was the result of a design competition for alternative settlements organised by the Danish government. Designed by the architectural practice, Vandkunsten, the apartments have a flexible layout that allows families to expand or shrink their home according to need, by adding or relinquishing rooms to adjoining flats.
A recent purpose built cohousing development in the UK is located in Stroud, Gloucestershire, ranging from four bedroom houses to studio flats and consisting of thirty-two units in total. A resident driven initiative, a company was established to develop the site and own the freehold. Designed by Architype in consultation with future residents, the development incorporates a Common House at the centre of the site, which houses a communal kitchen where residents are obliged to cook once a month. Day-to-day decisions are made at monthly meetings of the residents' association, which includes groups who deal with the kitchen, garden, maintenance etc. Thus through a careful mixture of spatial design, common amenities and formal social structures cohousing is able to encourage social interaction between residents and can help create more resilient and connected communities.
Martin Field, Thinking about CoHousing. The creation of intentional neighbourhoods (London: Diggers & Dreamers, 2004)
---, CoHousing in Britain (London: Diggers &
Dorit Fromm, 'American cohousing: the first five years', Journal of architectural and planning research, 17 (2000): 94-109.
Clare Cooper Marcus, 'Site planning, building design and a sense of community: an analysis of six cohousing schemes in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands', Journal of architectural and planning research, 17 (2000): 146-163.
Jo Williams, 'Designing Neighbourhoods for Social Interaction: The Case of Cohousing', Journal of Urban Design, 10 (2005): 195.
'The Older Women's CoHousing Web Site', http://www.owch.org.uk/index.html [accessed 27 April 2010].
'Cohousing Company Ltd', http://www.users.waitrose.com/~cohouses/index.htm [accessed 27 April 2010].
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