Definition of Co-Housing:
“a cooperative living arrangement in which people build a cluster of single and family houses around a common building for shared meals, child care, guest rooms, etc.”
“facilitates interaction among neighbors for social and practical, economical and environmental benefits, etc.”
The model of co-housing has been established in 1960 in Denmark with the oldest known and modern project „Soettedammen“ in order to improve the housing, working and living condition of workers. Co-housing is understood as a self-organized, community oriented, collaborative and sustainable housing in which residents actively participate in the design of their houses and management of their neighborhoods. The development encourages neighborhood engagement, implementing ecological buildings, saving energy and other resources.
Since each co-housing community is planned in its context, a key feature of this model is the encouragement of social interaction and its flexibility to the needs and values of its residents.
Participation of the residents is the main aim of this model: Residents manage their own co-housing communities, and also perform much of the work required to maintain the property. They participate in the preparation of common meals, and meet regularly to solve problems and develop policies for the community.
Further, the design of co-housing encourages individual space and social contact. Even though private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as kitchen, dining area, sitting area, children’s playroom, laundry, open space, courtyards, playgrounds and common houses. These common facilities, designed for daily use, are an integral part of the community, and always supplemental to the private residences.
Co-housing provides solutions for many of contemporary society’s challenges:
- Creating Community: When it comes to quality of life and good health, relationships are very essential. Humans thrive in close physical and emotional relations to others.
- Building Sustainability: Energy costs are reduced with co-housing’s environmentally friendly structures, shared resources, and sustainable approach.
- Enhancing Life: Sharing challenges – from preparing food, to ensuring children and elders care, in order to meet the needs of the residents and provide a secure and relaxed life. Further sharing delights of conversation, meals, and milestones leads to more enjoyable life.
Currently, with the aging and rapid growth of population, shrinking number of working age, rising rents and times of individualization, the need of affordable housing, social inclusion and related to that the demand of co-housing has been growing. Thus to that, different kind of co-housings have been established all over the world. (e.g. Multi-generational co-housing, co-housing for people over 50, co-housing for Women, etc.)
Case Study: „Alte Schule Karlshorst“
One exemplar of a multi-generational co-housing is the „Alte Schule Karlshorst“ (eng.; Old School Karlshorst) in the eastern area of Karlshorst, Berlin, which is first and foremost influenced by Berlin developments since reunification in 1990. During this development many abandoned, available and affordable buildings and sites were recognized as spaces of opportunity and converted into a great diversity of alternative housing projects.
As one can assume from the name the „Alte Schule Karlshorst“ was a former school, built 1907, which was vacant for 14 years. Through cooperative planning and management former class rooms then have been converted into apartments for 60 residents and the ensemble reused as an integrative multi-generational rental housing.
The project is initiated by the „SelbstBau eg“ (eng.: Do it Yourself) organization, who has acquired and renovated about 20 old buildings in Berlin and developed them into co-housing projects with the participation of future residents.
In 2006, while the the maintaing of the historically protected school ensemble was questioned and in discussion, they took the initiative to develop another multi-generational co-housing project. With the help of a large donation from trias, a non-profit foundation for land, ecology and housing and the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development, they acquired the property and leased it for 99 years.
Following that and with the active participation of the residents the renovation of the school starts in 2006. Due to the fact, that the school is historically protected the character of the school is still evident after the renovation and converting.
The ceilings are still 3.85 m high, the staircase has retained its original dimensions and the large size of the windows has not be changed.
The 21 houses have different sizes of two to five rooms with a size of 55m² to 155m² with a low energy balance. Beside that there are also spaces for bikes, a wood workshop and a large storage room.
Social Aspect: Integrating and Affordable
The main aspect of the project is sociological development. It concentrates on the need of low income class, seniors and disabled people with the aim to integrate the low income class and provide affordable housing.
In order to rent a house in the community, a housing permission in form of a social card, which states that one is in need of affordable housing, is required.
Beside that one third of the houses are reserved for seniors, disabled or people in need of care. The whole property and six apartments are wheelchair accessible and barrier-free.
Even a children house with 10 children is also part of the ensemble. Ten youth from difficult social situations, from age 3 to 16, live there and contribute to the buildingʼs community.
The whole project was developed from the beginning in 2006 to the end in 2008 through cooperative planning and management of the local residents with the Architects and other stakeholders.
After the resident moved into the house they come together regularly for cleaning and working actions, for example in the garden. They contribute to the community as they can with their range of individual skills such as architecture, crafts and social work. Such work parties are often rewarded with a common meal or a barbecue and informal discussions. Through these informal meetings as well as regular gatherings, decisions are made and problems are discussed and made. For example the decision of who gets to move into their building, when an apartment becomes vacant, is discussed and made at one of these informal meetings and gatherings.
The main goal of the project was not only to renovate the historical building in an energy-efficient and sustainable way but also to create a socially rich and interconnected community with mutual assistance among generation and to maintain affordable housing, in order to avoid social exclusion of the poor or the elder.
In conclusion co-housing, depending on ownership structures, but also on local housing, rent and land-use policies, can indeed create gentrification, but above all else be a force for integration and affordability.
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