What is Cohousing?
Cohousing is an intentional community or neighborhood where people know and look after each other. It's intentionality that sets cohousing apart from other types of housing models. Members of cohousing come together to actively create and share in a community, organizing around common characteristics like building relationships, neighborhood design, community participation, and shared values. Cohousing is often pedestrian-friendly, managed, maintained, and governed by the residents, and includes participation in shared activities and meals.
In cohousing, each family or member has a private residence. The type of residence can vary, from single family homes to multi-family models. These private residences have all the amenities you would find in a typical dwelling (bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, living spaces), giving autonomy to each family unit. However, in addition to these private spaces, cohousing members contribute to the maintenance and use of substantial shared spaces, both indoor and out, that link the private homes. Of the shared spaces utilized in cohousing, the Common House is ubiquitous.
Advancing the Cohousing Movement
One of the things we have learned over the past decade is that designing a cohousing community can be a challenging one for most architects. In fact, there are easily 50+ architects in North America who have worked on one cohousing project (and have said, “never again”), and yet there are only a handful of architects who have worked with multiple cohousing communities. The design team at Schemata Workshop is in that latter group…we enjoy engaging our clients in the design process, and are especially energized by the challenges of cohousing
We want to grow the number of architects who are skilled in this process so that more cohousing communities can be built. Now. This means that architects who are successfully working with cohousing groups, like Schemata Workshop, need to mentor other architects. We’re confident this approach will help ensure the cohousing movement grows to become a mainstream housing option.
If you are an architect, consider collaborating with us on your first cohousing project. We will share strategies to make your first cohousing project a success for not only your clients, but also for your practice. We want to prepare you for the process so that once the first project is completed, you will have the enthusiasm to take on the next one.
If you are a forming cohousing group or cohousing developer looking to assemble your design team, consider contracting with us as a coach to work with your local architect.
We have been approached by many people from around the globe with questions about cohousing. To address the variety of requests, we developed a number of options in which we can contribute our expertise to your community. Initial discussion with you to determine the best approach is not billable, and simply part of our effort to establish the right relationship at the outset.
Coaching for Groups – We offer regular monthly check-ins to monitor progress and determine next steps for your cohousing project. There is a fixed monthly rate, with a discount for pre-paying for a 12-month period. We also offer coaching for groups on an as-need hourly-basis.
Peer Review – We can review drawings prepared by your architect to provide constructive input at key points in the design process.
Developing your brand or cohousing inspired ideas – For real estate developers or entrepreneurs who want creative, innovative input on your housing concepts with a focus on creating community and social cohesion. We can work on an hourly services contract or develop a fixed fee proposal for a specified scope of services.
Common House Design – The Common House is where community life is most apparent. The design of this critical space should be well considered. Architects with Schemata Workshop has extensively studied Common Houses throughout Denmark and North America to best understand what has/has not worked in other communities to ensure the success of your Common House. While you may choose to have your homes designed by a local architect or builder, hire Schemata Workshop to design your Common House to incorporate these best practices.
Programming Workshops – A building program outlines your group's goals, conditions and objectives for your project and specifies things like activities, occupancy and sustainability goals. It can include more detailed requirements such as room sizes, space needed per person, relationships between spaces, equipment needs and budget. We can conduct workshops for site planning, common house, and your homes. We find it most productive to engage with your local architect and developer in this process.
Speaking Engagements – Schemata Workshop founding partners Grace Kim and Mike Mariano have presented on the topic of cohousing, sustainable urban design and planning, and high-performance buildings at national, regional, and local events. See our events page for recent topics. Presentations can be customized to suit your individual needs.
Full Architectural Services – Schemata Workshop is a full services architectural firm and can work with you to design new buildings or renovate existing structures and adapt them to suit your cohousing needs. We can help you evaluate potential sites, develop your site plan, conduct Programming Workshops, design your homes and Common House and produce the drawings and documents needed for the permitting and construction process. We can serve as your advocate during the construction process by administering the construction contract, answering questions as they arise, and helping to ensure the integrity of the completed buildings. We recommend having a General Contractor on the team from the outset so they can help you make informed budget decisions. We can also help you prepare documents before hiring your General Contractor to procure competitive bids to construct your project, if that is your preference.
Coaching for Design Professionals – Congratulations! You’ve been hired to design your first cohousing project. While you might know how to design housing, consider whether you would benefit from working with an experienced team to design a Common House or work most effectively with multi-headed client that uses a group decision-making process. Schemata Workshop can help you establish a clear working relationship with your client while honoring their group processes. We can suggest strategies for effectively engaging the community at key points along the design process and we can alert you to the potential pitfalls to avoid. We can also provide peer review of drawings at key milestones during the design process.
Tours of Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing (CHUC)
A general information session and tour of CHUC is typically available at 10am on the second Saturday of each month, with limited spots available for each date.
To attend a tour, please choose a date and sign-up on Eventbrite. Hope to see you there!
The Common House
The "living room" of a community, the Common House sets an impression for visitors about cohousing, indicates what a community might value, and can change perceptions about the benefits of living in community. Schemata Workshop has analyzed dozens of common houses in Denmark and North America. The analysis and research done has allowed us to developed a depth of knowledge that gives our firm a unique understanding of what makes the most effective, friendly, and welcoming common houses.
Some of this analysis took place in 2004 when Grace received a research fellowship as part of her study at the University of Washington. The fellowship allowed her to dedicate a year to immersing herself in cohousing culture, with an emphasis on the analysis of Common House design. This in-depth study and analysis is detailed in her thesis and book Design of the Cohousing Common House. Following Christopher Alexander's concept of Pattern Language, Grace Kim thoroughly documented the necessary programmatic and design elements for a successful Common House. The Common House typically includes a kitchen, dining area or great room, play areas for children, laundry, and lounging areas, though the specific make up of each Common House will depend on the needs of its users. Shared workshops, exercise rooms, libraries, or guest rooms might also be included in the amenities of the Common House.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a hard-copy of Design of the Cohousing Common House.
Posters of Danish Cohousing Communities
As part of Grace Kim's 2004 cohousing research, a selection of Danish Cohousing Communities were documented and are available for electronic use. Please contact us at email@example.com to request full-size paper copies.