In Community: You Need Not Reinvent the Wheel

Mountain View Cohousing, California
Mountain View Cohousing, California
Trudeslund, Denmark
Trudeslund, Denmark

Cohousing in Denmark was catapulted into success with the collaboration of the very capable architect Jan Gudmand Hoyer and the architectural firm Vandkunsten. Their idea was inspired by the article titled "Children Should Have One Hundred Parents," by Bodil Graae. Using a village model they created a cohousing community that invited its residents to live autonomously but together -- making the thesis of the article a reality. When the community was completed, a multitude of visitors walked into that village and said to themselves, "Now I could live here. I'm going to go home and make one of these in my town."

The first cohousing community in Denmark was finished in 1972. Trudeslund, the 12th community built, was finished in 1980 and stands as an ideal model for cohousing communities being built today. From 1980 to 1990, over 100 communities were finished, and the positive influence of Trudeslund is evident in most of them.

Based on my observations and the observations of other professionals, the best cohousing projects are made today by architects who have designed at least 15 cohousing communities. In other words, these architects including the two that accomplished Trudeslund have made a serious study of the topic.

By contrast, the worst cohousing communities are made by new architects who visit a few cohousing projects, go into their studios, and give cohousing a try. The results are mediocre at best. The reason is simple: Mediocracy is what you get when you cobble together anecdotal and piecemeal data. The upshot is that mediocracy ends up costing a lot more, ends up taking longer, doesn't work well for its residents, and does not encourage the construction of new cohousing communities. Please avoid the trap of mediocracy.

The best Danish and American architects rely on a process that determines first and foremost how to respond exactly to the needs, wants, and desires of a specific resident group. That is, these professionals are focused on optimizing the potential of each particular group. The cohousing project that results fits them like a glove, not like a grocery bag, and definitely not like a straight jacket. Good and appropriately budgeted cohousing projects are always accomplished with a clear and deliberate process.

How do you keep from falling into the trap of mediocracy? Work with professionals who have experience in creating successful, high-functioning cohousing communities. Don't follow designers just because they are nice people, especially if you and your group members think, "None of us have a clue what we are doing, but I sure like hanging out with these people." Don't do it. Don't fall into that trap.

To end on another important note, many senior cohousing communities base their vision and mission statements on established senior cohousing criteria. This is a best practice that serves to get them started in the right direction. For a complete look at the criteria for senior cohousing, please follow this link: www.cohousingco.com/criteria-for-senior-cohousing/.

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Comments

Cohousing Professionals and Not Reinventing the Wheel

I applaud Chuck's call that the best cohousing architects "rely on a process that determines first and foremost how to respond exactly to the needs, wants, and desires of a specific resident group" and have made a serious study of cohousing. I disagree however in his ascertain that the best cohousing communities are those designed by architects with 15 communities of experience. My own Durham Cohousing, an urban condominium building self developed by our community which opened in 2014, has won several architectural awards - and was designed by architects brand new to cohousing. Our success was due in good part to engaging Laura Fitch with Kraus Fitch Architects (a firm with considerable cohousing experience) in a one-day design training, to provide tools for our community in working with our architects. I encourage groups who are creating cohousing to consider engaging a cohousing professional. Visit http://www.cohousing.org/professionals
Alice Alexander, Coho/US Executive Director