Interesting alternatives living and working typologies for co-living examined with background on a possible history
Last month I attended a SPACE10 forum led by New York-based design duo Anton and Irene on the resurgence of co-living. They suggest the financial squeeze of modern life combined with an upsurge in digital nomads is bringing the ‘sharing economy’ into the home. As 40% of the urban areas required by 2030 are not yet built—which means a city the size of New York needs to be constructed globally every month—it is crucial architects stay up-to-date with contemporary living patterns to respond appropriately to shifts in housing requirements. My last Archinect feature of the year will provide a short overview of the history and challenges that co-living has previously faced, discuss trends emerging from the ‘ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030‘ survey and speak to Dorte Mandrup, architect of the Lang Eng Co-housing Community, on how to approach the challenge of designing successful spaces for co-living.
‘Co-living’, an umbrella term for different types of ‘co-housing’ setups, can loosely be defined as a home where two or more people live together who are not related. While ‘co-housing’ is an intentional community created and run by residents, ‘co-living’ may also encompass shared accommodation initiated by an external agent, such as a developer or entrepreneur.
Aside from the investor rush to fuel co-living startups, concrete figures on the international co-living boom are not yet available. However, early indicators such as the UN now offering support to co-living initiatives within their sustainable development goals and last year’s prestigious Harvard Wheelwright architecture prize being awarded to a project innovating in co-living, suggest it is gaining traction. While it is indisputable that young people strapped for cash have always had roommates—think Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords—co-living is now simultaneously becoming part of everyday urban life and billion-dollar business.
I expect most people reading this who have lived in cities during their 20’s have experienced a houseshare, myself included. I rented a terrace with friends in Sheffield, moved into a Danish kollegium when I started my masters in Copenhagen and had a stint in a family attic while working in London. But rather than remaining a student necessity, increasing numbers of families and professionals are now opting to co-share. This also reflects a surge in the rental market, which in the US has jumped from 52% of total adults in 2005 to 60% in 2013. This is perhaps unsurprising with soaring urban property prices and take-home wages barely rising across the country, a pattern which is echoed in cities worldwide.
Last year Anton and Irene initiated ONE SHARED HOUSE as they became fascinated in how co-living seemed to be experiencing a cultural resurgence. The documentary maps Irene’s childhood experience of growing up in a communal house in Amsterdam. In the early 1980’s Amsterdam was facing an acute housing shortage so the government enacted a law ruling that 1% of all apartments had to be communal. In 1984 Irene’s mom responded to a newspaper ad for a co-share and moved their family into Kollontai, a communal house with 8 other women and their 3 children designed by the new brutalist architect Sier van Rhijn. In the film, Irene explains “they were feminists and non-conformists […] and many were rebelling against the traditional 1950’s families they had grown up in.”
“Whenever I would tell people I grew up in a communal house”, Irene explains to me, “it inevitably turns into a 30-minute conversation about the pros and cons of communal living.” To delve deeper into the subject, she contacted architect Sier van Rhijn about his experience of designing Dutch co-living spaces during that period. “It was fun,” he explained, “even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.”
It was fun. Even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.” Sier van Rhijn, architect
Modern co-living can be traced back to thoughts emerging from Denmark in the 1960s, which crystallized in Bodil Graae’s 1967 newspaper article ‘Children Should Have One Hundred Parents’. There was a consensus at the time that modern housing was unable to provide adequate wellbeing for occupants over their lifetimes, and that ‘bofællesskab’ (living community) should instead be the aim for future housing projects. In 1972, a group of families were inspired to create the Sættedammen co-share, realized by architects Palle Dyreborg and Theo Bjerg. The project is generally accepted to be one of the first contemporary co-shares, favoring both autonomy from powerful landlords and the Danish government. The living community approach was introduced to the States in 1989 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their book ‘Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves’.