In case you were wondering, yes the subtitle was an Apple joke.
You might have heard of the term “co-housing” from a lot of different places. It is said to be the next idea, completely transforming how we live our lives, with articles and ted talks praising how much it could achieve. But what exactly is co-housing? Let’s bring out the dictionary (because I am lazy).
(Co-housing is) A residential development in which individual households share some common facilities or amenities, and residents are communally responsible for managing the community. (Oxford dictionaries)
“Well, we have such housings already, its called an apartment! We share the same carpark and sometimes a garden too”, you say. So what is the difference between the two? Let’s examine the following 2 scenarios.
You live in a apartment complex with 500 people. Today you go to work as usual, as you exit the building lobby the receptionist says good morning, so you politely replied as well. On your way to the car park, you noticed the uniform of the guards changed, which you remembered immediately that the changed the security company because the current one is cheaper. Upon reaching your car, you found out that there was a scratch. You furiously rush to the management office and demands to know who the car next to you belongs to. Yet they replied with a bill and insist you to pay this month’s management fee before they tell you the owner. So you paid and they told you the owner of the car, which turns out to be the guy who lives next to you. You were suppose to reach the office at 10am but you called the office for a leave as the guy won’t answer his door.
You live in a Co-Housing complex, along with Mike’s family, Jimmy’s family, Kaite and her parents and Patrick and his wife, 21 people in total. Today you go to work as usual, walk out the front door, greeted by Jimmy’s son who is going to school, who was waiting for you because today you are responsible to take him to school as his parents are on vacation. As the two of you are walking towards the car park, Patrick rushed up and tell you that he is sorry for scratching your car and is willing to pay for the fix. After assessing the scratch, you tell him not to worry but will call the cops next time, in a joking manner. You start the car at 8:30am, reaching Jimmy’s son’s school at 9am and arrived at your office at 10am.
The difference between a normal housing model and co-housing is the sense of community and collaboration.
It is very easy to tell that the first scenario is an apartment complex and the second one is a Co-Housing complex. In a co-housing complex, residences usually know each other by name and often attend activities together. For example, every Monday residences would gather to have dinner together and would fountain together on a Saturday morning. Within the small community, residences look out for each other, care for each other, forming a bigger family within themselves. Rather than having only one mother and father, a child might have several ‘mother’ character that takes care of him or in the case above, another ‘father’ to take him to school.
Co-housing is not a new idea, in fact it is as old as the human species. The book Sapiens pointed out that our ancestors live in similar ways too. Homo Sapiens tends to live in camps that consist of multiple groups. In those camps there are no confinement towards a single mother or father, which means having sex with multiple partners just a norm. This not only ensure a better chance of fertility but also decreasing the chance of infant and child mortality, as more fathers would care for the child. Although we do not practice such lifestyles now-a-days, co-housing practices still have a lot of positive impact on us, such as increased happiness and communitas, decreased chances of accidents and pre-mature deaths. Co-housing is just a fancy name for “living together with a bunch of people who are not your blood-related-family” and the model certainly existed long before the fancy name.
German / Bau: construction, Genossenschaft: cooperative
Baugenossenschaft, the German version of the co-housing model which has existed since 1867, originated from East Germany where a lot of people find themselves not being able to buy houses. So they shared, both the money and the house, forming a Baugenossenschaft — an organisation that buys on behalf of its members.
The organisation borrows money from the bank and buy land from the government on behalf of the members. It then hire architects to design houses for the members — future residences. These residences do not own the houses in the building but have the right to live there forever, even passing it to the next generation. In this organisation, everything is decided democratically, from the size of the land being purchased, to the design of the building, to a new member wanting to move into the building.
Unlike the ever-increasing real estate prices in the market, these flats and houses never rises in price but the opposite — the rent decreases year after year and after the bank loan is paid off, electricity and water are the only fees that residences have to pay.
In terms of design, these buildings/ houses do not operate the normal way. Instead of a family living in a medium-sized flat, it might be a combination of 7 adults and 4 children living in a 2-storey house, sharing most of the amenities such as the kitchen, bathroom and dining room etc. Therefore, other than bedrooms, which are private, other areas of the house is totally open, inviting a lot of new design thinking in terms of lighting, air flow, partitioning and sound.
This aged old practice flourished throughout the whole of Germany, helping people who cannot afford houses in, and continuing to this date.
Shek Kip Mei Estate
Hong Kong’s first public housing estate
In 1953, there was a huge fire that burned for 6 hours, completely erasing all the ghettos along the mountainside in Shek Kip Mei, Hong Kong. As a result, the then Colonial government built a series of resettlement estates on the burned-down site. Completed in 1977, these 7-storey buildings housed its residences in 100-square-meter (~10m²) flats, with shared toilets and kitchens.
Though very poor, these estates were famous for its low crime rates, and residences even would open their doors during the day not having to worry about thieves. This is due to the sense of community in the estate. As these flats are only separated by a thin wall, residences are extremely close to each other, both physically and non-physically. They knew each other by name and would often share items such as cooking oil, soy sauce etc. They also look out for each other, sometimes taking care of children from other flats when their parents are not home. Though poor, these people live very happy lives with a lot of them becoming tycoons and famous people in Hong Kong.
Though these flats are extremely small and the amenities that they share is different, they serve as a model and case study for future co-housing initiatives.
Now you know what Co-Housing — the hot topic in architecture means. You have also seen schemes that existed before the re-branding of “living together with a bunch of people who are not your blood-related-family”. What’s next? Well why not look at how people do things now?