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What Is Co-Housing? Developing a Conceptual Framework from the Studies of Danish Intergenerational Co-Housing



Co-housing forms part of a collaborative housing trend receiving increased interest. The physical layout of co-housing (bofællesskab in Danish) comprise several independent homes in combination with shared spaces and facilities, which support living together, balancing privacy and communality. In Denmark, self-organised groups have established co-housing ever since the early 1970s in different forms and types. Due to the complexity of how these communities have been arranged over time, co-housing includes great variety, which can be challenging when exploring the concept. The paper proposes an empirical and conceptual approach to the emerging literature on intergenerational co-housing, by developing a multi-dimensional spatial framework combined with an investigation of the different designing types of co-housing. By presenting an analysis of Danish intergenerational co-housing, the paper fills an empirical and conceptual gap in the existing co-housing literature, which usually makes references to Danish experiences or analyses some single cases, but rarely explore these more systematically.
What is Co-Housing? Developing a Conceptual Framework from the
Studies of Danish Intergenerational Co-Housing
Anna Falkenstjerne Beck
Aalborg University, Institute of the Built Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark
This is an Original Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Housing, Theory and Society,
published online 30 Jun 2019, available at
To cite this article: Beck, A. F. (2020) What is co-housing? Developing a conceptual framework from the
studies of Danish intergenerational Co-housing, Housing, Theory and Society, vol. 37:1, pp. 40-64.
Co-housing forms part of a collaborative housing trend receiving increased interest. The physical layout
of co-housing (bofællesskab in Danish) comprises several independent homes in combination with
shared spaces and facilities, which support living together, balancing privacy and communality. In
Denmark, self-organised groups have established co-housing ever since the early 1970s in different
forms and types. Due to the complexity of how these communities have been arranged over time, co-
housing includes great variety, which can be challenging when exploring the concept. The paper
proposes an empirical and conceptual approach to the emerging literature on intergenerational co-
housing, by developing a multi-dimensional spatial framework combined with an investigation of the
different designing types of co-housing. By presenting an analysis of Danish intergenerational
co-housing, the paper fills an empirical and conceptual gap in the existing co-housing literature, which
usually makes references to Danish experiences or analyses some single cases, but rarely explore these
more systematically.
Keywords: Concept of co-housing; spatiality; visions; organisation; communality; design
Springing from the collective movement of the late 1960s, the development of co-housing as
lowrise-dense clustered housing originated in Denmark in the early 1970s (Nygaard 1984,
Andersen 1985, Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and Ranten 1988). Danish co-housing has since then
been built both like this and developed further as various types, and as experiments in small
and large scales (Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and Ranten 1988, McCamant & Durrett 2011,
Marckmann 2009, Jakobsen & Larsen 2018). In the 1980s, two American architects, McCamant
and Durrett, came to Denmark to study co-housing with Danish researchers. The American
architects brought the Danish model of co-housing from that time back to the US, where it has
developed and spread (McCamant & Durrett 2011, Meltzer 2005). Later, they came back to
Denmark to elaborate on co-housing in the third edition of their influential book (2011),
stating that ‘Danish cohousing remains the golden standard for cohousing worldwide’
(2011:37). In other European countries like Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, co-housing
projects are also rooted in historical developments, although they are slightly different in
typology, form, and organisation than the Danish co-housing movement (Vestbro & Horelli
2012, Vestbro 2000, Marcus 2000, Fromm 1991). Today, the (re-)emergence and spread of co-
housing is a phenomenon taking place in many countries (Tummers 2017, Jarvis 2015, Krokfors
2012, McCamant & Durrett 2011, Lang et al. 2018). Demographic changes in societies,
resources, and lifestyles play a central part of this phenomenon (Bresson & Denèfle 2015,
Tummers 2015b, Droste 2015). As an alternative to other housing options, however, co-
housing takes up only a minor part of the total building stock in the respective countries
(Vestbro & Horelli 2012).
Ever since the 1970s, the creation of co-housing has primarily been a bottom-up process
(McCamant & Durrett 2011, Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and Ranten 1988, Nygaard 1984).
However, top-down professionalisation of co-housing is gaining acceptance in Denmark, in
new enterprises where developers take the initiative involving the whole process or
municipalities and local communities either take the first steps or welcome establishments of
co-housing projects as a strategic element in planning (e.g. Roskilde, Lejre, Halsnæs, Furesø,
Høje-Tåstrup and Faxe municipalities). Alternative developers currently build co-housing,
attracting people to join the projects, where the framework is designed more, or less
beforehand (,, Bæ
In recent years, a body of international research on intergenerational co-housing has been
carried out (Lang, Carriou, and Czischke 2020; Czischke 2018; Tummers 2017; Sanguinetti 2014
and 2015; Ruiu 2016; Chatterton 2015; Williams 2005 and 2008; Vestbro 2010; special issues:
Fromm 2000; Krokfors 2012; Tummers 2015a). However, more conceptual research is still
needed. Lessons in this paper are learned from a focus on Danish cases. Paradoxically, little
systematic research has been conducted since the late 1980s about Danish intergenerational
co-housing, although projects have continuously been built. Exceptions are Marckmann’s
dissertation about eco-communities (2009), McCamant and Durrett’s book (2011), two master
thesis(Martinussen 2010, Madsen 2012), two ministerial reports (Ganer 2016, Pagh and
Viemose 2016), and recently, an article based on a quantitative survey by Jakobsen & Larsen
(2018), and an article about the Danish history of co-housing related to tenure forms (Larsen
In literature, the co-housing concept tends to be focused on the physical layout and the social
aspects of this living form. An important feature of co-housing is the combination of single unit
dwellings with shared facilities, balancing privacy and communality (Lietaert 2010, Marcus
2000). A common house, where residents dine together some days during the week or do
other activities together is another essential part of co-housing. McCamant and Durrett
(2011:25) operates with six common characteristics of co-housing, which have affected the co-
housing literature: (1) participatory processes, (2) designs that facilitate community, (3)
extensive common facilities, (4) complete residential management, (5) non-hierarchical
structure, (6) separate income sources. Designing for social interaction (social contact-design)
is emphasised by academics and recommended by architects (Fromm 1991, Torres-Antonini
2001, Williams 2005, McCamant and Durrett 2011, Jarvis 2015).
As there is broad variation in types, sizes, and tenure forms, when exploring intergenerational
co-housing from a first view, the projects look quite different from each other. Each co-
housing is uniquely designed, build, and managed in terms of location, methods of formation,
group dynamic, visions and values. However, as the Danish tradition for establishing
intergenerational co-housing has developed through five decades, some types of how to
design co-housing communities emerged through this period. In this article, these designs are
grouped and termed designing types. They are historical rooted, but are at the same time
contemporary, as they have become models for building co-housing. Further, the combination
or crossovers of designing types, mix of tenure forms, and the new developer approach, makes
the concept of co-housing complex, and it raises the question: What are the common
denominators and what are the differentiators of Danish co-housing from a spatial
The aim of the paper is to develop a conceptual framework of co-housing to help to better
understand this many-facetted phenomenon. More specifically, the concept of co-housing is
first theorised as a framework through the lens of spatial dimensions, developing a way to
understand the concept that characterises the common denominators of co-housing. Spatiality
is perceived in an extended manner involving more dimensions than just the physical. As a way
to distinguish what separates co-housing types from each other, three different co-housing
designing types are presented. The designing types are identified in the empirical work and in
the co-housing literature, underlined by historical ideas and designs, exemplified through
representations of selected cases. A matrix of spatial dimensions and designing types is
developed as an analytical tool to explore what co-housing is. Finally, a cross-over of types and
tenures is shown in a current co-housing project developed today.
Research Methods
A combination of literature synthesis, searching co-housing webpages, and empirical research
is used for the paper. The fieldwork had a visual ethnographic perspective, which is an
explorative approach studying visual and spatial qualities obtaining photography, comparing
the different co-housing types, and combining that with ethnographic methods (Pink 2013,
Rose 2007). The research is based on analysing 22 visited co-housing projects in Denmark
(Table.1). Four emerging co-housing projects were followed over a period of two years while
being established. One case did not succeed. In all, 53 persons were interviewed: 25 residents,
20 future residents of emerging co-housing projects, and seven related professionals. Three of
the central cases presented in the paper have been revisited three to four times sometimes
staying overnight, while the case for Jystrup Savværk was a 24-hour visit. The fieldwork
entailed interviews, participatory observations taking field notes involving in common
activities, such as meetings, dinners, parties, development days, and courses. Talking with
residents while walking in and around the co-housing and taking photos of the spatial
structures formed part of the fieldwork activities. The analysis is a combination of framing the
spatial dimensions of co-housing and a synthesis of the different co-housing types and models
found in the literature, which are observed in the empirical work.
Table 1. Co-housing cases.
Co-housing cases visited: Designing types: Tenure forms:
Year of
- design
Lange Eng
Failed to
The table shows the co-housing cases in the study. Each co-housing case is uniquely designed. The year
of establishment is the year, when moving in. The units are how many dwellings there are in each case,
showing different sizes of the communities running from 3 to 100 units.
The columns show the different designing types of co-housing, which were observed in the field studies:
14 have architect-designed houses, nine have retrofit or rebuilt houses, while six cases are designed as
self-built types from a lot-model. Two or three of the designing types are used concurrently in some of
the above-listed cases. Six of the cases are designed with two or more different designing types. By
combining these different designing principles, cohousing communities are achieved from many creative
methods. Furthermore, a mix of tenure forms are evident in six of the cases. The reason for combining
tenures is typically due to a wish for different economic situations of the inhabitants in order to
encompass both students and seniors with small pension savings. In Munksøgård and in Karise
Permatopia all three designing types are combined and at the same time, all three tenure forms are
evident. These two cases are quite large with 90 and 100 dwelling units. The homepage
www.bofæ which is a self-registering site for co-housing that has considerably developed
over the last years, was also visited regularly.
What Does the Term ‘Co-housing’ mean?
As many other concepts starting with co-, connoting collective and collaborative practices, co-
housing (bofællesskab) forms part of the wider umbrella concept of ‘collaborative housing’,
which is used by Fromm (1991), Vestbro (2010), and Czischke (2018) to describe a tendency of
self-managed housing models in different countries. Collaborative housing can involve a group
of people building and/or living together, or it can be professional actors involving future
residents for participating in planning and self-managing housing. Such collaboration practices
are present in community land trusts, collective private commissioning, self-build initiatives
like the German Bau-gruppen, co-housing, resident-led housing cooperatives, and other forms
of collective self-managed housing (Czischke 2018, 3). The Danish term bofællesskab was
translated by McCamant and Durrett to ‘cohousing’ (1989, 95) and by Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen,
and Ranten (1988, 101) to ‘co-housing community’. According to Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and
Ranten, this denotesa housing group which involves a number of independent homes with
the addition of common facilities, such as common rooms and open spaces’ (1988, 101).1 The
word communityis meant as a group of people living in independent homes near one
another, who interacts socially and share norms and values about the way of living together. In
line with McCamant and Durretts characteristics, theco’- in co-housing refers to sharing
common areas, making decisions in non-hierarchical processes, living, and interacting socially,
and doing things together. Due to the private dwelling units co-housing communities are,
according to McCamant and Durrett (2011), not communes. The meaning of kollektiv
(commune) and bofællesskab (co-housing) are however, a little blurred in Danish, as the words
are sometimes used as synonyms. In cities, many young people share an apartment, and this
may well be called kollektiv or bofællesskab. In technical terms, co-housing refers to that,
private dwelling units are equipped with their own kitchen and bathroom, whereas these
facilities are often shared in communes. As we shall see, some communes have developed into
co-housing. Senior co-housing is another way of designing co-housing, exclusively for members
aged over 50 without children living at home. This is well described by Max Pedersen (2015,
2013), Durrett (2009), and Choi (2005). The paper does not address senior co-housing
specifically, although there are some general similarities with intergenerational co-housing.
Another connotation of the word bofællesskab in Danish is an institutional home for disabled
or vulnerable people living together. These institutions are not covered in the paper.
Inspired by the German mehrgenerationswohnen (Droste 2015), where different generations
live, help, and join each other across ages, multigenerational houses have developed (e.g.
Generationernes Hus, Århus). These housing projects are often located in cities (e.g. in Berlin)
and, besides the common spaces for the residents, they also have spaces open to the public
and people from the local community (e.g. cafés, workshops, nursing homes, etc.) Openness to
the public and the local community that existed before the co-housing group settled is an
awareness in many co-housing projects (Ruiu 2016). Other co-housing communities do not
have open public spaces and are designed to be more closed to the local community (Stender
2014, Chiodelli and Baglione 2014, Marcus 2000). The term ‘multigenerational’ implies
different generations living together in larger scale intergenerational co-housing, or families
living across-three-generations, which is a relatively new orientation in Denmark. The size of
co-housing can thus vary from two to hundreds or more households.
Co-housing: A Spatial Dimensional Framework
Co-housing is designed and organised in so many different ways; however, there are some
similar characteristics. Following Jarvis (2015), Sanguinetti (2014), and Williams (2005) who
argue for understanding co-housing as both a social and physical space, I propose an extended
1Open spaces’ implies opening up spaces to share between residents (Vedel-Petersen et al. 1988).
spatial framework for how to understand this experimental homemaking, suggesting four
spatial dimensions in co-housing. Besides the physical and social space, co-housing comprises
shared visions and values (Sargisson 2012) as well as organising, financing, and decision-
making processes (McCamant and Durrett 2011). In such a multi-dimensional approach, space
is not only a natural given geometry but is relative and continuously (re-)produced through
socio-spatial relations, connecting to the physical spatial dimension. Using space in this way,
space is perceived as relational constituted through social, economic, and cultural meanings of
how to produce, practice, and structure the world (Harvey 2009, 133-165, Hubbard et al. 2002
(2005), 13-14). Space is therefore not just physical but also has relational, organisational, and
vision- and value-oriented dimensions (Fig.1). These spatial dimensions form part of the whole
experience of co-housing, but to clarify the complex concept of co-housing, this analysis
‘layers’ the spatiality in the following four dimensions:
A: Vision and value-
oriented dimension
B: Organisational
C: Relational dimension
D: Physical dimension
Figure 1: Conceptualising co-housing in four interconnecting spatial dimensions
The concept of co-housing comprises four spatial dimensions: a vision/value oriented dimension, an
organisational dimension, a relational dimension and a physical dimension, which plays together and are
The dimension of visions and values is about making an alternative to other housing
options, balancing privacy and communality, and sharing visions and values in how to live
together with a focus on social aspects, sustainable living or, spiritual living and, in some
cases political values.
The organisational dimension is how co-housing is organised financially and planned
legally (in tenures, associations, etc.), including collaboration with professionals, and
social collaboration in formal and informal agreements within the community
Physical base: Common areas, semi-private and pr
D: All materiality onsite:
Private dwelling units, semi-private,
common, and public areas and facilities
C: Social interaction:
Formal and informal practices
Relationships and feeling of
togetherness as well as individuality
B: How the vision is organised:
Financially, legally, and socially
Self-organising and organising the layout
A: Vision how to live together
still having privacy:
Sustainable and social living often
forms part of the visions and values
(association membership, decision-making, common meetings, and working groups). The
group’s self-management and designing the layout forms part of organisation co-
The relational dimension includes relations between inhabitants, group dynamic and -
identity, interaction, and practice in formal and informal collaboration (common dining,
working groups, celebrations etc.) relating to design processes, the feeling of belonging
and togetherness, as well as individuality.
The physical dimension is the materiality and physical design/layout that is formed as a
combination of several private dwelling units, semi-private and common (and sometimes
public) areas, shared land, and facilities.
The Dimension of Visions and Values
Co-housing projects tend to emerge from a vision. The vision that the group agrees on
influences the set of values that are discussed throughout the process of becoming a co-
housing project. Each co-housing group collectively arrives at a core set of values, engaging in
a common purpose to live and create the community together (Jarvis 2015, 94). The most
essential vision of a co-housing group is to bridge privacy and communality, and to share and
to live together while still having their own dwellings. Other visions can be to ensure good
conditions for children (Manzanti 2007, Marckmann 2009) or to live sustainably by (self-)
building organic houses with self-sufficiency regarding vegetables and renewal energy supply
(Marckmann 2009, Tummers 2017). To live and help each other across generations and to
establish self-governance are visions that are also found in the empirical work. Ideals of
freedom and direct democracy, either as consensus models with non-hierarchical structures
(McCamant and Durrett 2011) or as sociocracy (Christian 2013), are important values for the
groups. A few co-housing groups have also built on spiritual, religious, or political values. The
intentions to form another lifestyle focusing on social aspects of living makes room for new
possibilities. By building houses, infrastructure, and systems in alternative ways, co-housing
groups experiment with what is possible with today’s sustainable practices regarding energy
consumption and recycling (Tummers 2017). According to Sargisson (2012), with such inherent
visions and values, though also focused on individual freedom, co-housing can be understood
as ‘intentional communities’ or as ‘living modern utopias’ (2012, 19-21). Discussing co-housing
as modern utopias, Sargisson operates with utopia as practical utopian experiments that
create distance by establishing bounded spaces in which to try something better and from
which critically to regard life in the mainstream’ (2012, 2-3). She argues that the critique of
society and trying out new visions and alternative ways of living is inherent in co-housing but is
not necessarily in direct opposition to society but is rather done as members of society.
According to Sargisson, co-housing is not so radical that it challenges society: however, co-
housing communities are modern utopias in the sense that ‘they represent living models of a
better alternative’ (2012:20). She concludes that, although comfortable with mainstream
culture, co-housing allows members to live another life without dropping out of society,
suggesting that this might well be what makes co-housing popular (2012, 21). The spatial
dimension of visions and values is at the core in co-housing, connecting to the intentions of the
community and typically providing the basis for a written document for start-up groups.
The Organisational Dimension
The organisational dimension is how visions and layouts are financially, legally and socially
planned. Self-organisation, done with more or less help from professionals, forms an
important part of co-housing (Czischke 2018, 11). Creating an association for initiating co-
housing, which is quite easy in Denmark, is necessary to become a membership group, to
obtain loans and to collaborate as stakeholders with professionals. In Denmark, there are
different models of organising co-housing connected to tenure forms (Jakobsen and Larsen,
2018). A project can be organised through private ownership (privat ejerskab), or housing
cooperatives with shared ownership (andelsboligforening), or a rental model: either private
renting (privat udlejning) or public housing owned by non-profit housing associations (almen
boligorganisation), which describes over half of the senior-cohousing (Pedersen 2015). Much
of intergenerational co-housing is private ownership or cooperative (Jakobsen and Larsen
2018, 9). The cooperative model was commodified in 2005 and termination of state support
for newly built housing cooperatives has made this model more difficult for new co-housing
(Larsen & Hansen 2015, 266). The Danish non-profit housing sector is open to everybody,
although low-income socially vulnerable people are overrepresented. A co-housing can be
arranged as an autonomous division of a non-profit housing association with resident
democracy (Madsen 2012). The municipality must subsidise it with 10-14% of the building
sum. Mixing tenures is done in some intergenerational co-housing to attract residents with
differentiated financial positions (e.g. students, singles, etc.). However, as each tenure model
has different regulations, mixed tenure compositions can be complex models to develop,
especially as the non-profit housing sector in Denmark is subject to a vast number of rules,
which cannot be negotiated (e.g. the taxable value per square metre). On the other hand,
financing communities with up to 100 dwelling units is hard for a group of people using
bottom-up processes. The non-profit housing sector has experience in building, although,
when working with these enthusiastic groups of people who want to build as sustainably as
possible, it can be challenging for everybody involved (Foldager and Dyck-Madsen 2002).
Usually, the initiative to build a co-housing project has been taken by a small group of people,
who gather a bigger group by promoting ideas about another or better way of living
(Martinussen 2010, Sargisson 2012). Developing co-housing can be a very long process, from
gathering a group together, to discuss visions, organisation, etc., to deciding on what, how,
and where to build the community (Fromm 1991). The empirical data for this paper shows that
creating co-housing from scratch can take between 3 and 10 years from the formation of a
group of like-minded individuals to actually moving into the new homes in the co-housing
community. Creating co-housing groups today is often done through social media, advertising
the project and encouraging people to join. Besides planning, deciding on values and how to
carry out decision making, the group must self-organise and adopt by-laws and rules. The
highest authority is the common meeting with decision making in non-hierarchical processes
(Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and Ranten 1988, McCamant & Durrett 2011). Here the social
organisation is discussed, decided, and maintained. Experimenting with new kinds of decision
making has emerged recently (e.g. sociocracy Christian 2013-14). Normally, a number of
working groups take responsibility for different tasks. The establishment of social and
democratic organisation and tenures becomes a structure, creating the first step of, how the
community will be formally and informally managed. The organisational dimension forms an
important, though sometimes underestimated, part of the spatial concept of co-housing.
The Relational Dimension
Characteristic for the motivation to live in co-housing is the notion of wanting to know the
neighbours, and to be part of a community. Throughout the participatory design process, there
is socialising, and learning to know each other long before relocating together (Marckmann
2009, 206). Jarvis (2015, 94) operates with the term social architecture’, which functions
through invisible, affective dimensions, such as motivations, feelings of well-being, thinking,
and learning as well as inter-relationships with people in the group and place. According to
Jarvis, the social architecture or soft infrastructure’ corresponds with the ‘hard infrastructure’
that is visible and fixed in the material qualities of home and neighbourhood settings (2015,
94). The social connects to the physical structures; for example, Ganer (2016), Williams (2005)
and Torres-Antonini (2001) point at the importance of a centrally located common house,
where everybody in the co-housing naturally arrives and often walks to, making it possible to
meet informally and spontaneously. The relational dimension is all the social interaction,
dialogues, and collaboration taking place between the occupants in daily life, when dining
together, taking turns in cooking, working in groups, and participating in meetings or other
activities. The empirical data show that co-housing communities have common dining as a
principle for communality, dining between one and seven days per week, although in some co-
housing a take-away option has been arranged. The socio-economic profiles of residents, who
engage in co-housing initiatives are resourceful in terms of having social and financial capacity,
have medium to high levels of education, and seek sustainability in everyday life (Ruiu 2016,
Boyer and Leland 2018, Margolis and Entin 2011, Marckmann 2009, Margolis & Sanguinetti
2015, Jakobsen and Larsen 2018). Sanguinetti (2014, 88), in a survey with 477 respondents
from 127 American co-housing communities, argues that co-housing practices promote close
relationships, regular social contact, and perspective-taking among neighbours. Such social
practices lead to a feeling of belonging and connectedness to the community (Sanguinetti
2014, 94). Jarvis (2015, 97-98) identifies three types of sharing: co-presence, affiliation, and
endeavour. In this sense ‘co-housing is a living arrangement, which represents more than
simply an alternative system of housing: the social dimension reveals a setting and system that
cultivates an intentional negotiated ethos of sharing’ to cite Jarvis (2015, 102). Maintaining
and improving the relational dimension is done through formalised practices (common dining,
meetings, working groups, and celebrations) taking responsibility for specific areas and tasks in
co-housing (Pagh and Viemose 2016). Such formal practices underpin more informal contact,
for example, meeting in the parking area or talking over dinner (Marckmann 2009, 198-201).
The relational spatial dimension, as formal and informal social practices, forms a central part
of co-housing.
The Physical Dimension
Co-housing is materialised in the physical spatial dimension, where private dwelling units are
combined with common areas and facilities, differentiated into private, semi-private, and
common (and sometimes public) areas. Fromm (1991), Williams (2005), McCamant and
Durrett (2011) stress the importance of ‘social contact design’, meaning that the physical
layout is designed for social interaction. Usually, a common house with dining area and kitchen
is centrally located and, in many cases, there is laundry facilities, playrooms, guest rooms,
office workspaces, workshops, etc. The private dwelling units are provided as normal
dwellings, although there is sometimes less floor area, as some goes to the common facilities.
The outdoor areas are shared, except for perhaps a terrace or, a garden in connection to the
private dwelling. The outdoor shared facilities can consist of green areas with playgrounds,
kitchen gardens, fireplaces, green-houses, animal sheds, waste recycling areas, and land that
can be cultivated or used for willow purification works (recycling and purification of sewage).
Parking spaces on the periphery are typically shared. Some have carpooling, and most co-
housing communities are car-free zones. Children can therefore run freely between the houses
and playgrounds (Ganer 2016, McCamant and Durrett 2011, Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and
Ranten 1988). The physical dimension consists of all materiality onsite, including private and
shared areas and areas that are not yet planned but forms part of the co-housing for
opportunities coming up, as some structures are formed over time. Co-housing can be built
from scratch, either designed by architects or as experimental self-built eco-communities.
Another option is to retrofit/refurbish existing building stock not in use (e.g. abandoned school
buildings, town halls, manor houses, etc.). In a number of co-housing projects, existing building
stock is part of the co-housing project (e.g. an old farmyard as the common facility and heart
of the community). The physical dimension interconnects with the other dimensions and
constitutes the spatial base of the concept of co-housing.
The Four Dimensions Interconnect Through Belonging and Engagement
The four dimensions are (re-)produced through the everyday life in co-housing with the
physical dimension as the material base. All four spatial dimensions in this concept are
interwoven parts of each other and grounded in the holistic approach to living that many of
the co-housing communities have. According to Jarvis (2015, 100) and Sanguinetti (2015, 88),
engagement is rooted in a sense of belonging to the co-housing. The practices of self-
managing (or self-building) engage people to connect to each other and their surroundings. It
can seem easier to get things to move forward, such as optimising energy consumption,
building projects, growing plants, and making good conditions for children (e.g. car-free zones,
and playgrounds) when doing it together. The social practice and engagement with each other
in working groups, meetings, dining together, and other formal or informal situations create
social bonds and relationships (Ruiu 2016, Marckmann 2009). Through this a sense of
belonging forms. When an old man in one of the analysed cases, lost his wife, he could lean on
the social structures, relationships, and support he received from other dwellers in the
community through his grief. Co-housing also provides new possibilities to do things together,
for example, invite a philosopher for a meeting in the community, as done in one of the cases,
which is something one would normally not do alone. A practical need for families with small
children is to share more and help each other in daily life (Marckmann 2009, Madsen 2012).
This can be combined with a critical or vision/value-oriented choice on how to live daily life, in
wanting new forms of living together, in trying out other ways of democracy, or in taking a
sustainable approach to life (Marckmann 2009, Foldager and Dyck-Madsen 2002). Therefore,
co-housing is ‘both a housing form and a lifestyle(Williams 2008).
Differentiating Co-housing in Designing Types
The above analysis of the spatial dimensions points towards that there are common
denominators for co-housing. However, how can the diversity of co-housing be understood
and synthesised? For this, I propose grouping different models or traditions into three
designing types of co-housing. The use of types, in architectural debate are often oriented
towards the physical layout of specific design elements and ideas (e.g. Unwin 2017), whereas
the method of using the terminology designing types here is oriented towards what Unwin
(2017, 201) terms ‘the vernacular idea’, which is how the whole of a community is designed.
Types in this paper are connected to historical outlines and constructed from how co-housing
is created as different methods of designing. Differentiating co-housing in types, takes the risk
of being slightly simplifying, not showing all the aspects of uniquely built co-housing. The
designing types are found in the co-housing literature and further motivated and constructed,
based on, how the Danish cases in the empirical study are materially designed and lived in:
1) Architect-designed (found in Fromm 1991, McCamant and Durrett 2011, Vedel-Petersen,
Jantzen, and Ranten 1988, Williams 2005, Fromm 2000),
2) Retrofit/rebuilt (found in Sanguinetti 2015, Ganer 2016, McCamant & Durrett 2011, Fromm
1991, De Jorge Huertas 2018),
3) Self-built eco-communities developed as lot models (found in Fromm 2000, Marckmann
2009, Gram-Hansen and Jensen 2005, Jensen 2001, Martinussen 2010, Elm and Dilling-
Hanssen 2003, McCamant and Durrett 2011, Meltzer 2005, Sanguinetti 2014).
The Danish literature tends to engage with either eco-communities or architect-designed co-
housing, which are sometimes combined with retrofit co-housing (e.g. Marckmann 2009,
Vedel-Petersen, Jantzen, and Ranten 1988, Gram-Hanssen & Jensen 2005), whereas Anglo-
Saxon literature tends to deal with architect-designed, eco-communities, and retrofit co-
housing in the same texts (e.g. McCamant and Durrett 2011, Meltzer 2005, Fromm 1991,
Fromm 2000). In accordance with this and with Marckmann et al. (2012, 417 building on
McCamant & Durrett 2011) suggesting that eco-communities are a subgroup or a subset of co-
housing, eco-communities are here treated as a type of co-housing. Some cases are, in reality,
crossovers of two or even three types, which can be combined in different possible variables
ways (Table 1). Each spatial dimension will next form the basis for analysing the different
designing types of co-housing. Through viewing co-housing from the perspectives of spatial
dimensions and designing types, a matrix is created as an analytic tool to explore the concept
of co-housing.
Architect-designed Co-housing
One designing type is the case in which a co-housing group in the beginning of the design
phase contacts an architect who designs the project from scratch, with the group, after having
helped the group prioritise their needs. With the trend in architecture of building low-rise
clusters, combined with the wish for more togetherness, the Danish concept of co-housing was
born in the late 1960s - early 1970s. This way of designing had a great influence on the further
development of co-housing (Nygaard 1984, McCamant and Durrett 2011). Architect-designed
co-housing can, however also, be high-rise blocks with common facilities on the ground and/or
top floor, which is typical in cities, such as the development of kollektivhus in Sweden and
Finland, and a feature of the Danish kollektivhuse developed in the first half of the 20th century
(Vestbro and Horelli 2012, Korpela 2012). Today, new city-co-housing in larger Danish cities
has emerged, such as Thomas B. Thrige and several others are to come (e.g. Urbania, Den 3.
Revle, Generationernes Byhus).
Vision- and value-oriented dimension
From the collective movement of the 1960s, the first architect designed co-housing
communities, Sættedammen (built in 1972), and Skråplanet (built 1973-74), had ideas and
utopian visions about changing the family ideal from a patriarchal one to a non-hierarchical
one. In this vision, children had a voice, the living conditions should be for children, and all
adult members should be like parents to the children (Illeris et al. 1997, Marckmann 2009 both
citing Bodil Graa, Politikken April 1967). Men and women should have equal rights and share
workloads in the households (Vestbro and Horelli 2012, Vestbro 2000). The Sættedammen
group, naming themselves ‘the commune group’ in 1968, were linked in the process of
establishing to the group of Skråplanet formed in 1964 by the architect Jan Gudmand-Høyer
(Illeris et al. 1997). In the architect-designed type, the visons and values of how to live together
are discussed and planned in coordination with, how the physical structures are designed for
social contact. A representation of the architect-designed type, Jystrup Savværk from 1983,
was designed by Vandkunsten Architects, and is an integrated structure in split levels, where
the 21 dwellings are connected to the common house by a glass-roofed street (Fig. 2). The
visions were from the initiating group on the social aspect of living; the families wanted to live
together yet have room for privacy.
Organisational dimension
Jystrup Savværk is based on the cooperative (andelsbolig) financing model and is located in the
village of Jystrup on a former sawmill plot. A member of the community, who has been living
there since 1983, indicates that, while the scheme was under construction, the initiating group
discussed how to manage the social organisation of their coming everyday life in weekly
meetings for one year, before moving into the co-housing. They decided to have consensus
democracy and organised detailed systems of common dining six days a week and working
groups with different tasks. Remarkably, this organisation still functions in the community, due
to active residents taking care of managing the community. Jystrup Savværk is, in this sense, a
well-organised community. The architectural design and organisation systems provide the
settings that residents must accept, as there is not that much room left, for residents in the
architect-designed type to reorganise, rebuild, extend, etc.
Figure 2. Representation of architect-designed type, Jystrup Savværk: 21 dwellings, integrated structure
in split levels, with glass-covered street.
Relational dimension
When visiting Jystrup Savværk, they had a salsa-party. The kitchen group was hard at work
cooking a tasty meal and doing the dishwashing afterwards. Early the next morning, there was
the sounds of somebody cleaning the common house. Three very efficient people in a working
group were responsible that morning. Committing to communality, engaging in common
activities and duties, and building relations, seems to be at the core in Jystrup Savværk.
Different dwellers spoke spontaneously, during the party, about the challenge of keeping the
balance between communality and privacy. One family moved out, first back to Copenhagen,
then back to stay in the village, to get more privacy, yet still be close by the co-housing. As part
of the social contact design, from the street, a glimpse through the windows into the kitchens
of the dwellings is possible. Therefore, people use curtains or blinds to signal, whether they
want privacy or social contact. Jystrup Savværk seems a large generator of communality,
where the dwellers are aware of keeping the balance between social and private life.
Physical dimension
The physical dimension is designed for social interaction. Low-rise clusters or one and a half to
two storey rows that are placed around or in connection with a common house, are typical in
Denmark (Andersen 1985). Glass-covered streets are another option, like Jystrup Savværk, to
connect the dwellings with the common house, so that the connection is more direct, and
residents do not have to take on footwear and jackets in the wintertime. Private units are
coupled to semi-private and common areas within the housing project.
Rebuilding or Retrofitting Existing Stock
Reuse of existing building structures is another possible designing type (Sanguinetti 2015,
Ganer 2016, McCamant & Durrett 2011), created in different ways, for example, by retrofitting
(i.e. just moving into the houses and making them fit), refurbishing or completely rebuilding,
sometimes in combination with building new structures.
Vision- and value-oriented dimension
Retrofitting has a history dating back to the late 1960s anti-authoritarian critique, giving rise to
the Thy-lejren camp, and the ‘free town’ of Christiania2, as well as young people and, families
settling in communes (Thörn, Wasshede, and Nilson 2011). The communes developed quickly
as young people and families moved into old villas or other building types, and in 1979, there
were approximately 10,000 communes in Denmark (Nygaard 1984). Thy-lejren (1970) started
out as a so-called ‘free camp’: a place for anarchistic speeches, provisional building structures,
and experiments with new ways of living. The effect of Thy-lejren continued with a group of
people, who bought some old industrial buildings and land in 1971. By re-using these old
structures, they built up a new community called Toustrup Mark, which initially was
characterised as a commune with the vision of changing from a patriarchal family structure to
a collective non-hierarchical structure. The settlers moved into the houses and made a
constructing group, who established a common house and, over time, rebuilt the industrial
structures, creating a builder culture and traditions together, but at the same time struggling
with the social structures in the initial phase (El-Tanany & Christensen 2011, Jensen 1985,
Nygaard 1984). Today, on their homepage, Toustrup Mark is characterised as co-housing (26
units). By squatting in an old military site, Christiania also emerged in Copenhagen, in 1971.
2 Christiania is not co-housing, but rather a free town community, referred to for historical reasons.
Christiania is a free town with a do-it-yourself builder culture. Although drug problems and
political resistance have threatened the community (Thörn, Wasshede, and Nilson 2011, 7-11),
in 2012, Christiania was bought by the Fristaden Christiania Foundation (Bladt 2015). These
communities lived utopian visions and responded to the struggles in the nuclear family in
society of the 1960s-1970s, but as society changed, visions changed as well. The pragmatic
side became more evident, and many communes became more co-housing-like over the years
(Nygaard 1984). A representation of a retrofit designing type of today is the co-housing
Nielstrup manor in rural Lolland (Fig 3). In an interview, a young woman says that they made
the choice to live together with the older generation, because they do not want to be part of
the ever-larger childcare institutions for their children, which have emerged in recent years, or
the nursing homes for the older generation with insufficient staff. She thinks that people in
these institutions are not treated on individual terms, due to the overwhelming pressure on
caretakers, cutbacks, and mergers. She was a nursery teacher before and she has felt the
pressure herself. She wants to look after her children fulltime, as her mother looked after her,
when she was a child, and she wants to look after her mother, when she becomes older. This is
a critical choice taken to live from visions and values about caring for each other across
Figure 3. Representation of retrofit designing type: The manor of Nielstrup with four households having
each a private dwelling unit combined with common areas, living across-three-generations.
Organisational dimension
Nielstrup comprises four households. The buildings are owned by the estate nearby and
rented to the co-housing group. By renting, the organisational dimension is uncomplicated, as
they can try out this way of living, without investing much money. However, they invest
substantial energy in renovating, and caring for each other. The four households have
arranged to have four days of dining together by taking turns of cooking in a more informal
way than in Jystrup Savværk, as they often switch days. Like the other designing types,
retrofitting can be based on different tenure forms. However, residents often share the same
address in small retrofitted co-housing and if ownership is shared, problems with how to pay
taxes can be an issue that is difficult to tackle for the tax authorities (Degnbol 2018).
Relational dimension
The relational dimension at Nielstrup is about being together, helping and taking care of each
other, and respecting privacy. The motivations for living in communality as well as the family
ideals, have changed since the 1970s. Living across-three-generations in a family is a new
orientation. As retrofit co-housing often comprises few households, retrofitting can be a
solution, although there are examples of living across-three-generations of the same family in
the other designing types. Some dwellers become aware of the balance between communality
and privacy. For example, in Nygården, which is also a small extended family co-housing, the
residents are changing from a commune to co-housing, where each household will have
private dwelling units, to keep this balance.
Physical dimension
Because Nielstrup was previously a group home institution for youngsters, each household has
own kitchen and bathroom; thus with a few alterations, the existing structures are retrofitted.
When reusing existing structures, the physical dimension is tangible and visual in the formative
stages of designing co-housing. It can seem easy to move into the buildings, as it take less time
than building from scratch. A history of the place is present to build on when creating the
identity of the place. In another retrofit/rebuilt co-housing, Bauneholm, a woman remarks
that, she would not like to live in architect-designed co-housing, as it would feel too
streamlined. However, the building is not made for co-housing: therefore, struggles with
rebuilding/fitting the structures and organising for social interaction are part of this type
(Sanguinetti 2015). There are examples in Denmark of old school buildings, gyms, manors,
former industrial structures, etc., used for co-housing.
Self-built Eco-communities Developed as Lot Models
Optimising energy and resources from wind turbines or solar panels became a concept in some
co-housing projects from the early 1980s (e.g. Sol & Vind 1981, Overdrevet 1980). Over time,
this idea grew and with the self-builder concepts from Christiania and Thy-lejren and,
inspiration from communities like Findhorn in Scotland, the eco-community movement was
born in Denmark during the1980- and 1990s. Eco-communities combined the traditional
village and the co-housing movement from the 1970s- and1980s (Elm and Dilling-Hansen 2003,
Meltzer 2005). Eco-communities are oriented towards sustainable, holistic, and, in some cases
spiritual living. However, they also have an important social focus of, sharing common facilities
and, doing things together.
Vision- and value-oriented dimension
The visions of the 1990s eco-communities were concepts of building organic houses and
infrastructures, experimenting with low impact living, recycling, and reduction of pollutants in
the environment. Revitalising local life, so that work, family, and home could be closely related
was combined with a wish for a better balance between nature and humans (Gram-Hanssen
and Jensen 2005, 171). Eco-communities developed a self-builder culture with dwellings
dispersed in the landscape as detached houses and a centrally located common house. By
constructing the communities own resource systems, an alternative is made to the large-scale
energy- and infrastructure systems provided by society, which did not focus much on
sustainability in the early 1990s (Jensen 2001, 130). Experimenting by designing unique houses
on individualistic terms, using local materials, can be perceived as distancing from the use of
prefabricated industrial components and streamlined building processes from the 1960s. A
representation of this designing type is the first eco-community in Denmark, Eco-community
Dyssekilde from 1990, located in Torup. The visions and values are oriented towards
sustainability, as the binding key factor that keeps the community together and keeps it
developing (Fig. 4).
Organisational dimension
Developed from what Fromm calls the ‘lot model, which is a large site divided and sold as lots
(2000, 97), these communities extend over time, due to the self-builder culture. Dyssekilde is
organised as mixed tenures: private ownership, cooperative and renting. Most of the dwellings
are privately owned. There are six housing groups, organised as associations nested in a large
association for the whole community, using voting democracy. One housing group is rented
apartments, built by the people of the community. A few houses have shared cooperative
ownership. All land is shared, except for the lot under the base of the houses, which is
privately owned. A small group of interviewed residents indicates that there are working
groups for every task in the community, which are organised by the residents themselves. The
community has rebuilt their old farm, which is now used for a kindergarten, a progressive free
school and a community centre shared with the local villagers and owned by associations. A
common house is used for meetings, and common vegetarian dining held once a week are
primarily for the residents. However, only a third of the community attends the common
dining regularly.
Relational dimension
In a survey of eco-communities in Denmark, Marckmann measures the social capital of eco-
communities, getting a very high score (2009, 220). Dyssekilde forms an essential part of
Torup, not only physically but also socially. Jepsen and Busck (2018, 6) found an active
facilitating culture, where new initiatives are developed and implemented by villagers across
Dyssekilde and Torup. Some people have their working space in the community as
independent entrepreneurs in different fields. In the housing groups, the residents have
informal communality, socialising and helping neighbours. Maintaining the common gardens
between the houses is a task of the housing groups. As houses are sold, the newcomers have
not had the same struggles with building their own houses, as the older generation. They live
here because it is a nice place for families and children, but do not engage that much in
common meetings, etc., because they involve instead in activities in the kindergarten and
school, or other activities in Torup.
Figure 4. Representation of self-built designing type: Eco-community Dyssekilde, 82 households in six
housing groups of different styles.
Physical dimension
Dyssekilde consists of 82 households in six housing groups in different styles: domes/round-
angled houses, straw bale houses, houses with solar panels etc. A large willow purification
works, with 30,000 willows were planted by the residents. As Dyssekilde is self-built, the
physical dimension has developed over time as a budding growing organism. Eco-style creative
houses, experiments, and grassroots ideals dominate, although a few architect-designed and
standard houses are built with organic materials. Substantial energy is used in building, and
different inhabitants state that, it can be exhausting living in a site hut or portable cabin, when
doing it for years. For some, it even turns into a lifestyle. Being the first eco-community in
Denmark, Dyssekilde has, along with Andelssamfundet i Hjortshøj, formed a model for many
Discussion: Matrix of Spatial Dimensions and Designing Types
On the background of combining literature synthesis and empirical work from Danish cases, an
understanding of co-housing as a multi-dimensional concept was introduced. The spatial
dimensions as common denominators and the designing types as differentiators is shown in
the matrix (Table 2). The architect-designed type is from the very beginning created for social
interaction and organised for the purpose of bridging privacy and communality as physical and
social structures, whereas the retrofitted/rebuilt type is not designed for this purpose to begin
with. The structures have to be changed and this happens over time, struggling with
rebuilding. The design is not always as complete for social interaction, as is the case for the
architect-designed type. In the architect-design, every household has each their private unit
and address, whereas in the retrofit that is not necessarily the case, as the same address and
the ownership are often shared. A few retrofitted co-housing is large scale, like Svanholm, but
most are smaller scales, and some convert from commune to co-housing over time to balance
privacy and communality better. In the self-built type, the structure is based on a lot-model,
which means that these communities can grow over time as an organism. Individual building
units with manifold visual manifestations and designs every which way, are part of this method
of designing a community. This sometimes means building for many years. Individuality and
freedom are important issues, and what keeps the community together is the visions and
values of sustainability and social living.
On one hand, the three designing types are quite different from each other: the design and the
organisation activates different ways of living in co-housing. On the other hand, there are
intersections and similarities in the spatial dimensions, indicating that all three types belong to
the co-housing concept. Co-housing groups consider experience from existing co-housing.
Therefore, learning from older communities for new communities is usual. By blending and
designing from the experience across the different designing types, a recently built example;
Karise Permatopia has a comprehensive permaculture design principle. Karise Permatopia
encompasses 90 architect-designed dwellings, a retrofitted farm and rebuilt barn, which
becomes a common house as a self-builder project designed together with professionals. The
project is designed from permaculture principles in order to become self-sufficient with
vegetables and creating recirculate systems for water, energy and waste (Fig. 5). It is designed
for a sustainable sharing culture, togetherness, and by mixing three tenure forms including
more people with lower income (e.g. singles, students, and artists).
Conclusion: Transformative Aspects
Although variety and complexity challenges, the concept of co-housing, the concept comprises
common denominators theorised through four spatial dimensions, whereas the differentiators
were synthesised in three designing types. Co-housing is materialised visions and complex
housing systems. Bridging private dwellings with common facilities so that the dwellers have
space for both privacy and communality is at the core in the co-housing vision. This is done by
establishing vision - and value- oriented, organisational, relational, and physical dimensions.
Co-housing function through the maintenance of everyday formal and informal practices.
Being part of a co-housing community enhances the sense of belonging through all four
interconnected spatial dimensions.
Because the models of co-housing and reasons of living together change, the concept seems to
comprise transformative aspects. As seen through the historical change in co-housing,
presented here as designing types, the reasons for engaging in and methods of designing co-
housing have transformed. Making visions and values together and trying out new ways of
living, are evident in all three types. In the architect-designed type, from the 1970s, it was
about changing the family ideal from a patriarchal one to a non-hierarchical one and living
together having privacy and communality in a structural manner. In the retrofit type, it was
also a vision of chancing from a patriarchal family structure to a more commune like non-
hierarchical structure, where building and social structures were more loosely developed over
time. In the 1970s, people in communes and co-housing dissociated themselves from social
norms that supported patriarchal family patterns, whereas today social norms and boundaries
have changed, as there is more equality between genders and family members. The nuclear
family is today considered an ideal, where the children belong to the parents followed by full
responsibility, protecting this family ideal that is somewhat perceived as fragile (Marckmann
2009, 169). A high divorce rate and demographic changes challenges family patterns in many
countries. In Denmark, 37 different ways of being a family have been reported (Statistics
Denmark 2012). Single living and loneliness are another challenge. Due to centralisation and
cutbacks in Danish kindergartens and childcare, as well as nursing homes for elderly,
institutions have grown ever larger in size, which challenges individual care. Living across-
three-generations is a new possibility for young families and seniors.
Figure 5. Comprehensive design principle: Karise Permatopia under construction with 90 architect-
designed dwelling units, retrofit, and self-built common house.
In the self-built type, it was sustainable design and living that was the glue of the alternative
vision, balancing humans and nature, while self-building on individualistic terms. As agriculture
has become increasingly industrialised, food supply has become a hot issue, and self-
sufficiency is an ideal for many new co-housing initiatives. Today, new ways of designing co-
housing emerge from what could be termed comprehensive design principles, mixing the
designing types. Designing and organising from comprehensive principles is a way to overcome
the problems with self-building, heading towards self-sufficiency, while developing ways of
handling nature through permaculture designs.
The fieldwork was undertaken in Danish cases. However, the findings are applicable to other
co-housing. In the US, there has been a parallel development with important effects from
Danish co-housing (Fromm 2000, McCamant and Durrett 2011). Due to this inspiration, Danish
co-housing ideas are used in a number of countries. For example, co-housing projects in Spain
are currently using parts of the Danish cooperative model (Larsen 2018, Brysch 2018). Co-
housing is normally designed in a creative, participatory, and self-organised process although,
it can be and often has been in collaboration with different institutional actors in hybrid forms
of bottom-up and top-down approaches. Today, new enterprises emerge from a top-down
approach. Co-housing can therefore be expected to develop further in this direction. Building
up a group is essential in these projects, including the dimensions of shared vision and values,
self-organisation, and social relations.
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Table 2. Matrix of spatial dimensions and designing types of co-housing. Designing types:
Spatial dimensions:
Self-built Eco-communities
Visions & values
Bridging privacy and communality
1970s: non-patriarchal family ideal
Now: modern nuclear family ideal
Intergenerational living
Equality in decision making
Sustainable living (for many, not all
Bridging privacy and communality
1970s: non-patriarchal family ideal
Now: modern nuclear family ideal
Intergenerational living (sometimes across
same family)
Equality in decision making
Sustainable living (for many, not all
Bridging privacy and communality
Balance nature-humans, ecology
Modern nuclear family ideal
Intergenerational living, communities open to local
interaction with surrounding society
Equality in decision making
Sustainability in all aspects
Building from scratch, designed and
planned with an architect
Private ownership, cooperatives, rental
or mix of tenures
Self-organisation: associations, working
Non-hierarchical: common meetings for
highest level of decision making
Renting, private ownership, or
cooperatives, but small communities often
same address
Self-organisation: working groups
Communes converted into co-housing
Non-hierarchical: common meetings for
highest level of decision making
Developed from lot model, self-building
Private ownership, cooperatives, some rental, mix
of tenures
Self-organisation: associations, working groups
Often shared land in rural zones, recirculation
Non-hierarchical: common meetings for highest
level of decision making
Social capital and relations
Common dinning on regular basis
Working groups, social structures, care
for each other
Balance social life and privacy
Participatory design process
Social capital and relations
Common dinning on regular basis
Working groups, social structures more
loose in initial phase, care for each other
Balance social life and privacy
Process of restructuring building design
Social capital and relations
Common dinning on regular basis
Working groups, social with locals, care for each
Balance social life and privacy
Entrepreneurs working in different arenas of
ecology or self-development, individuality
Architect designs: Low-rise, clusters,
glass-covered streets or high-rise
structures with a common house
centrally located
Social contact design: design for social
interaction; private, semi-private and
common areas, sometimes public areas
Sustainable building (for some projects),
recycling and energy saving
Retrofit of existing structures: a history of
place: own creative designs and
Reusing/optimising buildings/energy saving
A common house/rooms centrally located,
private, (semi-private) and common areas
Rebuilding the structures for social
interaction and privacy over time
Sustainable building, outlined as a lot model:
Individual creative eco-designs and experiments
Detached self-built houses or unit built prefab
houses in sustainable materials or architect-
Common house centrally located, private, semi-
private, common and public areas
Community extending over time, growing
Energy saving- and recycling systems
... Common spaces such as gardens, kitchens, dining rooms, laundry rooms, and garages are often shared, and community events are organised. The lot-model, which describes a shared large property with individually-owned homes, is commonly used in international literature (Beck, 2020;Fromm, 2000;Guinther, 2008;Pedersen, 2015). The lot-model also typically includes a common house, which is a centrally located shared space with a kitchen and living room, and sometimes includes guest rooms, playrooms, salons, and laundries. ...
... The lot-model also typically includes a common house, which is a centrally located shared space with a kitchen and living room, and sometimes includes guest rooms, playrooms, salons, and laundries. Residents can come together to eat, watch movies, play games, and participate in organised activities (Beck, 2020;Pedersen, 2015). Research suggests that cohousing can reduce feelings of isolation while still allowing residents to maintain their privacy (Guinther, 2008;Pedersen, 2015). ...
... Studies have shown that older adults who live in cohousing can provide mutual support and look out for each other (Pedersen, 2015). Beck (2020) emphasises that cohousing is designed with an emphasis on social interaction, with spaces to allow for spontaneous and informal interactions. Fromm (2000) found that the benefits of cohousing outweigh the drawbacks such as difficulty in decision-making and less privacy, noting benefits including community support, good social life, shared meals, personal growth. ...
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This qualitative study explores the social support experiences of older adults residing in co-housing projects in Belgium. Co-housing involves individual private homes sharing common spaces and resources. Respondents were recruited through an online search of existing co-housing projects in the region, and the final sample included residents from four different projects, with a mix of inter-generational and senior-only projects. Results indicate that co-housing provides a strong sense of community and support for older adults, reducing feelings of isolation and increasing connectedness with others. Residents also reported a balance of both community and privacy in their living arrangements. However, challenges related to decision-making and decreased contact with family were identified. These findings highlight the potential benefits of co-housing for older adults and underscore the need for further research in this area.
... The concept of co-housing (bofaellesskab in Danish) originated in Denmark in the late 1960s, but it is now a global movement (geography) [34]. Co-housing developments are self-managed housing clusters that include self-contained dwellings with all the amenities of a typical dwelling (including a kitchen, bathroom, etc.), as well as shared spaces and facilities (physical attributes). ...
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In this chapter, we explore the socio-technical dimensions presented in Chap. 6 in more detail through key themes we have introduced throughout this book: high performing housing, small housing, shared housing, neighbourhood-scale housing, circular housing, and innovative financing for housing. Through these themes, we discuss sustainable housing at different scales: the dwelling scale, neighbourhood and city scale, and the state, national and international scale. We demonstrate different elements and approaches to providing sustainable housing and sustainable communities more broadly. For each theme, we present an overview and some examples of how the theme addresses the different socio-technical dimensions. We then present real-life case studies of where the theme is being demonstrated in practice, again referring to the socio-technical dimensions. Our intent is to show how key ideas from the book are translating into the current provision of sustainable housing and demonstrating elements already being provided for what could be the basis of a sustainable housing transition.
The essay reflects on the consequences the realization of absolute sustainability will have on housing tendencies in the global north and suggests addressing this matter by reassessing the distribution of power between the architect and the dweller. As a starting point, the essay will argue for a necessary critical revision of our current overconsuming housing standards if we are to stay within the leeway of an absolute sustainable housing practice. But how are we to achieve this? Are we to follow our instinct as architects to design cleverly thought minimalistic housing? And if so, how do we avoid misconceiving the dwelling as a machine and the dweller as a cog within this machine? To address these questions the essay will adopt the ideas of open building introduced by architect N. John Habraken. By dividing the construction of the structure from the matter of the dwelling, new and sustainable opportunities appear, however, entailing a shift in the power between the dweller and the architect. This is further examined in the Grand Parc social housing transformation in Bordeaux, France—a project resonating in multiple ways with the objectives of open building in both its architectural form and its initial participatory design process. Conclusively, the essay will argue how the idea of open building holds potential as a cradle for developing novel sustainable solutions in housing and, not as a solution itself.
The use of shared spaces in urban neighborhoods can advance sustainability and residents’ sense of community. Intelligent technologies may take different roles in supporting activities in shared spaces. We conducted an evaluation study of technology roles for space sharing in the context of a new residential area in Tampere, Finland. This area, called Hiedanranta, is planned to accommodate shared spaces in novel ways. Four previously defined roles were addressed: community sheriff, matchmaker, facilitator, and tutor. Overall, the roles were considered positive; however, the participants experienced the sheriff as being inefficient and the matchmaker as being intrusive. The facilitator was considered a potential source for pragmatic support, and the tutor was thought of as an add-on to the other roles. In addition to pragmatic benefits, intelligent technologies with these roles have the potential to lower the social threshold of using activity spaces. However, the participants were concerned about their privacy and the intrusiveness of technology. The findings contribute to the research of sustainable technologies for supporting shared spaces and activities in urban residents’ local communities.Keywordsintelligent technologiestechnology rolesshared activity spacesneighborhood communitiesevaluation study
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In this chapter, we explore key socio-technical dimensions that we have identified through the wider literature and our own sustainable housing research which we feel are important to address if a transition to sustainable housing is to be achieved. The ten socio-technical dimensions we cover in this chapter are: guiding principles, physical attributes, knowledge, geography, industrial structures and organizations, markets, users, and power, policy, regulations, and governance, everyday life and practices, culture, civil society, and social movements, ethical aspects. This chapter explores each dimension in turn by providing a definition, overview of how the current housing regime engages with the dimension and how sustainable housing offers a different approach. We also provide a short example of how this is being provided or considered in practice.
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In this final chapter, we revisit the core ideas woven throughout the book. We summarize the current situation and how the current provision of housing will not meet our environmental or societal needs moving forward. Despite the mounting evidence of the benefits of sustainable housing, we still face key challenges that need to be urgently addressed to ensure we can facilitate a sustainable housing transition that includes everyone. We discuss the prospects for change and explore where that change needs to occur. We finish the chapter with some concluding reflections.
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Considering population ageing and a housing system in crisis, new residential responses for older people are being sought and claimed. To meet their needs for social contact, empowerment and mutual support, while considering affordability and sustainability, older people are increasingly considering cohousing options. However, to successfully develop a cohousing project, several factors, including the architectural design process, are decisive. Yet, few studies have focused on the design phases of such projects, especially when including an older users’ group. In this article, we therefore focus on a specific real-life case study (i.e., a Belgian cohousing project that supports ageing), in order to “open the black box of architectural work” and to understand both the design process and the design solution in that regard. During 10 months, we did meetings’ observations, stakeholders’ interviews and documents collection, throughout the early design phases. The results highlight the diversity of stakeholders involved and their impact; the architectural features addressed in the design and their interrelationships; the methods used for the project development; and the temporal factors that were associated. Finally, the study reveals the project’s multi-level complexity and points out dual poles that emerged during the design process.
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This paper connects two disciplinary areas to create new knowledge in the fields of sustainable housing and the analysis of the human body in time. The first knowledge area is that of sustainable housing, and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the built environment. Currently, the construction industry in developed countries brings together multiple elements in a build site, all of which may contribute to climate change, and produce complex structures that can be hard to maintain in terms of environmental matters. In contrast, 3D printed houses are simpler, have lower emissions, and involve a straightforward process of creating an entirely new house on site. Further, 3D printed houses can be made from the very earth where the house is to be built. The caveat for 3D printed houses, is that the load bearing capacities of the walls can limit the size of construction, even though the design possibilities for 3D printed houses are augmented. The accompanying and interlocking aspect of this paper is the argument through history that the human body responds to the dictates of desire, here termed as 'the phallocene'. The notion of the phallocene is derived from literature on the human body and desire that states that far from playing a merely irrational role in human life that is dominated by reason, desire creates worlds, and in the case of this paper, the world of the Anthropocene, a reality made by humans, and producing climate change. Hence, this paper conjoins two key concerns, arresting climate change, and understanding human behaviour through time as bodies.
Conference Paper
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The term cohousing was coined in the 80’s by the American architects Durrett and McCamant, after their visits of the danish bofaellesskaber; defined by Lietaert as «a specific form of neighborhood where private homes and common services are combined in order to guarantee everyone’s privacy and at the same time the needs for sociality. » (Lietaert, 2007: 5). Through the last years this dwelling practice has gained attention from local institutions, which started to use it as an experimental tool to contrast some of the major geo/eco-political challenges of our continent and their consequences in the urban and peri-urban spaces. Cohousing has indeed been more and more associated with processes such as urban regeneration, inclusivity and the green transition, in the larger perspective of creating an eco-socially more sustainable way of inhabiting our cities. Departing from such context, this article explores the practice of cohousing through the ethnographic case-study of the institutionally led cohousing “Salus Space” (Figure 1, 3). Situated in the Bologna’s expanding periurban area Fossolo-Due Madonne (Figure 2), Salus Space was born from a co-design process between 16 private and public partners, coordinated by the Municipality of Bologna and founded by the European program Urban Innovative Actions (UIA). The structure, inaugurated in January 2021, today hosts a community of fifty-six inhabitants, selected through social mixing, sustainability and motivational criteria. As stated on the UIA official form, the project’s goals (refugees/migrants inclusivity, responding to demographic changes, fighting urban/social decay, etc.) well inscribe themselves among the ongoing eco-political transitions we’re all experiencing. Different levels of transition happen to be entangled in the specificity of the cohousing experimentation as glocal transitions get concretely realized in such space: changes in the texture of the periurban territory, as well as in the textures of the material spaces we dwell and the relations with other (non-human) dwellers, but also the subjective transitioning into the cohousing structure and the transitional nature of the Salus Space project itself, given its experimental nature. These are some of the dwelling transitions constitutive to the material-discursive network that gives life to Salus Space’s socio-ecological niche. In this article such entanglements – and the interference patterns that emerge from them - are mapped through diffractive ethnographic methodologies (Guillon, 2018), proceeding to fill the gaps in cohousing literature, mostly coming from architectural and normative perspectives (Hagbert, Larsen, Thörn, Wasshede, 2020: 4). Indeed, taking inspiration from Ingold (2000), Guattari (2000 [1989]) and Haraway (2016) the cohousing can be seen as a dwelling practice intended as sympoietic coexistence with diversity, migrant subjectivities often marginalized and other non-human ones that break into the daily urban life through the concept of a larger ecological crisis. Through these processes, different kinds of boundaries become subjects of re-negotiations: the boundaries of the city (challenged by the changing relational dimensions between the city and its surroundings), those between the cohousing and the neighborhood, the private and the common areas, the subjects and the community. Boundaries that can then be contextualized following the concept of ecology as intended by Guattari: an ecology of subjectivity (1), linked to the precarious inter-subjects relations generated by the fluidity of modernity (Bauman, 2011[2000]) and at the same time influenced by the ontological anchoring (Bosis, 2020: 79) provided by the locus oikos which is seen a conglomerate of practices but also as «creation and process, emotionally connotated, of meaning attribution» (ibid.); a social ecology (2), impacted by the special precarity of migration phenomena which materialize locally through displacement/emplacement processes that characterize the neoliberal living restructuring, to which cohousing projects can sometimes contribute or, other times, oppose - by becoming a tool giving rise to sociabilities of emplacement (Caglar, Glick-Schiller; 2018: 124); and, finally, the environmental ecology, that takes in consideration those complex assemblages of (peri)urban inhabitants more-than-human; more-than-animal; more-than-plant and so on (Hinchliffe, Whatmore, 2006: 128).
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Broadly understood as a housing form that combines individual dwellings with substantial common facilities and activities aimed at everyday living, Danish cohousing communities (bofællesskaber) are often seen as pioneering and comparatively successful. Yet, in spite of frequently being mentioned or addressed as case studies in the growing literature on cohousing and, more generally, alternative forms of housing, Danish cohousing experiences have not been systematically analysed since the 1980s. Emphasizing broader trends and evolving societal contexts, this article investigates the development of Danish cohousing over the past five decades. Through this historical analysis, the article also draws attention to the largely neglected issue of tenure structures in the evolution of cohousing. The multifaceted phenomenon of cohousing cannot and should not be reduced to issues of tenure. But if cohousing is to spread and contribute affordable alternatives to mainstream housing, tenure structures should be a key concern.
Conference Paper
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The aim of this research is to contextualize a current architecture strategy such the retrofit cohousing (RECOH) to its future implementation, finding opportunities and showing its viability as a new everyday life infrastructure for the countries with the highest inventory of empty houses, abandoned buildings and housing stock emerging from the 2008 economic crisis. This research goes on suggesting the application of the retrofit cohousing by extending the life cycle of buildings where possible as this is considered an useful process in a technical and socio-economic approach to the design and analysis of retrofit cohousing. This article analyses the role of retrofit cohousing in reducing housing cost for residents, increasing its affordability, planning its implementation and growth over time, involving the users in the process and recycling existing buildings. The findings of the research propose five growth models to the future implementation of retrofit cohousing.
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Cohousing has caught the attention of activists, academics and decision-makers, and Danish experiences with cohousing as bofællesskaber are routinely highlighted as pioneering and successful. This article presents a mainly quantitative analysis of the development of Danish intergenerational cohousing and investigates socio-economic characteristics of residents in these communities. First, the article demonstrates how the development of Danish cohousing has been undergirded by distinct shifts in dominant tenure forms. Second, it shows that inhabitants in contemporary Danish cohousing are socio-economically distinct. This does not diminish the value of cohousing, but it problematises assumptions about the social sustainability of this housing form.
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Many European countries are experiencing a recent (re)emergence of collaborative housing, such as co-housing, housing co-operatives and other forms of collective self-organised housing. One of the less studied aspects of these housing forms is the relationship between users (i.e. residents) and institutional actors and, in particular, established housing providers. This paper proposes a conceptual framework that helps expand the knowledge on the nature of these collaboration practices. To this end, different concepts and theories are reviewed, with a focus on collaboration and co-production as useful constructs to understand these phenomena. The proposed framework is applied to two examples of collaboration for housing co-production between residents’ groups and established housing providers in Vienna and Lyon, respectively. We found a high degree of user involvement throughout each project. In both cases, the group of residents that initiated the project partnered-up with established housing providers, who facilitated access to key resources and professional expertise. We hypothesise that housing providers with an ethos akin to initiators' values will more likely become (and stay) involved in collaborative housing, as compared to mainstream providers. We conclude with a reflection on possible improvements to our analytical framework and directions for further research.
Europe is witnessing a new wave of collective self-organized forms of housing provision. We refer to the wide variety of these forms under the umbrella term “Collaborative Housing”. Alongside growing grassroots activity, the number and breadth of academic publications is rapidly growing. Nevertheless, the field remains thematically fragmented, with literature spread across disciplines. This article aims to establish a basis for greater conceptual clarity by exploring the domain of collaborative housing research over the period of 1990–2017. We carry out a thematic mapping and assessment covering 195 relevant peer-reviewed journal articles in English, German and French. These are inductively synthesized and categorized into five main thematic areas: socio-demographic, collaboration, motivation, effects and context. We conclude that the systematic and inductive approach of our review unravels new perspectives and makes the case for the conceptualization of collaborative housing as an independent research field, providing a basis for further theory development.
Cohousing is a resident-led neighborhood development model that clusters private dwelling units around collectively owned and managed spaces, with potential to address long-term social and environmental challenges in American metropolitan regions. To date, however, the cohousing model has been slow to diffuse beyond a demographically narrow following. This limited following may signal to policymakers that cohousing is an unappealing housing model, and therefore an impractical policy objective. Drawing from a survey of 1,000 American residents, the results of a multivariate regression model suggest that (a) many of the characteristics of the current resident population of cohousing in the United States have no statistical association with the individuals who indicate interest in cohousing nationwide; (b) other characteristics serve as better predictors of interest in cohousing; and therefore (c) the slow diffusion of cohousing is likely the consequence of inaccessibility rather than low appeal. Overcoming these challenges demands shifts in policy.