A quality-focussed housing revolution is required in London. Our homes should be designed principally to support our own well-being, and furthermore, there should be choice in the marketplace to accommodate diverse lifestyles.

Cohousing is a radically different model for urban housing that can offer this quality of life and variety. Perhaps crucially, it can also provide tangible financial benefits, whether projects are self-initiated or developer built.


View Architecture for London’s portfolio of recent housing projects.


What is cohousing?

Cohousing is essentially a community of fully functional private homes that also benefit from a range of shared facilities in separate, communal spaces. There are varying levels of interaction with other residents depending on the particular development and management approach agreed.

Cohousing residents can, of course, keep their privacy in their own homes.

 

The social networks fostered by cohousing have many associated social benefits, including alleviating loneliness, creating a sense of empowerment and providing an opportunity to share tasks such as cooking and childcare. There are also a number of environmental and functional gains:

  • Reducing consumption: many consumer products are used for only a few minutes each year on average, and can easily be shared.
  • Making luxuries affordable: facilities like a gym or swimming pool that individual residents might not otherwise be able to afford.
  • Outdoor space: larger shared gardens with play areas are possible in addition to private terraces.

Cohousing in London

In London, schemes have ranged from the six home Copper Lane development in Stoke Newington (shared hall, workshop, utility room and gardens) through to a community of over 500 people at ‘The Collective’ in Old Oak, west London (shared bars, gym, kitchen, dining, roof terrace, library, cinema, laundry, spa, games room and library).

Some of the current, critical affordability issues in London could be addressed by the economies of cohousing. At present, there are thousands of spare rooms in homes all over the city, which are used only occasionally. For each of these rooms, a premium is added to the price of the property.

If the footprint of new homes can be reduced, with ‘spare rooms’ shared between an entire group, there could be significant gains for affordability. Smaller units and increased densities would be possible without loss of living standards. These efficiencies create real economic benefits for developers, so there is no reason that cohousing schemes should only come to fruition from self-build groups.


Design opportunities

Cohousing offers architects a series of unique design opportunities. They create the potential for interesting arrangements of homes with various degrees of public and private space.

A cohousing development can be tailored to the needs of a particular group and sustainability is frequently a key component of the brief.

 

A close relationship with neighbours tends to be the exception rather than the rule in our cities. Perhaps London could be transformed by following Berlin’s lead, where 5% of new homes are cohousing developments.

Architecture for London is a member of the UK Cohousing network. Current AFL projects can be viewed on our housing page, or contact us to arrange an initial cohousing feasibility study.


Image credits

Architect: Jørn Utzon, cohousing in Fredensborg. Photographer: SEIER+SEIER.