The Many Faces of Cohousing

The look and feel of cohousing developments are as varied as are the sites they occupy. Some are located on rural acreage and may consist of stand-alone houses around a common space.  Others are more urban trying to fit into a more dense setting.  Take a look at the variety of cohousing projects.

The “Sunriver” look.
Stacked flats on a space-constrained urban lot. Durham, N.C.
Row houses on a couple of acres.
Row houses on a couple of acres.
Urban cohousing in Vancouver, B.C.
Urban cohousing in Vancouver, B.C.
ankeny row
Six units around an enclosed courtyard. SE 26th and Ankeny. Courtesy Green Hammer.

What’s in a common house?

Common house, great house – people call them different things.  But, whatever the name, they act as a center of social activity in a cohousing project.  They serve as a space for joint meals, meetings, parties, concerts, movies, workshops, exercise classes and celebrations.

Common house kitchens are sized and equipped for group preparation of community meals.

Designs vary greatly.  They can be designed as multipurpose rooms with dividers for multiple simultaneous activities. Spaces for relaxation and conversation are provided.

Common houses have space, not only for dining, but for relaxation and conversation, as well.

A design workshop during the planning process will allow us tailor the design of the common house to our needs.

Other common facilities may include toy storage (kayaks, canoes, bicycles), repair shop, gardens, patios, outdoor dining space, spa, sauna.

Design challenges and unknowns

At this point in the process we are trying to locate a suitable site so that various design criteria can be applied.  Is 15 units the right number?  It really depends on the site and the type of structures that we settle on.  Maybe 10 units would suffice.  And if we go to 10 units maybe they can be standalone or attached dwelling units, rather than stacked flats.  Usually a developer will opt for the choice that yields maximum rental space or purchasable units.  But in our case we want to make sure the units offer privacy while assuring community interaction.  Typical buildable parcels available here are in the 30,000 sq ft category. Zoning will limit height of structures.  So if you reserved 10,000 sq ft for common areas, that leaves 20,000 net sq ft for building footprint.  You could build ten 2,000 sq ft homes. Or if one does 2-story units with “master-on-main” (master bedroom on main floor) you could conceivably build more.  Lots of fun ahead as we figure this out.