Understanding Cohousing and design a cohousing for old people



Figure 1 source:The Cohousing Company McCamant & Durrett Architects

Cohousing is a living area built by the residents who work together, and the residents themselves will actively participate in the design, construction and management of the whole community. The residents of cohousing are blended into the whole community life consciously, while the physical design of the community encourages the communication of individual space and community. In the cohousing community, the private houses contain all basic functions of the conventional houses, and the residents also have the opportunity to get the outdoor public facilities, like an open community space. In order to save the resources and indoor space, the community is also provided with public laundry room, storage house to reduce the resource burden of private residences.

Cohousing was started in Denmark in the 1960s, from then on, the design concept of “living community” has been rapidly spread globally, and this new type of living form has been widely accepted by everyone. Mccamant and Durrett (2011) proposed that cohousing is a typical demonstration community in the new field of sustainable development, and they made great success in achieving the sustainable development of environment, society and economy. I understand there are some typical features include in cohousing project through case study and field trip to Lancaster cohousing project.

Being closed to the traffic network makes it convenient for the residents to travel, and encourages them travel in green and environmental manner. The advanced frame technology is applied to achieve the minimum use of timber, and the solar azimuth is analyzed to consider the utilization of natural lighting and solar energy. Various new, environment-friendly and sustainable materials are also applied in the house construction, while the outdoor land use design also meets the demand of people’s community activities. And community garden also needed in community life.


Figure 2: Hexham community engagement event

Source: (Alina Pavolva, 2015)

In the cohousing project we design, we want to design a cohousing community for the old people. When we investigated Hexham, we found that the local population is aged, the young people are not around the old people, and the ole people will feel lonely and are lack of care, while the senior cohousing community provides an opportunity for the old people to get together, enhance the mutual exchange and makes the old people can care each other, maintain vitality and health. Therefore, from the demand of the old people, we first considered many types of houses for selection, like one bedroom houses, two bedroom houses and three bedroom houses for big family. and keep all designs destination can be simply used and accessible. After the preliminary plan, we went to Hexham again to joined in Hexham community engagement event,communicate and discussed with local people on their different understandings and ideas to the residential design, and I mainly discussed with them on the opinion of outdoor landscape design. In the meeting, many ideas of the local residents were clear and expressed directly, making me collect a lot of useful information. I thought some of their opinions carefully and applied them in the design. I understand that the most important in design is to consider what groups of people will use the land, how to use it and how to make people use it happily, so as to improve the quality of the whole living environment by connected the indoor and outdoor space connection.



Durrett, C. & McCamant, K. (2011), “Cohousing and Community: Creating Co-housing”, New Society Publishers, Canada.

Figure1: http://www.cohousingco.com/projects/san-juan-bautista-artisans-plaza/

Figure2: Alina Pavolva, 2015

Engaging with Future Communities – Hexham Community Engagement Event


An important aspect of the majority of co-housing schemes is the way in which the development is designed, the future communities that are to inhabit them are (as mentioned in Developing a Design Brief posted on Wednesday 25th March).

As part of the ‘Alternative Housing’ module being undertook in Semester Two, my cohort received the opportunity to lead a community engagement design event. Both the cohort and myself combined our knowledge and research to develop an activity which would help us with the design of external spaces and the positioning of residential blocks and community facilities within our developing masterplan. Using elements of the ‘Plan Maker Method’ (Community Places, 2014)  we used a base plan with 3D blocks representing the different buildings for example homes and buildings of communal use. By creating a number of labels with key activities and uses we asked to community their needs and aspirations required of the future development.

Referring back Watson and Bentley argument stated in previous blog post the experience of engaging within conversation with the community allowed me to develop an understanding of what is of most importance and what is of least. By encouraging and directing discussion I was able to let the community convoy their own personal ideas in relation to the future design decisions in the creation of the scheme.

Figure 1: Engaging and Discussing Community Aspirations and Needs

Source: (Alina Pavolva, 2015)

The use of the model and plan-maker labels, ensured discussions were focussed and valuable information was collected. Wate’s (2004), concern relating to community engagement discussions being ‘off topic and a forum for all topics to be discussed’ were overcome by mediating and encouraging conversations. Adopting the role of mediator and encouraging discussions was challenging as it was of importance to the group that all members were involved and all ideas where heard.

To conclude I believe it is evident that allowing communities to engage within the design development is of beneficial to the designer as the experience can allow designers to develop their knowledge and understanding of what is to be produced. The creation of a resource as seen in Figure 2 provides the opportunity for designers to go away and analyse the community opinion and suggestions.

Figure 2: Creating a Resource: The Outcome of the Community Engagement Event


Source: AuthorsOwn

Which in turn evidences that not only does community engagement allow for designers to understand the context, community and requirements for a design but helps to ensure places reflect a specific character and inhabitants encourage and establish their own sense of place identity.

References and Figures

Community Places, (2014), Community Planning Toolkit, available at: http://www.communityplanningtoolkit.org/sites/default/files/Engagement.pdf, last accessed: 29/04/2015.

Wates, N., (2004), The Community Planning Handbook, 2nd Edition, EarthScan, Routledge, London.

Watson, G.B. & Bentley, I., (2007), Identity by Design, Architectural Press, London.

Figure 1: Engaging and Discussing Community Aspirations and Needs, Source: (Alina Pavlova, 2015).

Figure 2: Figure 2: Creating a Resource: The Outcome of the Community Engagement Event, Source: (Author’s Own, 2015).

Understanding Design Features – A Visit to Forgebank (Lancaster’s Co-Housing Scheme)


After being introduced to the idea of co-housing and beginning site analysis, as a cohort we undertook a site visit to an established co-housing scheme in Hoxton, Lancaster. Considering the outcomes of present site analysis and academic research I was particularly interested to consider how the design features encouraged social interaction within the scheme. Shown around by a resident of Forgebank’s community, I came to acknowledge the importance of design in creating a sense of community and enhancing the possibilities of achieving social interaction. From the design of the individual dwellings, the shared facilities to the key areas of movement and access. Each design decision has been made carefully to ensure the success of a scheme. The observations I made throughout the case study visit, supported the argument of Durrett and McCamant (2011); suggesting that design can encourage ‘strong community interaction’.

Design Features to Encourage Social Interaction 

The Placement of Common Facilities 

Shared facilities where placed at the centre of the development. This helped to ensure that the facilities where easily accessible by all residents. At Lancaster the cohousing was placed around a narrow pedestrianised street. The common house, washing facilities, storage area and guest bedrooms was in the middle of this street, by using a change in pavement surface it is clear where the shared facilities are. Covered by a clear plastic roof the pedestrianised street surrounding the facilities is protected from the weather and can be used by the community in all weather conditions. The clever choice of materials suitably highlights the common facilities as an extension of people’s private dwellings and external spaces. Locating the facilities here ensure that most residents will have to pass it regularity as it sits on the most direct route through the site. Which as ScottHanson states ‘facilitates opportunities for spontaneous and frequent interaction’ (2005, p99).

Figure 1: Image to show the pedestrianised street and common facilities in the Lancaster CoHousing scheme, considering the change of materials to highlight communal spaces. (Image – Author’s Own).480549_10152932146752639_6603641292207541989_n


By providing parking spaces at the periphery of the site, the Forgebank site is predominantly pedestrianised, this provides external spaces for the community to interact and creates a safer environment for children to play. Durrett and McCamant (2011, p257) suggest that parking areas should be clearly separated from the living environment, to act as a buffer shielding the residents homes from roads. In Lancaster this is achieved by having small plots for parking located at different edges of the site.

Figure 2: Diagram Highlighting Parking Areas in Grey. (Digram – Author’s Own).

PIC Lancaster Site Layout

 The Internal Design of Dwellings 

Each dwelling that faced the pedestrianised street, was designed so that the kitchen was facing the public access route, this creates the opportunity for neighbours to see each other; for example when stood doing the washing up residents can see the street and people using the street can see their neighbours. This ensured that the living room was positioned furthest away from the pedestrianised street, so that people could relax in there own private spaces without being seen or disturbed by the other residents (Durrett & McCamant, p65).

Figure 3: Diagram to show the internal layout of Lancaster CoHousing Dwellings. (Diagram – Author’s Own).

PIC Lancaster House Layout Photoshop

Therefore to summarise it is important to consider the impact of design decisions when designing a cohousing scheme. Decisions and layouts should be created to use the strengths of the site to the maximum to ensure the opportunities are created for both social interaction whilst creating private spaces which residents have easy access to as and when they wish. The consideration of such design features will be of high importance when producing the forthcoming masterplan required to be produced as part of the ‘Housing Alternatives’ module.

References and Figures 

Durrett, C. & McCamant, K.,  (2011), Creating CoHousing, New Society Publishers, Canada.

ScottHanson, C. & ScottHanson, K., (2005), The CoHousing Handbook, New Society Publishers, Canada.

Figure 1: Image to show the pedestrianised street and common facilities in the Lancaster CoHousing scheme, considering the change of materials to highlight communal spaces. (Image – Author’s Own).

Figure 2: Diagram Highlighting Parking Areas in Grey. (Diagram – Author’s Own)

Figure 3: Diagram to show the internal layout of Lancaster Choosing Dwellings. (Diagram – Author’s Own).


The Ways To Design a House In Sloping Site


One of the challenges we have to face when designing a housing on the site in Hexham is the condition of the site which is not flat. Site is a hill that starts from the northern site near the main road and goes up to the south. Therefore, we try to figure out how to design a house on the sloping site.

Before talking about the ways to overcome a site that is not flat, the figure below tries to explain the situations which is possible to be faced when making a home on the site. There are 4  possibilities i.e. down slope, up slope, side slope and rolling slope. All these possibilities are clearly explained in the image below.

TYPE OF CONDITIONAll people that work in any field certainly understand that a home should be made as flat as possible. Therefore, before starting the construction process, the contractors and designers have to think about what they should do with the sloping site. Perhaps, for the architects, this is a basic knowledges that already known by them, but this information may be useful to other colleagues who are not from architecture. Those ways are cut, fill and cut & fill.


CUTCut is a way of leveling the land where a house / building will be constructed by cutting the area of the land. Furthermore, to prevent the soil in the landslide, a retaining wall have to made in order to hold back the soil.


FILLThe opposite of the cut, fill is a way to level the land by filling the area with concrete or other materials. It is like creating a new platform in order to flatten the surface of the area so that a house can be built.



CUT & FILLCut & Fill is a combination of those two ways mentioned above. if we want to apply this way, we have to cut some area of the land and add it on the other side.

These 3 ways would have a different impact. All depends on site conditions, the concept of design and budget owned by the owner. When we talk about the price, “Fill” will cost higher than the 2 other because “Fill” needs more extra material. However, “Fill” could be the best option if the designer wants the house is in a higher position than the ground in order to get a view. This kind of thing can happen in other ways as well. Therefore, designers should think seriously before deciding which way that want to be used so that the selected method is good for all parties.



First In Architecture (2015) Tips for building on a sloped terrain [online] Available at: http://www.firstinarchitecture.co.uk/tips-for-building-on-a-sloped-terrain/  [Accessed 1st March 2015]

Home Building (n.d) how to build on sloping site  [online] Available at: http://www.homebuilding.co.uk/advice/beginners/plots/build-sloping-site  [Accessed 1st March 2015]

Albermarle (n.d) The neighborhood model: building block for the development area [online] Available at: https://www.albemarle.org/upload/images/forms_center/departments/community_development/forms/Neighborhood_Model/Neighborhood_Model_Design_Approch_for_Principle11.pdfv  [Accessed 1st March 2015]

Tweed Shire Council, n.d. Together Forward, Australia