Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Revisiting CoHousing as a Community Model

I say this meaning "one model." So much has gone wrong within the architecture, development and city building industries in their attempts at finding THE model, as if one is somehow better than another. What this implies is that there is only one solution, rather than a continuum defined by the market, mass-customized to their own needs and wants.

To a client a few weeks ago while spitballing ideas for a new format for affordable, urban housing I said, "make up for the increment between market-rate housing and affordable housing by not subsidizing amenity (as many apartment buildings do). Let the neighborhood be the amenity."

In effect, what those other apartments do is internalize community. It reflects a lack of trust in what is outside of the walls, the castle and moat necessitated by fearful populous. For cities to function optimally, those outward connections must be mended, which means both trust in "the other" and the public spaces and transportation designed to be safe, amenable, and sociopetal.

I am reminded by a quote that came across my email inbox today:

“In San Francisco, a home becomes your bedroom, the city is where you live.”

--Planning Commission President Ron Miguel, SF Chronicle, 6/27/10

This captures the fundamental wiring of the 21st century city and reminds of an idea I once put forward:

But, these are still physical examples (ed: referring to Vancouver's point-tower over podium model), that while good IMO, do not effectively address the social issue of the vertical cul-de-sac. One idea would be for mid-to-high rise co-housing, and the understanding that there are hierarchies of social, public, or semi-public space based on the size of the community.

This stems from the idea that any one person's community, the amount of people they can ever really "know" at one time is approximately 150. I probably need to track this back to source the info, but something tells me it was one of those tidbits that stuck with me from a psychology or sociology class. In this case, the vertical co-housing would be the person's "community." Whether they choose to know everybody within their building is beside the point, but the opportunity is there.

The vertical cohousing was based on the idea of eliminating excess inefficiencies in individual plumbing lines, savings on sharing of electricity and appliances, and all but elimating inefficient floor space, meaning no hallways. The elevator opens directly into a shared kitchen/dining area that would be shared by 4 to 8 units per floor and potentiall two floors per kitchen area. This would be organized as a tenant's "nuclear family."

The rest of the common amenities would be structured similarly based on the amount of people to use it. Meaning every four or so floors there is a common gathering area, be it a workout facility, a pool, game room, home theater, etc. These areas would be the "extended family."

The idea of which has been done with many high-rise towers in Europe that create garden floors every fifteen or twenty floors in modern "green" office towers, ie creating social spaces for subsets within the larger unit. However, as I have said, to some extent this minimizes the person/place/thing interactions or feedback loops that create more intelligent places, ie rather than being 100 on the street, there might be 20 every 100 feet in elevation (although I imagine diminishing returns based on the exponential overlapping that occurs in these semi-lattice networks).

The base of the building, would have a community-wide amenity area. One building we worked on was supposed to have a wii station for resident use.

The last level of the hierarchy is the public, which is the street, or city at-large, and this is where the building would have its "third places"; how the building engages the street and the city. Here could be some overlap with the community-wide amenity area as I have seen in my building with the bar/grocery store as a popular hangout after work for building residents.