The ambition of Animate Cohousing is to convert existing adjacent housing into cohousing incrementally: this is sometimes called ‘retrofit’ cohousing. On 22 June 2017 we held a small design workshop to think about how this might look and feel. Our starting point is an existing city block in Oxford that some of us live in but the principles could apply elsewhere.
The 12 participants ranged in age from 8 months to 70 and brought different skills and experience to the discussion: some with design expertise and architecture degrees; some who already live in the neighbourhood; and some who are interested in the idea and want to live in cohousing. The session was led by a professional facilitator who has lived in the neighbourhood. It was a really good mix of people and resulted in a wide range of ideas in a short time.
The project is at ideas stage and it is not possible to try to define exactly how it will develop so the workshop looked at design ideas from several different perspectives. After introductions (and soup) we split into three groups to look at different scales of cohousing on this neighbourhood block:
- the whole block: what might be possible in 30 years;
- starting with adjacent properties along one street.
- starting with adjacent properties backing on to each other on two streets.
Here are the drawings that each group produced, nothing final but sketches produced within a half hour session. This provided a fruitful basis for discussion and insights.
2. Adjacent properties along a street
3. Adjacent properties backing on to each other
Points made included:
- increased density (more people, some new dwellings, building in the gaps and/or in the back gardens)
- possibility of increased height – 3-4 stories?
- negotiated private garden space (could vary depending on need).
- negotiated processes could be an intrinsic part of how Animate relates to members and neighbours.
- retaining the existing building stock and façade which existing residents value by knocking through to reconfigure the internal space of existing buildings and sympathetic new build.
- building new would allow more radical design to be possible, but gradual evolution of the cohousing as properties come on the market may mean that use of existing stock is likely to be the reality for this project.
- the importance of connection with the wider neighbourhood
- ideas for vehicle and pedestrian access
- types of shared facilities
- how could the initial (not adjacent) 3 neighbours could collaborate and share more. Future discussion on this?
- ideas for making connections with more neighbours.
- phasing, how it might unfold
We did not aim to conclude anything, but these early ideas will be useful in several ways:
- raising practical questions to check with experts such as City Council planners;
- providing ideas for what the retrofitted cohousing neighbourhood might potentially be like for communicating to neighbours, potential residents and investors;
- beginning a shared understanding of what the project is and how it might evolve;
- informing our thinking on how to proceed.