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Cohousing – an instrument for peaceful resolution of conflict

Cohousing, i.e. housing with communal spaces and shared facilities, is gaining momentum in Europe, USA, Australia and some other countries. The author of this article has been involved in research on cohousing since the middle of the 1960s and lives in one such housing unit in Stockholm since 1996. In this article the focus is put on the possible contribution of cohousing to peaceful resolution of conflict.

The cohousing models of today were influenced by examples far back in history. In her books about the history of communitarian settlements in the USA the famous feminist architect researcher Dolores Hayden finds that these projects were based on wishes to establish self-sufficient settlements incorporating both industry and agriculture. The design solutions were determined by the machine ideal (forerunners of modernism), the model home idea (emphasising new lifestyles) and/or the garden ideal (forerunners of ecovillages 100 years later).
In the cohousing unit Tullstugan in Stockholm (home of the author) 50 residents share the duty of preparing dinners four evenings a week. Each member is served meals 18 out of 20 times without any duties of shopping, cooking or dish washing. Twice every fifth week one has to spend four hours cooking for other residents. Men and women have equal duties.
Today’s most frequent cohousing model developed from the end of the 1960s, especially in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. Danish cohousing is often initiated by groups who plan, design and manage their cohousing project themselves, while the Swedish and Dutch models are built by public housing companies. In both models the idea of collaboration is strongly manifest.

Cohousing in USA was influenced by the Danish model, much due to the book Cohousing by the architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett. They have designed more than 50 cohousing units. The national US network for cohousing lists 260 projects, including those in the formation stage (see Cohousing is described as the opposite of the materialistic ‘American Dream’, the one where owning a single-family detached house, a two-car garage, and a private yard is the desired goal.

US cohousing is part of the wider network Fellowship of Intentional Communities FIC. This movement is based on cooperation, non-violence and inclusivity. An important aim is to share experiences with others and to build trust in general. Seminars and courses are arranged about conflict resolution and publications are sold with an aim to broaden awareness of cooperative alternatives. See further
Design of common spaces by Charles Durrett & Kathryn McCamant. One may note how well the common spaces are connected to each other. The contact between indoor and outdoor has been given special attention, as well as an overview including an indoor visual contact with a playground for children.
The Australian architect Graham Meltzer (living in the famous Scottish ecovillage Findhorn) has made an interesting analysis of US cohousing projects showing that cohouses may substantially promote sustainable development and environmental-friendly lifestyles. Cohousing residents usually have smaller houses and fewer cars while they share facilities such as garden equipment, carpentry tools, washers, dryers, freezers, TVs and video recorders.

In Swedish cohousing one of the goals is to increase access to attractive indoor space by abstaining from some private space in favour of a dining room, children’s play room, guest room, sauna, workshops and exercise room. In an influential book on cohousing the authors argued for a model that “saves on material resources and liberates human resources”. About 55 units of their model have been built in Sweden since 1979.

Are there no conflicts in cohousing? As the chairman of the Swedish association Cohousing NOW I know that conflicts exist about food, rules for cleaning and house meetings, and procedures for moving in and out. Such conflict are often good learning experiences, but may in some cases result in the deterioration of communal life. Residents do not have to follow one particular ideology or even be a friend of everybody in the house, but one has to compromise and solve conflicts in a constructive way. If more people would live in cohousing the world would probably be more peaceful.

Read more
Hayden, Dolores (1977): Seven American Utopias. The Architecture of Communitarian Socialism 1790-1975, MIT Press.
Hayden, Dolores (1981): The Grand Domestic Revolution. A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods and Cities, MIT Press.
McCamant, Kathryn and Charles Durrett (1988): Cohousing - A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, Habitat Press/Ten Speed Press.
Meltzer, Graham (2000): “Cohousing: Verifying the Importance of Community in the Application of Environmentalism”, in Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, Vol 17, No 2.
Vestbro, Dick (ed. 2010): Living Together – Cohousing Ideas and Realities Around the World, Cohousing NOW (Swedish association),


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