Elements that emphasize the social aspects of community are of highest priority. Without these elements a cohousing community will be little more than a traditional residential development. In fact, the success of a cohousing community depends upon the “common” realm — the places where residents come together for socializing, creating, or just saying hello. These everyday acts are what keep residents connected. When buildings are scattered across a landscape, the Common House gets very little use and the sense of community is diluted.
Every cohousing community needs a central node or plaza that offers people opportunities for seeing or being seen. Like an old town square, it provides space for larger gatherings and enables people to come together, designed with active edges that encourage people to congregate, sit, observe, and interact.
The Common House is the heart of the community, so its design is very important to facilitating social interaction and the workings of the community. Because the Common House is the physical and the communal anchor of the community we take its planning and very seriously. It is the link between home and neighborhood. Acoustics, lighting, accessibility, presence of other common areas (a kid’s room and yoga room, for instance) are all considerations of great importance when designing a Common House. This is why having an experienced architect and/or acoustical engineer, experts who have successfully created common areas that are welcoming and not institutional, is very important. The difference between a well-programmed, well-designed Common House and one that is not done with adequate feedback from the group can be a difference of hundreds if not thousands of people hours.
Breaking bread together is timeless. In a high-functioning cohousing, residents talk of common meals as the highlight of their cohousing experience. Without the presence of a Common House, a community will struggle to fully experience the positive effects of having each other around. If there’s no Common House, where’s the cohousing community?
For more on good Common House design, read Creating Cohousing: Building Sustainable Communities.