Cohousing was catapulted into success in Denmark with the collaboration of two cohousing architects, Jan Gudmand Hoyer and Vandkunsten, a Danish architecture firm. The idea, it takes a village to raise a child, was the force behind this movement and getting there was going to involve future residents in the decision-making process. Their project Trudeslund knocked it out of the park. In fact, they did so well, they inspired more cohousing communities to be created across the country. Suddenly, several cohousing communities were successfully built and architects were trained, based on this model. I was fortunate to be one of these architects.
In the early 1980s, I lived in Denmark, studying at the University of Copenhagen. It was on my walks to and from class that I began to see the comprehensive social movement of cohousing. Every day, I immersed myself in the sea of possibilities that cohousing groups brought to the table, what worked, and what didn't. In 1988, upon returning from our study, Katie McCamant (CoHousing Solutions) and I released our first book Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves and began what is now a thriving movement in North America. Our efforts as architect and development consultant have influenced many and I am pleased to know that we facilitated cohousers in successfully designing the neighborhoods of their dreams. I couldn't have done any of this without the intense period of mentorship I received from the experts (who were at the time only in Denmark.)
I invested my entire adult life to this concept of community-designed living because I saw how it improved the quality of life for those who participated in it. I know that other architects have the same mindset - in fact, I have trained a few over the years. But having the desire to help cohousing groups get started is a complicated process, especially if you are new to the world of development, architecture, and consensus-making. Projects that work with untrained architects might look in-fashion, but the glue that holds the community together often falls apart, if it is there at all. Homes in successful cohousing communities have the same handsome appeal and they work socially. As cohousing becomes more desired, it is important that the architects who will facilitate future projects are mentored, just as I was, by successful cohousing architects. That way, they too can contribute to bettering the future lives of their city and larger community.
Cohousing projects don't succeed just because the future residents are motivated. They don't succeed just because the architect is a nice person. Each project needs the guidance of someone who has experience and knowledge. Groups that hire cohousing professionals save money and time. They live every day the satisfaction that they did it the right way.
For the past 30 years, MDA has offered internships to architects who aspire to get cohousing into their towns or cities. We've trained several architects who are now guiding cohousing communities across the U.S. and around the world. Most of our 50 interns to date have been from overseas (seven from Denmark, ironically); five from Germany; two from Indonesia (interesting); one from each of the following Iraq, France, South Korea, Columbia, Australia; and so on. Only about ten from the U.S. and none from Canada. Although I like helping other countries see some of the in-depth tricks of designing high-functioning communities, America still has a huge negative ecological footprint.
Demand continues to grow and MDA has decided that it makes sense, socially and environmentally, to focus on training architects in North America. Our next internship starts this fall - a six-month on-the-job training - and we're looking for architects in the U.S. and Canada who want to learn how to think outside of the box and create eco-groovy, socially-sustainable housing.
Interns learn specific facilitation techniques and successful design elements that are fundamental in cohousing. They receive specific instruction on how to move projects from beginning to end and how to replicate this while adhering to the nuances of future groups. It's not about recreating the wheel. Instead, cohousing thrives in the knowing that the technique is proven effective.
What is the future in cohousing? It lies in the hands of professionals sharing knowledge with professionals. When more trained architects adopt cohousing as a modality in their practice, those who are interested will make themselves known. It's already happening - we receive several inquiries with regularity, from groups looking for a trained professional in their region. When more interest grows in an area, local government and businesses will also jump onboard, if they're not already in support of creating high-functioning neighborhoods. Once the wheel gets going, there's no telling how big the reach. Adding cohousing to your offering of services as a trained architect will lead to growth in your firm.
Now, more than ever, it is important to see the potential in the cohousing movement and join in. A six-month internship is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the value you'll add back into your community. Trust me, I've seen it clearly in mine. So, if you're interested in learning how you can become a cohousing architect, we'd like to hear from you.