Mark Southcombe

Cohousing in Aotearoa is becoming mainstream and is way more diverse than the average kiwi realises.

The first generation of CoHousing in Denmark in the 1970s began as a lifestyle movement reacting to increasing individualism and materialism.

Initial communities created an alternative way to live and structure their social lives, particularly as children might be better raised having contact with many friends, and all residents having access to the support of a community. There was a direct NZ connection between these early Danish communities and the Whanganui Quaker settlement, an important early cohousing community established in 1975 with architect Michael Payne. Historically intentional collective communities were most often lifestyle, religious or environmentally focused.

CoHousing is diverse. It is as different as each group is, as can been seen in Michael Lafond’s exemplary book Cohousing Cultures[i]. The real diversity of Cohousing types and groups is evident in their different ambitions, organisation, and scales. Groups may cater for different people and needs, for example those in the ‘second half of life’, single gender, environmentally focused groups, culturally based groups, socially motivated or multigenerational or mixed social background groups, groups of self-builders and self-developers, first home owners, and cooperatives or partnerships with social housing agencies.

The key differences between CoHo groups can be seen in the extent and types of community connectedness and facilities.

Baugruppen - Building Group

German Baugruppen (building group) are regularly quoted as a key exemplar for cohousing here. It’s helpful to recognise that in the German language there are two words describing two subtly different types of collective self-building groups. Baugruppen focus is on collective building procurement and may vary greatly in the way this is managed. Most often they are initiated and led by a small team or project champion such as an architect or developer, and with defined points of client group participation as conventionally occurs for most building projects of any scale. Baugruppen extent of shared space and community focus vary from very little if any to a significant extent.

Baugermeinshaft - Building Community

The Nightingale franchise model in Melbourne is a form of Baugruppen. The other term Baugermeinshaft (building community) gives weight to the social component of building a community, and of living together in a building as a community after construction. Baugermeinshaft groups typically recognise the value of taking the time needed to build the social connectedness that is the foundation of community, often have specialist group facilitation, and are more participatory and bottom up. Baugruppen are as often motivated by collective real estate development as by a desire to create community. But a  critique of Baugruppen has been their tendency towards middle-class social exclusivity, and their tendency to gentrification of socially diverse urban neighbourhoods.