HomeSelf-managed Co-Housing: born out of need or new ways of life?

HomeSelf-managed Co-Housing: born out of need or new ways of life?

Self-managed Co-Housing: born out of need or new ways of life?

L’habitat collectif autogéré : choix ou contrainte ?

*  *  *

Published on Friday, November 25, 2011


In the 21st century, self-organized co-housing is re-appearing in many European countries, in new forms and larger numbers. Cohousing, cooperatives de logement, Genossenschaften or Samenhuizen are types of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighbourhoods. This "Le Studium® Conference" aims to look at co-housing initiatives in the perspective of sustainable spatial development. Its purpose is both to take stock of ongoing research and practices, as well as to set a research agenda and establish future collaborations.


Version française


Ce colloque international a pour objectif de faire connaître les pratiques et les travaux de recherche sur les initiatives des habitants qui créent des logements collectifs en Europe. Au-delà de l’indispensable état des lieux, l’objectif est de construire des partenariats scientifiques. Cette rencontre réunira des sensibilités très différentes, en particulier, des chercheurs, des praticiens et des résidents, afin de rendre visible une tendance encore marginale du point de vue quantitatif mais particulièrement porteuse d’innovations sociales et écologiques. Ces nouvelles initiatives font écho à une tradition de mouvements collectifs engagés dans la co-construction et/ou la co-gestion de logements comme les Castors pour la France et les Genossenshaften en Allemagne, solutionnant une partie du déficit en logements de l’époque. Aujourd’hui, ces coopératives révèlent la ré-émergence de mouvements d’auto-organisation pour faire face aux défaillances de la production de l’habitat par l’Etat et par le marché du logement. Ces projets collectifs d’habitats groupés ont des caractéristiques communes : écologiques, attitudes actives, création de nouvelles typologies architecturales, énergies renouvelables… Les projets s’avèrent être une application concrète du développement spatial durable et opèrent comme une réponse cohérente et inédite aux orientations politiques actuelles en matière de développement économique et social. L’efficacité de ces forces créatives invite à interroger la reproductibilité de ces expériences à une échelle plus large en tant que réponse potentielle en matière de logement et de qualité urbaine.

A partir de ces enjeux politiques, socio-économiques et environnementaux quatre axes de réflexion ont été retenus et structurent le colloque :

Quatre axes de réflexion ont été retenus et structurent le colloque 

  • Session 1 : L’habitat collectif autogéré : solutions pilotes d’ingénierie écologique ?

  • Session 2 : Nouveaux modes de vie, nouveaux voisinages ?

  • Session 3 : Solutions marginales ou potentiel pour l’offre logement ?

  • Session 4 : Les citoyens et leurs projets face à la planification urbaine

English Version


In the 21st century, self-organized co-housing is re-appearing in many European countries, in new forms and larger numbers. Cohousing, cooperatives de logement, Genossenschaften or Samenhuizen are types of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighbourhoods.

 Co-housing is sometimes called ‘intentional communities’: Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community []. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Intentional communities can be identified by a deliberate attempt to realize a common, alternative way of life outside mainstream society. [Poldervaart 2002]

 On the one hand, co-housing initiatives are emerging out of demographic trends and changing lifestyles. Family-ties for example are loosening and relatives spread over larger distances. New types of communities are searched for, such as senior citizens or people with special needs, preferring to self-manage their health and care-services to being institutionalized. But also young households of diverse composition initiate co-housing solutions not only to gain access to a stagnating housing market, but also more efficiency in the ‘organization of family-life’ [kläser 2009]. In practice, the organization of the everyday is central to both the creation as well as the dissolution of housing collectives.

Out of this social logic, co-housing is emerging as a re-newed housing typology that raises many expectations for creating better social networks and healthy environments. The incentive and planning context for this trend varies from one country to another, but the intentions of inhabitants are very similar internationally. These new co-housings are following an historical practice of mutual help and shared work for housing like the post-war network ‘Les Castors’ or later programs such as ‘Habitat different Angers’, in the western part of France or the ‘Genossenschaften’ in Germany between the world wars [Novy 1983]. Already in the 19th and early 20th century, different architectural models for the collectivization of domestic labour have been developed, for example by Les Utopistes in France, The community Land Trusts in UK or the Shakers in the USA [Hayden 1979, Poldervaart 2001].

 On the other hand, the new co-housing initiatives put the accent strongly on ecological perspectives and shared services. Many intentional communities are created as an alternative to the demanding as well as wasteful performance economy. Often, dwellers initiatives invest much time in finding ways to implement sustainable building materials, to save energy and water, apply renewable energy sources and other technical innovations such as domotics. Clustered housing and self-management, for example in central heating installations, potentially make such technologies more feasible. Mixed uses to reduce travel time and car-dependency or sharing of basic services lead to architectural models which re-define the private- and public domains.

 Co-housing is a model of action, actively taking the housing and environment situation in ones own hand to create accommodation that the (housing) market does not provide. While they still constitute a small percentage of the housing stock, the impact of self-organized co-housing projects goes beyond the square meters of the building plot and exists in the quality of their urban environments as well as the social networks. As such the initiatives correspond to what in many European cities is the objective of urban policy: social cohesion, care for an aging population, local identities under globalization, energy transition, in short: the three cornerstones of sustainable development. The European countries where the increasing trend is mostly noticeable are UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France [Van Herk/De Meulder 2009; Fedrovitz/Gailing 2009; Lejeune 2009].

 However, co-housing as a form of active citizenship also challenges the role of both the market as well as the state in providing housing and creating living environments. It demands different attitudes and skills of architects and other professionals involved. Building regulations and urban management are not yet adapted to the shift of public-private boundaries. Collective or cooperative management of housing beyond the construction phase is still regarded as experimental, despite decades of successful projects.

 This conference invites researchers, residents and professionals to look at the future of co-housing along 4 specific fields of inquiry:

Session 1 : Co-housing projects : pilots of eco-engineering ?

In order to classify the architectural aspects, building components and energy flows, and the quality of urban space, sociological categories do not give sufficient criteria. Essential for analyses from an architectural perspective is the characteristic of co-housing as a community where the social/organizational and spatial units overlap. A majority of the co-housing initiatives can be considered at the forefront of the transition from fossil- to renewable energies, self-sufficiency, and smart grids. Analyses from an engineering perspective should generate quantitative evidence if their performance is de facto better than average housing. Clustered housing in itself provides opportunities for de-centralized energy-networks. Co-housing adds to this the dimension of self-management including direct decision-making, sharing of benefits by inhabitants and clever design solutions for high density. Shared investment and self-management potentially make such technologies more feasible.

Session 2 : Emerging lifestyles, new communities ?

There exist different types of classifications of co-housing from a sociological point of view: according to ideology, degree of involvement, distance to society and so on. Co-housing is different from individual self-built housing. In building together (collectively), residents can achieve more than each household apart. How is the aspect of ‘collectivity’ expressed in spatial layout? Co-housing is also different from gated communities in that it reaches out to the environment, with café/theater/function rooms, children’s room and playground, community garden, education and service-sharing, and so on. What does this contribute to the qualities of urban environments? Do social networks expand beyond the project into neighbourhoods?

The population of co-housing initiatives of the 21st century fits in the type of jobs (consultancy, creative) that is at the forefront of the flexibilization of the labour market. For self-employed people, especially in artisanal and service sector such as sewing, childminding and catering, affordable, small-scale workspaces are hard to find in larger towns. There for many co-housing proposals include a form of mixed use with studio’s, workshops and services such as childcare- or meeting rooms. Can intentional communities also be interpreted as an attempt to balance job and home-responsibilities, and counter the precarious conditions of self-employment?

Session 3 : Small-scale solution for a minority, or a potential transformation of housing provision?

After two centuries varying forms of collective housing are in number still a marginal phenomenon. Yet it is not only because of its small numbers that Co-housing does not appear in statistics. The absence of suitable categories also makes this type of housing invisible. For example: only rental and owner-occupancy options exist, not collective property; or choices like ‘garden: private/none’ whereas the majority of co-housing benefits from collective outdoor space. This invisibility partly prevents co-housing from becoming a credible model and equal option besides the now standard housing-varieties: dwellers and professionals are often not aware of co-housing models or see it as problematic. The undeniable presence of co-housing needs to be derived from other sources such as the rise of information websites and publication of anthologies, documentaries, or guides and manuals for private (non-professional) clients and collectives.

The lack of insight in the substance, and more importantly in the development, of this trend makes it difficult to understand in which direction co-housing is moving ‘still halfway between utopia, experiment innovation and social transformation’ (Lejeune 2009). Yet politicians and professionals have high hopes of ‘the third way of housing’ (Maury 2010). How to establish to what extent co-housing represents a future model for European cities?

Session 4 : Urban Jazz- citizens and  the planning system

Residents initiatives encounter obstacles during the planning process, such as rigid definition in zoning plans, safety regulations in building laws, a lack of understanding of planning departments, or support of investors and real estate managers. While in the 21st century participation of occupants in the realization of their housing is increasingly promoted, the role of residents is still mostly perceived as ‘client’ and the expertise of dwellers is underestimated. This raises the question how planning systems can be made more accessible for self-organized building groups with specific (co-) habitation needs. Examples can be found at municipal level, for example: Almere (NL) which re-oriented its planning procedures entirely for self-initiated housing; Strasbourg (Fr) adapted the framework of urban regulations for assigned plots, the German federal government implements a program for ‘intergenerational living’ by facilitating the planning process.

 Invited speakers

  •  Helen Jarvis, Newcastle University
  • Adri Duivesteijn, Alderman spatial development Almere 

Practical information


Co-housing researchers, inhabitants, networks, professionals, architects and social agents from different countries.

 A Round Table with international participants will discuss what can be done to enhance Co-housing initiatives through local planning and urban policies.



Call for papers

We welcome contributions for each of these tracks from all disciplines. To be presented on this conference, papers need to be based on empirical research on self-managed co-housing and discuss at least 1 case-study.


  • Abstract/proposal for paper submission before 15 Dec 2011

Send a .pdf IN ENGLISH with name, affiliation, discipline, address and max. 400 words about your proposal to: . Please mention the session you prefer to be presenting in, if you are selected.

  • 15 January 2011 Notification of acceptance
  • 1 March 2012 Full paper submission

Poster presentations

Request template at LE STUDIUM® and submit before Feb 15th 2012 to be included in the exposition.

Seminar ‘Urbanisme participatif’

The conference will be followed 14 March 2012 by AlterProp seminar ‘Urbanisme participatif: co-housing et eco-quartiers’. This French-speaking seminar is open and free to conference participants and takes place in Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Tours.

Contact and registration – 33 (0)2 38 25 56 37

Registration will be open from mid-January 2012 until 28 February 2012. Please consult the website of LE STUDIUM® for details and registration forms.

Scientific Committee

  • Lidewij Tummers, LE STUDIUM®/CITERES, Université François Rabelais
  • Prof Sylvette Denèfle, MSH Tours
  • Prof Ezio Manzini, Politecnico di Milano
  • Prof Vincent Nadin, TU Delft
  • Prof. Yves Cabannes, Development Planning Unit/University College London
  • Dr. Veronique Biau, CRH-UMR LAVUE n°7218 CNRS
  • Christiane Droste, Urbanplus Berlin

Organizing Committee

  • Janick Brabant, LE STUDIUM®
  • Michèle Scherer, LE STUDIUM®
  • Isabelle Ziegeldorf, LE STUDIUM®
  • Emilie Rolleau, LE STUDIUM®
  • Marie-Frédérique Pellerin-Hélène, LE STUDIUM®
  • Elsa Coslado, MSH Tours
  • Marie-Hélène Lagrange, MSH Tours
  • Sabrina Bresson, séminaire AlterProp

Loire Valley Institute for Advanced Studies
3D, avenue de la recherche scientifique, F 45071 – Orléans Cedex 2
Tél. :33 (0)2 38 25 56 37 - e.mail :


  • Tours, France


  • Thursday, December 15, 2011


  • habitat participatif,architecture, urbanisme, politiques publiques, habitat, écologie, droit de propriété, collectivités locales, logement social, réseaux militants, amenagement du territoire, énergies renouvelables


  • Michèle Scherer
    courriel : lestudium [at] cnrs-orleans [dot] fr
  • Lidewij Tummers
    courriel : lidewij [dot] tummers [at] univ-tours [dot] fr

Information source

  • Elsa Coslado
    courriel : elsa [at] coslado [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Self-managed Co-Housing: born out of need or new ways of life? », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, November 25, 2011,

Archive this announcement

  • Google Agenda
  • iCal
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search