Re: Common house design process
From: Becky Schaller (
Date: Sun, 26 Apr 1998 22:15:16 -0500
Lynn, we are working with Jim Leach as our developer.  Chuck Durrett 
lead our workshop to design our common house and common facilities.  
We're using the streamlined model.  There was an article about this in 
the latest issue of The Cohousing Magazine.  I can't find my copy 
right now, but basically we share the financial risk with Jim Leach 
and we have several weekend workshops to plan the site, the common 
facilities, and the private homes.   We also had a weekend marketing 
workshop.  Katie McCamant came in January and lead us through planning 
the site design.  Chuck's going to come again and help us plan our 
private homes.  

We're planning to build a 3500 foot common house.  I don't know the 
budget.  I think we leaned heavily on Chuck's background knowledge and 

We started with our goals about why we wanted to have a common house 
and common facilities.  (Sociability, efficiency, better living, 
economy, etc)  Then we listed the activities we thought we would be 
doing in the common areas.  Then we talked about the spaces we would 
need for those activities.  Then we divided into three groups of about 
six people each and prioritized which spaces we most wanted.  We 
merged the three lists into one.  Then we went through each room and 
listed the activities we saw ourselves doing in each room, the 
character of the room, and the relationships which this room would 
have to other spaces.  (dining room next to kitchen and within hearing 
distance of kids)

We also talked about more general issues. We decided we did want to 
spend an extra $2000 to avoid big time toxic materials.  I think we 
decided to only have one story. We want there to be room for the 
common house to grow.  We haven't yet decided what we will build the 
house out of.  We're considering straw bale, but we don't yet know.

In order of priority, the rooms we decided are: kitchen, dining room, 
toilet, bulletin board/delivery/coat area, tech closet (don't ask me 
about that one), romp room/childcare room, study/living room, guest 
room, craft room, laundry room, exercise/music/teen room (we'll see 
how that one works) workshop, hot tub, and bike storage.   It looks 
like a swimming pool probably did not make the cut, but we'll see what 
happens in the future.  

With that information, Chuck goes and writes up an architectural plan 
for us. He's going to talk with his consultant about sound acoustics 
in the dining room so that we can have decent acoustics without paying 
too much for this.  Also he's going to figure out far parents, who are 
talking in the dining room, can be from the romp room/child care room 
so they can hear when the decibel level changes.   But we also want 
the room far enough away that we are not disturbed by the noise of the 
kids.  Then he will bring it back to us and we will revise it.

Like I said, I think we were very dependent upon Chuck's expertise for 
making decisions.  I don't know how people form cohousing groups 
without using this streamlined method.  My hat is off to you and your 
group.  Once we  started working with Jim Leach and other 
professionals, we started moving faster.  Still, there are a lot of 
people in our group who have been doing an incredible amount of work.  
And even with Chuck's expertise, people in this group have done a 
tremendous amount of research.
If you have more questions, I'd be happy to tell you more or refer you 
to someone who knows more.  

Best of luck to you.

If someone else wants to make corrections or additions to this  
description, please do so.

Lynn Nadeau wrote:
> Subject:     Common house design process
> Sent:        4/26/98 10:51 AM
> To:          cohousing L, cohousing-l [at]
> To Robin Schaller, in Tucson AZ, who noted  "We're designing our common
> house this weekend".
> We have been designing our common house for years! Even more recently,
> when we're really getting down to it, we have weekly committee meetings
> with many hours of homework, bringing in factors of budget,
> practicalities, expandability, environmental impact, kitchen choices,
> many revisions to increase natural light, improve traffic flows, etc.
> We have a design budget of $6000, of which we spent $2000 to have an
> experienced  common house architect do a conceptual plan (floor plan,
> site plan, expansion plan) based on our programming and budget. Actually
> that led to two plans, one that fits our programming, and the other that
> fits our budget (with a lot of doubling-up of functions and smooshing of
> space).
> Now we are as a committee working from those plans, and others which have
> been proposed by members, trying to come to a conclusion about what we
> will recommend to the group as a whole.
> Then when we get approval, we'll move into finding the appropriate
> professionals to guide the creation of working drawings, with decisions
> and details of heating system, construction materials and methods,
> plumbing and electrical systems, etc.
> There's another committee meeting tomorrow morning, and I'll spend today
> making models of various schemes, for comparison, as well as redesigning
> the entry hall (again).
> Please tell me what exactly your group is doing this weekend -- maybe a
> programming workshop with cohousing professionals? And, afterwards,
> please let me know what was accomplished, so we can  learn from your
> experience!
> It would also help if I knew how many sq ft you are looking at, and what
> your budget is. Our phase one is 1600 sq ft, with actual construction
> budget of $135,000    (with additional budget for impact fees, permits,
> landscape, furniture, etc.)
> Thanks a lot, Lynn at RoseWind, Port Townsend Washington
> We started nine years ago, doing all the planning etc ourselves, in our
> "spare" time, we now are 19 households, with 8 houses built and occupied,
> 3 more mostly built. We hope to break ground on our phase-one common
> house this year, adding to it when our remaining 6 lots sell.

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