Report on Hiring Cohousing Design Experts
From: Lydia & Ray Ducharme (
Date: Sun, 6 Feb 2000 23:23:36 -0700 (MST)
I did a report to our Design Committee on hiring cohousing experts to assist
with design.  I reviewed the archives, got feedback from the List and spoke
with the references of the Cohousing Company.

In summary, this is how people responded:
1) Groups strongly recommended using the Cohousing Company for site and
common house programming and design.  (Other cohousing design
"professionals" were
also recommended).
2) It was felt that both money and time would be saved by hiring them.

Here are some of the comments that were expressed:
1) If you think you can save money by not hiring them you're making a big
mistake, it's important to get it right the first time.
2) What you get for your money with them is twelve years of cohousing
experience, guidance in working with one another and with your architect,
developer, and others, clarification of roles of the group and the
professionals, lots of good ideas about building your group, knowledge based
on what has been found to work in dozens of other cohousing communities.
3)  It's important to have cohousing expertise in the common house schematic
design, in design of community, layout of site, and how the programming is
4) They'll save you so much time not going around in circles,
differentiating goofy ideas from consensus, gross mistakes might otherwise
be made.
5) Katie is a fantastic facilitator.  Groups take too long, Katie cuts to
the chase.  She's very tough with money and finances.  She's very crisp, you
can't sway her, she'll consider the budget - either the group can afford it
or they can't.
6) They allowed us to make clear decisions very quickly.
7) Chuck and Katie could clearly say why proposed designs would not work.
Why they were too public, too private or would not encourage community.
8) Common sense assumptions about how the common house gets used don't work.
9) They'll help you make 100's of decisions based on what has worked in
other cohousing neighborhoods to create community.
10) When I walk around the site and look at the different perspectives that
the houses have of the common house and how the houses face the gathering
nodes, I see how important it is to have knowledge of how cohousing works in
designing the site and the houses.
11) There were easily 100's of ideas that saved time and money.  For
example, what kind of space works for kids, don't put doors on the kitchen
cupboards, don't make the kitchen too institutional, from the sizes of the
tables to how far apart and what kind of chairs, have a family style serving
area vs. a buffet style, how close the kids are to the dining room affects
the acoustics, don't have too many gathering nodes, don't place the sitting
room out of view of the houses, turn the houses 45 degrees for more privacy,
put the clotheslines in a public area, these windows here instead of
skylights over there, etc.
12) Katie was able to quickly see some programming issues that we hadn't
anticipated and help us identify possible alternatives.  Chuck looked at a
design by our local architect and said the common house usage would fail.
He listed 12 reasons why.  They understand  how the forms make people move,
how relationships of buildings affect community.
13) It's not terrible if you don't use them, but you will make mistakes.
14) At the very least you should use the Cohousing Company to play a
consulting role, run the design past hem and pay them to write comments.
15) Another added benefit, they gave us fantastic publicity.

Except where specific individual examples were given, the above beliefs were
widely held.

Some List members responded that local architects with good attitudes, who
had good facilitation skills, and who took the time to learn as much as they
could about cohousing, would do a good job of the design, as well.

Some warned not to use members of the group as architects.

It was felt  that local architects would be best at the individual unit

We were also warned to keep members out of the unit design.

I hope this has been helpful.

Lydia Ducharme
WholeLife Housing
Calgary, Canada

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