Re: Private Unit Design - a cost/benefit question
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Sat, 12 Feb 2000 08:53:29 -0700 (MST)
Wow Chris!  Where to begin?  First, you're a brave man to pose this

> What would happen if we eliminated resident participation in the private
> unit design process from the way we typically do cohousing?

You open up an interesting debate.  Having participated in a cohousing
community that was self-developed, one of the reasons I wanted to work w/ a
developer was to get away from the press of design driving the community and
the process.  W/ all our own money on the line and not a great amount of
experience almost all our effort was directed at design and development.  It
occupied by far the greatest amount of time and energy and effort of the
group.  It was often fatiguing; sometimes exciting.

In my own view, I feel community development and marketing should drive the
cohousing process.

So on  my next project, I went to work for a developer.  (I'm the cohousing
consultant and community development "manager/coordinator" on a 43 unit coho
community in DC.)  Great! I thought.  No more decisions about sewer pipe
dimensions or materials!  We have a VERY active Design Team on this project
w/ deeply held green tech and progressive environmental safety values.
Well.  Lo and behold what did we end up debating?  Copper vs. PVC piping.
Very painful.

That said,  I have to tell you our architects and developer and membership
have been VERY grateful for the amount of work (and it has been legendary)
that the Design Team has done on this project.  The Design Team members have
educated themselves on a vast array of building and construction practices,
materials, etc.  The *developer* has requested that a representative of the
Design Team be at each construction meeting.  He believes more eyes the
better and has incorporated many, many, many changes into the site, private
house, CH and common space design.  The developer and architect LIKE this
collaborative aspect of the process.  (The company builds a LOT of
mainstream multi family housing so they think the cohousing process is great
FUN!)  The developer likes it so much he's forming a new corporation just to
handle cohousing and other collaborative housing projects.

The question you are asking is:  would this effort be better spent in other
aspects of building the community?  (Altho' design is a hefty part of our
work it is definitely, however, not THE work -- our agreement w/ the
developer was that he would handle the development aspects of the project
and we would handle all the marketing.  No sales, no community.  We were 75%
sold by groundbreaking--just shy 12 months to the day of our first meeting!
We weren't fooling around!)

This question you pose opens up a bunch more that you also elucidated (do
you like that word?)  Just because we CAN have input into all aspects,
should we?  Where's the balance?  Is the design process part of the
community bonding?  Is there something particular about the design process
that helps alleviate anxiety about moving into a cohousing community?

(I'm putting a corollary question/observation on this last question in a
separate email so as not to muddy this thread.)

I don't have any answers about all this -- I'm on a learning curve myself.
I can see where the input to the developer and architect by our members has
been welcomed, necessary and a very good thing!  I can also see that if not
channeled properly it can be distracting and lead to increased timelines.
(Our developer, however,  keeps a TIGHT grip on the timeline.)

My little description of *our* project barely scratches some of the issues
you bring up.  The process is much more dynamic than I layed (laid?) out.
It's not a simple view, problem or answer.  (And I can see the process will
be different for different groups e.g. some may not be quite so interested
in "green tech" building practices.)

Methinks this is the kind of debate we should have over an extended period
of time at our next cohousing conference AND at our next professional day
training program.  I think this is the kind of debate Bruce Coldham has been
wanting to inject into our movement.  No right or wrong just good, happy,
healthy debate.

Would people be interested in having a LIVE teleconference on this now?  I
can set up a teleconference call via the TeleTalk program I was doing last
year.  We can handle up to 30 people at a time.  Are you willing to be the
"guest of honor" Chris and guide the conversation?  Anyone else?

Best -- Ann Z.

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