Re: Retrofit Cohousing Panel for National Conference in NC (Jane Calbreath)
From: R Philip Dowds (
Date: Sat, 8 Nov 2014 07:54:18 -0800 (PST)
Folks —

As a practicing architect, the terms I am familiar with are “adaptive re-use” 
and “retrofit”.  Even professionals tend to use them interchangeably, although 
I think they might have slightly different meanings:
Adaptive re-use is the general strategy of taking a building, or set of 
buildings, originally built for one purpose or use, and adapting it to a new 
purpose or use.  Like, take the vacant Catholic convent, and turn it into 
secular assisted living — or, cohousing.  Or, take a bunch of duplexes lined up 
on a neighborhood street, renovate one as the common house, and declare the 
ensemble to be cohousing.  Adaptive re-use stands in contrast to purpose-built: 
Something built from the get-go for a specific purpose, like a retail store 
(built for retail, not for daycare, which needs more windows ...)
Retrofit is more specific to components and technology: Like, retrofit your 
computer with a faster video card, or an apartment building with a ground 
source heat pump.  When the project is complete, it’s still a computer or an 
apartment building.  But sometimes retrofits are an essential ingredient of an 
adaptive re-use project.
In many but not all cases, adaptive re-use involves major compromises that 
purpose-built designs can usually avoid.  Maybe in an ideal circumstance, one’s 
cohousing project will include a wide range of unit types, and universal 
accessibility.  Unfortunately, the pre-existing duplex structures defy those 
goals, unless you “renovate” them out of existence — and now you’re back to 
purpose-built (but at a higher cost).

Cornerstone first considered buying up a set of identical-design, close-pack 
rental duplexes in an urban neighborhood.  But it turned out that buying out 
all the various leases was more of an obstacle than the founders or the 
landlord understood, and we eventually moved on to explore other sites.  Any 
professional developer knows that one of the big challenges is parcel assembly, 
and many development ideas collapse early because assembly turns out to be 


> On Nov 8, 2014, at 10:14 AM, Ann Zabaldo <zabaldo [at]> wrote:
> Hello all
> I’m getting a little confused about how this definition of “retrofit” is 
> being used in this thread.  
> As long as I’ve been on this list — which goes back to the Dark Ages — 
> “retrofit” is a term that describes the N Street Cohousing model of buying up 
> homes or occupying apts. and then eliminating the barriers to a contiguous 
> landscape between and among the units. Sometimes they aren’t exactly 
> contiguous but close enough.   This may be a slower process but the end 
> result is a less expensive model of creating a cohousing community.  It’s 
> actually a model I’m recommending more and more in the DC region because raw 
> land or even vacant buildings are so out of sight in cost.
> Taking old buildings and rehabbing them is an altogether different story.  
> Eastern Village was a gut rehab. (Their 10 year anniversary is tonight!!)  It 
> was done all at one time.  Ditto Swan’s Market.  
> A while ago there was a thread on this list about coming up w/ another name 
> for “retrofit” cohousing when it has the meaning I detailed above.  So maybe 
> we can look at this again.
> When I talk about this process of buying up homes, lots, etc. one or two  or 
> three at time and converting the units to cohousing I refer to it as “the N 
> Street Model” ‘cause their the guys that perfected it and popularized it.
> Best --
> Ann Zabaldo
> Takoma Village Cohousing
> Washington, DC
> Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
> Falls Church VA
> 703-688-2646

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.