When dwelling is sharing: the new era for collaborative housing in Europe

Abstract The rise of the ‘sharing economy’, together with the current affordable housing crisis and an increased awareness of environmental issues, may have contributed to the recent re-emergence of alternative housing models in Europe, such as the so-called collaborative housing, challenging the ‘monopoly’ of the profit-driven housing market. Usually (collectively) designed as a combination of individual units and shared spaces/facilities, these models represent a new approach towards domestic habitat, where dwelling also means sharing. So, how can (co-)design contribute to create innovative housing solutions which encourage communal living? Is there (or should be) any criteria for the design of shared spaces in housing? This paper aims at investigating the design features and processes of these projects, and assess their suitability in the current socio-economic context in Europe.


Key words: collaborative housing, communal living, shared spaces, collective design


The last decades were marked by the emergence of new forms of economic practices, namely the so-called sharing economy. The basic notions of ‘access’ and ‘collaboration’ are gradually gaining momentum as some others, such as ‘ownership’ or ‘property,  start to feel obsolete, unsustainable and unaffordable to the contemporary urban consumer. A more conscious and needs-based approach towards consumption is contributing to the development of theories of ‘degrowth' and ‘slow living’.

In this sense, the recent recurrence of collaborative housing in urban centres (e.g. renewed co-housing models, new residents’ cooperatives and other types of resident-led initiatives), where people co-produce their own housing complex and consciously commit to live in community, may be justified by the above mentioned socio-economic developments. Communal living has long abandoned the prejudice of being something for hippies or squatters. Several new innovative initiatives, such as the self-organised co-funded projects of Baugruppe in Germany and Switzerland; the new residents’ cooperative models in Spain; or the Habitat Participatif movement in France; are evidence of the recent adherence (by urban citizens) to these community-oriented shared dwelling forms.

In collaborative housing, the future residents are usually highly involved in the design phase of the housing project. The subsequent collective decisions about design and construction aspects tend to lead to more functional and cost effective housing solutions, often resulting in new typologies of minimum individual units connected by commonly shared spaces and facilities, the ‘cluster apartments’. In this sense, a link can be established between the adopted design criteria (based on quality, efficiency and space standards) and the soviet and central European experiments of collective minimum dwelling (dom kommuna and Existenzminimum) carried out during the 1920’s, a time also marked by great social transformations.

The main purpose of this article is to focus on the design criteria (and physical outcomes) of (co-) design processes in collaborative housing, from an socio-spatial perspective, in order to analyse if and how this emergent housing model may represent a systematic (by the presence of patterns), community-oriented and affordable housing solution to the urban dweller.

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