Norwegian Cohousing Project Is Designed Around 'Gaining by Sharing'

Early community engagement in the planning and development phases sets this cohousing project apart.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects entry intrerior

Sindre Ellingsen 

Alternative housing models like cohousing are gaining popularity, and no wonder: the North American obsession with single-family housing is not only expensive and ecologically damaging, it's also incredibly alienating. The way that our cities and suburbs are structured are not particularly amenable to building strong local communities; everyone has their own single-family house or isolated apartment and very little in terms of shared communal space or daily crossing of paths that might help foster these much-needed deeper social connections.

But that's why it's important to see a different way of doing things can indeed work, as in the case with one recently completely cohousing project called Vindmøllebakken in Stavanger, Norway. Designed by Norwegian architecture firm Helen & Hard (previously) using the "Gaining by Sharing" model of community engagement, Vindmøllebakken is a kind of intentional community that includes 40 co-living units, four townhouses, and 10 apartments. These are all privately owned homes with their own conventional amenities (like kitchens and bathrooms), which are clustered around 5,382 square feet of shared communal spaces for recreation, gardening, or dining.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects exterior
Sindre Ellingsen

The Gaining by Sharing model is a response to the way things have been built and structured in the past, which the the architects say doesn't respond to current societal needs:

"Today’s residents might be modern families with 'my, your and our kids', a generation of elderly who are healthy and want to live at home longer, people who live alone and suffers from loneliness, or people who simply wish to live more sustainably. By sharing resources, whether it is time, space, or assets, the result is a more sustainable way of living: environmentally, but also socially, economically, and architecturally."
Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects exterior
 Sindre Ellingsen

In Vindmøllebakken, the units are arranged around a central core of communal spaces, which are equally and jointly owned by residents. The main entrance is through a lofty, light-filled courtyard space with an amphitheater, all built with spruce timber and insulated with hemp, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for residents to sit or to chat.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects interior courtyard
Sindre Ellingsen

For those who want to skip this area of socializing, there is a more direct path from the street to residences that is available as well.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects first floor plan
Helen & Hard

Adjacent to the courtyard, we have a communal kitchen and communal open-plan dining area, providing a space for residents to cook and eat together if they so choose. There is also a lounge and guest rooms. Further up, we have open walkways leading to a library, greenhouse, and workshop.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects greenhouse
Sindre Ellingsen

The architects say that:

"The sequence of rooms is designed to create visual connections between spaces and people and to provide freedom to how much and when to engage in communal life."
Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects dining area
Minna Soujoki

The design was also informed by the process of residents engaging with one another to discuss and hash out various resources and details, explained the designers:

"A groundbreaking feature of the process of a traditional housing project is the involvement of the residents in the planning and development phases of the project. Early in the process, workshops were organized that presented the concept and invited residents to influence the individual units and suggest activities for the common areas. Most importantly it was a chance to get to know each other and engage creatively in informing their future common home together. "

Even upon moving in, residents continue to take part in self-organized groups that manage the shared facilities and tasks, like cooking, gardening, car-sharing and even curating art for the communal spaces.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects courtyard entry interior
Sindre Ellingsen

While the apartments here might be sized a bit smaller than conventional apartments, they are nevertheless well-designed and well-furnished, and they are a vital piece to the community-building puzzle here.

Vindmøllebakken Cohousing Project by Helen & Hard Architects interior of unit
Sindre Ellingsen

While the long-term health, social and environmental benefits of cohousing are still being studied, many cohousing residents report better quality of life and health compared to peers of the same age. It's hard to say whether the future of housing should be multi-family and multi-generational or not, but with housing widely recognized as a social determinant of health, sustainable alternative housing projects such as this point to the importance of community bonds when it comes to feeling at ease—and at home.

To see more, visit Helen & Hard and Gaining by Sharing.