Cohousing in Germany- a workshop with Professor Kristien Ring

Guy Luscombe from The AGEncy Project was invited by the NSW Government Architect to attend a special round table workshop with Professor Kristien Ring, author of ‘The Self Made City‘, on the eve of her keynote address to the Sydney Architecture Festival.

Architect, Guy Luscombe

Professor Ring outlined how the Baugruppen model was transforming the multi residential market in Germany.  Baugruppen (‘Building Group’) started in 2004 in Germany as a pragmatic alternative to developer driven housing where people came together to develop their own projects that provided the kind of quality, flexible, long-term, city based family dwellings that they wanted. The goals were to create good neighbourhoods and affordable and sustainable housing that suited an individual’s current and future needs.

Learning from experience

The first projects were just that and didn’t have any communal or shared spaces; but it was soon realised that the process of coming together created a community and residents wanted to include shared areas. In this way they have now evolved into what we understand as cohousing.

The model has become extremely popular. In Berlin there were 3 projects in 2004, 21 in 2012 and now Baugruppen type projects represent about 10% of the new housing market. The clientele are usually middle-income earners (professionals, academics, people in creative industries), but most projects include some lower-income ‘affordable’ housing.

The determining factors for all projects are site; size; and timing…

  1. Site
    The availability of land in suitable and desirable locations is as much an issue in Berlin as on Sydney and other urban centres. In many cases (around 70% apparently), an architect finds the land and will often do a preliminary study of the development potential. A group of interested people will then come together, buy the land, co-design the project with the architect and complete it.
    There is no one ‘set way’ this is achieved but according to Kristien, most successful projects have one land ownership model and one building model. Individuals can buy the site together (usually from the same bank) with each having a mortgage; or it can be bought by a type of community land trust with some agreed arrangement to pay back.

    In Australia, Landcorp WA have two pilot projects and were able to sell the land for a higher price because the group of cohousing buyers could afford to pay the premium – that’s because developers build in a risk margin (see following articles).

  2. Size
    There is no ideal size, according to Kristien; it really depends on the site and group of people involved. She presented a number of projects ranging from 4 units to 82. All projects were in central Berlin and multi storey. Some were multi generational with a mix of 2-3 storey family townhouses with single bedroom apartments (see ‘Big Yard’ pictured and links at end). As mentioned, all had communal areas.

Central shared garden at ‘Big Yard’ Berlin


It was not clear, and Kristien did not talk about, why timing was a determining factor. However, in other projects in Australia and overseas, the amount of time taken to get a cohousing project up from go to whoa has taken longer than more standard housing (9 years is typical!) with the sad situation at the Older Womens’ Co Housing (OWCH) group in London where there was one surviving member of the original group when the project was finished!


Cross section of ‘Big Yard’ showing the different dwelling types        image: Zanderoth Architects

Other features

Kristien highlighted that the model particularly suits  ‘people in the second half of their lives’ with its common spaces (kitchen, garden etc.) and potential for guest/carer accommodation. But more than that, larger common hallways are sometime included and used for other purposes like sitting and playing for kids.  She also noted that most projects had a focus on sustainability – an ‘ecological agenda’.

The session was a workshop and the other participants were from various backgrounds both public and private who had a keen interest in alternative housing models. Discussion issues raised were to do with land availability (not surprisingly) and financing. Apart from what was previously mentioned, different financing models were proposed, the member based fee then rent model, for example, was popular in Germany where ownership is not such an issue, however controlling who can move in and out is. Partnering with community housing providers and accessing land from churches and other benevolent land owners was also suggested.

The take outs from the session from the AGEncy Project’s perspective were the demonstrated popularity and success of the model and the need for groups like ours to come together and lobby Government to support the process by assisting pilot projects like ours to gain access to land.

The event was hosted by the NSW Government Architect and Arup, a large, international engineering and architecture company. The following background information was provided:

Kristien Ring and ‘The selfmade city’

An example of a collaborative housing development in Melbourne

Some urban infill demonstration projects in Perth

Gen-Y Housing Demonstration Project at White Gum Valley built after a 2013 design competition – Landcorp & David Barr Architects  – 3 dwelling units in one

Baugruppe Innovation Project at White Gum Valley, Landcorp in partnership with UWA &  Professor Geoffrey London (scroll down 1st article for image & details, also mentioned in the second article)

Knutsford infill medium density development – Landcorp, design by Spaceagency (article by Geoffrey London)

Recent Landcorp competition for medium density cohousing – winning design by David Barr Architects