Auckland's first urban cohousing development.

Community-led alternative development models offer solutions to some of the biggest problems that Auckland’s residents are facing today, including house affordability and increased social isolation. But people wanting to do things differently face many financial, legal and consenting hurdles, because the traditional development model favours predictability and standardisation over uniqueness. One group of people with the vision, passion and determination to do things differently are architects Thom Gill and Helle Westergaard, and their friends David Welch and Georgianne Griffiths. They are the people behind Cohaus, an urban cohousing development currently under construction in Grey Lynn, on the fringe of Auckland’s CBD.  Cohaus is a community of families designing and financing their own medium density development - one that is without precedent in New Zealand.

View of the development from the adjacent main road.

The diverse set of residents, which includes families young and old, large and small, all share a commitment to strong communities and living in a way which cares for the environment. Their vision is to develop relatively affordable housing that uses smart design and innovative technology to create a community where it’s easy to live comfortably while minimising resource use. Having blazed a trail and overcome all of the  planning obstacles in their path,  the Cohaus community has decided to document the process to make it easier for the next generation of cohousing projects in New Zealand.

By removing the developer from the equation, and therefore the focus on profit margins, quality housing and greater amenity can be achieved at more affordable prices.

While the idea of living in tight-knit communities and sharing responsibilities with neighbouring families is not new, there are only a handful of projects in New Zealand built around modern cohousing principles, which were developed in Scandinavia over 50 years ago. Following the example of its European counterparts, Cohaus has been designed - and will be built and lived in - by people who plan to be long-term residents. By removing the developer from the equation, and therefore the focus on profit margins, quality housing and greater amenity can be achieved at more affordable prices. Cohousing projects usually include shared facilities and shared responsibilities that keep the community alive and bustling, and Cohaus won’t be an exception.

At the same time, Cohaus stands apart from the other cohousing projects in New Zealand because of its urban setting, which was purposely chosen by the community in response to criteria they had defined early in the process:

  • Reduced reliance on cars, good access to public transport and the possibility of car-free living, which requires proximity to an urban centre
  • Enough space for at least 12 units and a large outdoor courtyard
  • A site that would result in housing that could be afforded by group members, with a two-bedroom, 70m² unit costing around $750,000 once completed.

The group was lucky enough to find a corner site 5-6 times the size of a standard suburban section, with an old heritage villa that until recently, had functioned as a residential mental health facility. The site meets all of the criteria above: it sits on a main road surrounded by a mix of building types, is well connected to transport links, including a proposed cycleway, and is close to motorways. It is also very close to the West Lynn and Grey Lynn shops, with several schools and parks within 15 minutes’ walk.

Artist's impression of Cohaus once construction is completed.

The development involves relocating the heritage villa and creating a street frontage made up of 2-3-storey buildings arranged around a shared north-facing courtyard, which will become the heart of the project. The buildings will house 19 units ranging in size from 1 to 5 bedrooms. The ground floor units will have gardens and entrances directly off the street, while units on the upper levels will be accessed through two broad, open passageways with common staircases. There will be shared facilities including a guest bedroom, a common garden house, storage and laundry. Parking for motorised vehicles will be minimised, with provision for 10 car parks. In exchange, residents will have access to at least 30 cycle parks and at least 2 collectively owned cars.

Residents will have access to at least 30 cycle parks and at least two collectively owned cars.

In addition to its innovative social model, Cohaus is also incorporating leading-edge approaches to  environmental sustainability, finding new efficiencies that are possible at this scale of development. Models of shared energy between the units, solar photovoltaic generation and shared water infrastructure are being investigated. All of this is in addition to the creation of healthy and comfortable dwellings that will reduce reliance on mechanical heating and cooling, community gardens and composting facilities, and resident engagement mechanisms that reduce energy and water use among occupants.

Looking for more information?

As construction continues, Sust will be following Cohaus’ journey with in-depth articles and resources designed to inspire and empower the next generation of cohousing projects. Stay tuned!

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