4 Do's and 3 Dont's on coliving space architecture/design
Some of the things we got right and wrong at Radish
Design matters for community. Let’s talk about some lessons learned.
Starting with 4 “Do’s”
DO: Different room/unit sizes and price points
I went to an event once where people were trying to design the platonic perfect housing unit for people living in a community.
THERE IS NO PERFECT UNIT OR BEDROOM. There are a range of personal preferences (and different willingness to pay) you need to satisfy.
A range of different spaces best serves most communities. And if you care about diversity of residents, a diversity of housing types are important.
For example, at the Radish compound we have:
2x standalone single family homes1x 2br apartment
1x 3br apartment
4x 1br apartments
5x bedrooms in a shared house (1 en-suite bathroom, 5 not)
1x guy living in his tricked out van in the parking area.
The same logic applies if you are coliving in a large house. Having a range of bedroom sizes is very useful. One size does not fill all with personal preference on space.
**DO: Main communal space along the exit path**
(The corresponding Don't: communal space on the roof or 2nd floor)
Have you ever been to one of those new apartment buildings (“5-over-1s” in real estate parlance). You know the type…
They all want to have some sense of community, but they get one thing (well more than one thing...) extremely wrong.
They put the main communal area on the roof. Roof decks look cool in marketing photos. But they are bad for community. Because you don't walk through the roof on your way in and out of the building every day. So the roof deck becomes a desolate space with no signs of human life 90% of the time.
Put your communal space on the exit path so people walk through it all the time. The coming and going is what breathes life into a space. You want your communal space to be more like a train station and less like a secret garden.
The train station approach means more chance encounters, more hellos in the morning, and more serendipity.
DO: Tons of kitchen storage
8 people can share 1 stove. But they can’t share 1 person’s worth of storage space.
You’ll ideally want multiple fridges, as many shelves as you can stuff, and a big pantry.
We have one fridge that is general items and one that is only for leftovers.
The more storage space you have in the kitchen, the more abundant you can be with your food system. More food, more utensils, more spices, more appliances. Food is one of the best economy-of-scale wins. So having a space that allows you to take advantage of that is important.
If you have lots of kitchen space, you can have all the kitchen knick-knacks that would never make sense if you lived alone. At Radish, we own a tortilla warmer. Totally absurd unless you have space for it.
(The corresponding Don't: One big cacophonous space)
Even in a community of 10+ people, most interactions are in small groups of 2-4. The space design needs to reflect the typical group size.
Three people don't want to hang out in a giant dining hall. They want to hang out somewhere cozy and intimate. You need microspaces, even within a large community.
At Radish, we initially got this wrong and have taken steps to correct it. We took a larger room and built in a cabinet divider to split it into two spaces. Now dinners are more intimate and the space feels right for the number of people that are typically there.
It’s also nice to have a big space if you are able (for larger events etc). But two smaller spaces will get more use than one big space. The outdoors can often be used for large gatherings if you are tight on square footage.
Now onto the 3 don’ts.
DON'T: Similar kitchens on each floor
The big caveat to the above is that it should be 100% obvious where the main communal space is. One layout that you sometimes see in a city is a vertically stacked building, with separate units on each floor. It’s not clear where “the main space” is.
Let’s say you have a triplex. You get 3 okay kitchens instead of 1 great kitchen. If there’s no understanding of “the main kitchen” you will lose the central watering hole of your community. Evy talked about this with their setup at the Village, where they chose to make the middle floor kitchen the community space. 'Having a central kitchen is a really important part of living in a house with several kitchens -- everyone has to eat, and where people eat often determines who people run into and where they hang out. The same goes for the main living room. One of them needs to be designated.
A room should be good for 1-2 things max. If you try to make it good for a lot of things, it will be good for nothing.
Don't attempt to do the mixed coworking/dining/lounging/movie room. Make one room great for one of those things and another great for another.
There’s a reason why frankenrooms happen. They happen when spaces are designed by committee. Which leads me to the last point..
**DON'T: Design by committee**
We all know that design by committee creates uninspiring results. You win the democracy game, but you lose the outcome game. It's absolutely the wrong tradeoff in a small trusting housing setup.
Assign 1-2 people to design a space. Give them a budget, and a set of community functional wants and needs (e.g. "we need a place to have a small dinner and also watch a movie"). Then get out of their way and let them make the decisions. Don’t even allow them to get feedback. It will water things down and create frankenspaces and frankendesigns. A mix of styles, a mix of needs, nothing particularly good about it, and no one particularly happy.
There's someone in your community who is simply better at design than everyone else. Have them make the decisions. But failing that, the 5th best designer will make better decisions than a committee of the top 4 designers.
Or hire a designer like we did for our RV. They are very comfortable just having a vision and making calls on things.