Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Homage to Jan - a village for the 21st Century

Common outdoor gathering area in Danish cohousing 
by Gregory Saville

Fifteen years ago, I visited Skraplanet in Denmark, one of the world’s first cohousing communities and spent an afternoon with architect and founder, Jan Gudmand-Hoyer. In 1964 Hoyer gathered with friends to figure out how to purchase homes in the pricey Copenhagen real estate market.

Home purchasing then – as today - offered few real choices of importance. Hoyer and friends discovered house architecture was boring and designed by someone else. Land developers already answered (or ignored) the critical questions of neighborhood living before residents even showed up:

  • What is the neighborhood like? Is it exciting? Is it safe?
  • How are the homes situated in relation to gardens, play areas, gathering spaces? 
  • What is there to do for kids and for adults? 
  • Where can I walk and socialize? Is there something interesting to see?
  • Who are my neighbors?  How do we work together?


Children's play area designed by residents at Skraplanet cohousing
Hoyer described this in his 1968 article The missing link between utopia and the dated one-family house. The result was cohousing – a new type of village, a style of intentional community in which residents form their own development company, hire their own builders, and create their own neighborhood. When cohousing migrated worldwide in the 1980s, it offered a unique form of equity housing and village living - usually within or nearby existing cities.

Private residence at Skraplanet with balcony and private gardens
Ultimately, cohousing became a safer and more sustainable housing option. It has appeared here numerous times in An alternative future and Avoiding a wire-esque future.

Posing with Jan before our tour at Skraplanet

TOURING WITH THE MASTER

Jan Gudmand-Hoyer taught me the nuances of cohousing planning. He proudly described some of the clever design techniques unique to this housing form. His community, Skraplanet, used modernism, an architectural style popular in the 1960s. At the time of my visit, the community was 20 years old and had found a green niche in the surrounding forest.

Jan died yesterday at 81. He and his cohousing pioneers offered the world a new kind of village for the 21st Century. Thank you, Jan. May we live up to your dream!

Modernist design with plenty of window views and greenery

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