cambridge cohousing
Cambridge Cohousing, Custom Build Strategy

The imminent housing boom to tackle our current affordable housing shortage could be seen as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to design more low-impact, liveable and sociable neighbourhoods. What design principles can we draw from the growing number of cohousing schemes to help design affordable housing developments in the future?

Over the next 5 years the current UK government needs to build over 350,000 homes a year in order to maintain a balance between supply and demand within the current housing market (Independent). Crucially, efforts have also been made to increase the amount of ‘affordable housing’ as nationally,  “there are more than 1.8 million households waiting for a social home – an increase of 81% since 1997”  (Shelter).

The need to create more affordable housing has never been so great as many cash poor young families/individuals, and older people (in particular) are at risk of becoming increasingly marginalised (Ache, et al, 2012)

Cohousing is seen as an ‘alternative’ approach to creating affordable housing, and addresses three main issues:

  • low impact living and the challenge of post-carbon carbon value change
  • affordability and the challenge of mutualism and equality
  • community and the challenge of self-governance

(Chatterton, 2013)

The way cohousing developments are designed to increase ‘liveability’ and directly tackle the issues highlighted above, are why they have become so popular. The masterplan below shows how the scheme is designed to tackle this issues mentioned above:

Cohousing: Lilac, Leeds


Reduce ecological impact – onsite food growing, car share scheme, services onsite to reduce need to travel, renewable energy and materials used for buildings etc.

Affordable housing – shared ownership model used to allow ‘bottom’ of the ladder house buyers to be able to own a home, or part of their home.

Increasing community – standard ‘danish’ cohousing characteristics such as: common house, shared facilities, and increased space for social interaction.

Click HERE for more details

I believe that the ethos of low carbon, affordable, and sociable neighbourhoods that cohousing has pioneered can be transferred to larger and wider scale new housing developments. Cohousing will be considered an extreme example on the spectrum, however many current housing developments are still designed using outdated theories that reduce liveability and sociability and perpetuate fossil fuel dependency. There is massive potential to draw evidence and design principles from cohousing to help shape a new generation of affordable housing.



Ache, P, & Fedrowitz, M. (2012) The Development of Co-Housing Initiatives in Germany, Built Environment, Vol 38 (3), pp. 395-412

Chatterton, P. (2013) Towards an agenda for post-carbon cities: Lessons from LILAC, the UK’s first ecological, affordable, cohousing scheme. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. Vol 37 (5), pp1654-1674

Independent (2015) Housing crisis: 350,000 UK households unable to rent or buy without help by 2020 (article found here:

Lilac Cohousing (2008) Lilac: Low Impact Living Affordable Community, (Article found here:

Shelter (undated) Why we need more social housing, (article found here: