These are my notes from the meeting. Sorry, a bit chaotic… I was trying to be in the meeting in French, and take notes in English. Retrospectively, I should probably have stayed in French, the instant translation slowed me down a bit.
I tried to fit the statements by S&F into the framework of the questions asked in the thread, but no one was really leading the meeting and going question by question. At least one of the questions, I think, was not really addressed.
Present: Céline, Thomas, Lie, Matteo, Pieter, Alberto, Sophie, Ugne, Chris, Sarah, François Stekke, Serge Fraas.
1) Learning a bit more about Stekke + Fraas and the process of building a cohousing
Q. As architects, how do you generally like to work together with your cohousing clients?
S&F have a tradition of working mostly for (1) residential, (2) private building. Experience in logements sociaux, CLTB and the “micro-niche” of cohousings. Both François and Serge live in Brutopia, and their office is there too.
With cohousings, they work quite closely with the groups. They are personally aware of the difficulties (long haul…), but also of the reward (realising a cohousing together is a deep bonding experience). About the ecology side of things: Brutopia went much further than initially expected, and ended up winning an award as “exemplary building” (be.exemplaire now).
During the construction of Brutopia, S&F chose a different firm to manage the construction site. This allowed them to take some distance from the realization of the building where they then lived.
S&F keeps regularly in touch with Team Building. When major milestones are cleared, the whole group is involved (first draft project, for example). In Brutopia, this was done via GAs.
Q - Would you have a concise overview of the major milestones? Plus possibly things we should be aware of and prepare for?
- Etude de faisibilité sur le terrain.
- Sketch. This needs to be informed by prudence as to what kind of building permit we can get for that particular site in that commune. S&F maintain good relationships with the urbanisme departments of the Brussels communes, and have a good idea of what is possible to obtain given the various sensitivities.
- Estimation of individual needs. This can be done in the abstract. This consisted of an Excel file, unit by unit. All surfaces are communicated as gross, which means the perimeter walls are also included.
General advice: look for a site! This makes everything much more concrete. The cheapest is finding an old building that can be demolished, or one that can be renovated; but newly constructed buildings have the advantage that there is no waste of space, you build what you want. Also note: “modular” architecture is only possible if you build new, in renovation it is not possible. In general, S&F are not super enthusiastic. They prefer to adopt a clean, simple aesthetic style (for example in the facade).
But to do this, you need a group, because the site that we look for depends on the size of the group. In their experience, it’s normal and OK not be able to be very precise (“it’ll cost about 4K per square meter, give or take”). People join on the basis of fairly uncertain information, we do not have a duty to be precise, people take some risk together.
2) Enlightening us a bit more about the architectural aspects of a cohousing
Q. Common spaces: in our charte fondatrice we have set out that we would like to have a lot of common spaces (300 m²), because we want The Reef to be a place of hospitality. Most of the details have yet to be filled in though. Would you be willing to give us your views on what works? What doesn’t work? Which considerations we have to make as a group? …?
In Brutopia, the main common spaces are the garden, the rooftop terrace, the laundry room and the common room. There is no workshop and no guest room. But “what works” depends a lot on the social software the community runs on. During lockdown they found creative arrangements to use the garden (with 34 children!) and the private balcony to give everyone some fresh air.
It is wise to soundproof common spaces. This was not done in Brutopia, where it is replaced by rules. L’Echappée did soundproof common spaces.
Basic (“solarpunk”) finishing for CASCO commons is around 500 EUR + VAT. Apartments maybe 7-800, but blue sky is the limit.
Q. Private units: my impression is that we struggle with picturing our own private units, e.g. how big it should be etc. Concrete example: I (@Lee) live in a 90 m² apartment that was built in the 1970s. Am I right in assuming that with current smart design techniques I could get the same comfort with 20% less space?
That is dealt with in the individual meetings of each household with S&F.
Factor in the current instability: normally we would add 10% of margin to the price estimate. Now, with more uncertainty, it’s best to add more like 25%!
The fork between cheapest and most expensive units: they have a list of criteria (12 for Brutopia). They allow to rank the units, but it is the group that decides how much this fork translates into price differentials. In Brutopia, they had a GA and made that decision. The differential was around 1K per square meter! But that does correspond more or less to market levels.
3) Having a quick look at The Reef’s ambition to build a building that is as sustainable and future-proof as possible
Q. How will The Reef’s choice for future-proofing and sustainable building impact the budget? Note: by future-proofing we mean resilience to heat domes, heavy rain, power cuts and potable water shortages.
- The estimation we got includes good isolation (“nearly passive”) but not hi-tech solutions like heat pumps (they don’t recommend this for apartments anyway) or grey water recycling. In some buildings centralized heating works well (like Brutopia, which is quite compact), in others not so much (L’Echappée, a compound with more than one building). In some projects, they let each household choose between different solutions for heating, gas vs. heat pumps.
Q. Which options exist? How can we approach this?
This question was not really answered in a systematic way, at least that is my impression.
Q. Would you be interested to join us to visit Schoonschip in Amsterdam?
- Serge is, with enthusiasm.