📙 Networking for Green and Communal Living

This wiki collects relevant connections for the Reef 2.0 project together with EIT Climate-KIC – a project to transform an abandoned building for “deep green” communal living. Welcome to contribute!


1. Ecological Building Initiatives

2. People and Organizations to Contact

3. Resources

1. Ecological Building Initiatives

In alphanumeric order. :bulb: marks projects that we’re interested in visiting during the initial field study trip of The Reef 2.0 project.

  • Begich Towers. A building in Alaska that, in practice, is more or less “a whole town under one roof”: nearly everyone in that place lives in this 196-apartment building. So according to Wikipedia, this building became known as operating like a small-scale arcology. In this sense, it is an example of green communal living, even though it came to this fame unintentionally.

  • :bulb: Calafou. Ecoindustrial, post-capitalist commune. The started from a very dilapidated industrial, large space, so could teach a lot about making such a space livable again with limited funding. Not sure how much they are into off-grid living and minimal footprint living, though.

  • Energiesprong. A very interesting concept and company doing energetic building refurbishment on an industrial scale, by manufacturing custom facade and roof parts in factories and just mounting them to the houses. See also this German article about it, and their various international chapters.

  • Fondazione Horcynus Orca (Messina, Italy). For details, see @alberto’s article “An innovative social investment model in Messina, Sicily”.

  • :bulb: Gemeinschaft Herzfeld Sennrüti. An ecovillage style, communal living project in a converted former sanatorium. They started the conversion 2009 and did so in an ecological manner:

    We used sustainable materials such as wood, straw, cork, wool, clay, sand and cellulose fibers. We also installed thermal and photovoltaic panels, which means we have more than enough to power the entire building with solar energy. Furthermore, rainwater is collected from the roofs and used for flushing toilets, washing machines and in the garden, thus reducing our water usage by 60%. Organic waste is collected and composted or used for making charcoal for the permaculture garden. (source)

  • HolzHaus Lynarstraße (Berlin, Germany). A low embedded energy building, designed to be sustainable from an environmental point of view through innovative use of wooden/cross laminated timber as a structural material, but also in terms of mixed use, and with half the units set aside for people on financial assistance. Taken from this article about it Wooden it be Nice:

    The experimental group-housing project has been called Berlin’s biggest WG (house share). Each floor was “cast” with a compatible cluster of residents who live like an extended family. They share a communal living room – a kitchen, sofa and sometimes a table soccer game all surrounded by exposed wood floors, ceiling and columns

  • Koptisch-Orthodoxes Kloster Brenkhausen (Höxter, near Kassel, Germany). The place that @matthias wrote about in “Repairing the Monks’ Internet”. A rather large-scale restoration project of a historic monastery. They have some rather impressive before-and-after photos here.

  • Living Energy Farm (Louisa, Virginia, U.S.A.). A self-sufficient off-grid farm. They developed a very interesting and resource efficient energy system based on directly driving loads with photovoltaics power during the day, such as mills, pumps, drill press, air compressor. Only lighting and computers can be used during the night, driven by a normal battery buffer.

  • Mount of Oaks. An organic farm in rural Portugal, also regularly organizing courses for ecological building techniques. Founded around 2006. Not really for an urban context, though – it’s about cob plastering, wattle and daub etc… @matthias had been in loose contact with them some years ago.

  • :bulb: Nea Guinea. A collective with a demonstration site and learning center at the outskirts of Athens, caring to promote local self-supply for rural and “rurban” living. They started in 2009 as a response to the economic crisis in Greece. While they do care about natural building techniques as well, this is focused on rather small-scale interventions:

    Natural building and bio-climatic architecture … Construction of compost toilet, Construction of a straw bale warehouse of 20m2, Construction of an earth oven with the use of the cob technique. … The natural building techniques used will include wood working, earth-bags, rammed earth amongst others. (source)

    However, the core element that can be learned from them is integrating the different parts of self-supply (food supply, energy supply, accommodation etc.) into one space for communal living.

  • :bulb: Ökodorf Sieben Linden. They have standards for ecological construction and pioneered licenced strawbale buildings in Germany (says Wikipedia). @felix.wolfsteller will be able to tell us more!

  • :bulb: Peace Factory. A co-housing setup in South-West France based in a converted industrial building that they convert according to ecological principles:

    People buying a loft here do so because they love the idea of converting an industrial building into a co-housing development based on renewable energy sources. We’re building BBC style (batiment basse consommation!) which means low on energy and energy bills! (source)

  • :bulb: ReGen Villages A vision and attempted implementation for self-sufficient, ecologically sustainable, high-tech and high-comfort neighborhoods. This is not about converting existing houses though, but about building new, very different ones.

  • The Plant (Chicago, U.S.A.). An aquaponics farm in an old meat packing warehouse. See also this article about them.

  • Urban Smart Farm (Ghent, Belgium). Vertical gardening, LED aquaponics and more. ‘The Urban Smart Farm uses sea containers to grow herbs, vegetables, fish and shellfish in a sustainable way in the city. In 2016, Smart Farmers built this unique aquaponics farm as a commercial pilot installation. We learned a lot and will start a new project in 2018: in Urban Smart Farm 2.0 all techniques are perfected in a large-scale Ghent aquaponics cooperative.’

  • :bulb: Valldaura Labs (Barcelona, Spain). Very suitable: a large area in the hills just outside Barcelona with a farm, fablab, wood workshop, the COACT Lab and other labs etc. to explore ecological, sustainable and autarkic living in practice and to develop new technology for this.

  • :bulb: Wir Bauen Zukunft (Northern Germany). A project for sustainable construction. See this article on edgeryders.eu and this article in National Geographic. They focus a lot on tiny houses (example) and other items that are particularly relevant for rural areas, though – there’s nothing about refurbishing a large, multi-story urban building.

  • YUST (Young Urban Style) (Antwerp, Belgium). YUST (Young Urban Style) is a reconversion of a former warehouse into a new housing complex with co-housing features and is an answer to the changing demography and housing expectations of new generations. The project comprises a total of 60 rooms and 38 living units for short and long stay and also serves as an event location, restaurant and co-working place. Specific attention was paid to maintenance, total cost of ownership and sustainability. Maximum focus on BIM, started from a 3D scan, proves to be the ideal tool to coordinate all technical stakeholders. The 3D model is also the basis of the materials passport for the building. These specific points of attention make it possible to (re) use the building as a BAMB (Building As Material Bank) in the future.

2. People and Organizations to Contact

People connected to sustainable living and urban development, esp. in Belgium. We may want to get in touch with them for the upcoming project. This is a wide net, including everyone from city authorities to green consultants, digital storytellers and community builders.

In alphanumeric order.

  • :bulb: AndreaSuDS (Brussels). “I am a PhD researcher on SuStainable Drainage Systems recently moved from UK to Brussels (and staying). I worked on water quality in the past (firstly on manmade channel, later on climate change effects on river streams). My last project studied the effect of amendments on biofilters to improve water quality in urban environment.”

  • Befimmo (Brussels). Real estate developer. Potentially interested in investing in “new concepts of housing”.

  • BMA - Maitre Architecte. Legacy figure in the Belgian institutional landscape. Some MAs use their influence to shift policies. The current one seems more passive.

  • Boaz Balachsan (Belgium). Graphic / web design, perhaps also storytelling. Good contact for subcontracting, not necessarily connected to sustainable living.

  • Brutopia (Brussels). Participatory ecological co-housing project in Forest.

  • CityDev (Brussels). Regional authority for residential and commercial development, for Brussels. Supports initiatives of temporary use of unused buildings.

  • COARCHI (Brussels). Architecture firm specializing in co-living. Good example of reconverting a former 2500m2 watermill: ‘The former watermill will accommodate the new social and cultural facilities of the commune as well as 8 private and public accommodations. The 3 adjacent buildings will host 14 additional private housing.’ Source.

  • Cosmopolis (Belgium). Centre for Urban Research.

  • Communa (Brussels). NGO focused on re-use of temporary spaces.

  • Community Land Trust Bruxelles. Very successful initiative, dedicated to providing affordable living in Brussels. In 2019 it decided to create a new legal entity, a cooperative, to broaden its scope. Social-and-green living is part of the extended scope. Since November 2019, Edgeryders participates in the co-design of the new cooperative; we agreed with CLTB to explore the possibility of The Reef becoming a project of the new cooperative in 2020. More info here.

  • FeBUL (Brussels). The Brussels Federation of Housing Union. They have a section on occupied spaces.

  • Frederik Serroen (Brussels). Staff Member at bMa / Bouwmeester - Maître Architecte - Chief Architect Brussels.

  • Habitat & Participation (Brussels). Non profit organisation informing about cohousing & participation.

  • Habitat Groupé & Solidaire (Brussels). Project with the focus on new housing for students and young people in Brussels

  • Home Sweet Coop / ILOT ASBL (Brussels). Cooperative created by ILOT ASBL to buy houses. Keen on human rights and housing with social aspects.

  • Housing solutions platform. “The Housing Solutions Platform is a new, expertise- and practice-driven initiative to identify, debate and promote innovative solutions for affordable housing in Europe.” Homelessness-focused.

  • Isabelle N’diaye (Brussels). Urban planner and networker. Wrote the manifesto for Commune St. Vide (transl. The Empty Commune of Brussels). Working for political changes that make better use of vacant spaces in the city. Here as @BaobabUrbain.

  • Matexi (Brussels). Real estate developer. Potentially interested in investing in “new concepts of housing”.

  • Observatoire des occupations à Bruxelles (Brussels). Observatory on empty spaces in Brussels temporary used. The initiator is a member of LaMab, a cohousing in Brussels.

  • Perspective Brussels (Brussels). Regional agency in charge of research on urban planning.

  • RBDH-Rassemblement Bruxellois pour le droit à l’Habitat (Brussels). Advocacy group for affordable housing in Brussels.

  • Renovas (Brussels). NGO founded by architects. Focuses on the sustainable renovation of housing and neighborhoods in Schaerbeek. Supported by the commune de Schaerbeek and the Region.

  • Re-Vive (Brussels). Real Estate developer, with a focus on temporary use and sustainable development. Potentially very interested in investing in “new concepts of housing”.

  • :bulb: Sebastian Moreno-Vacca (Brussels). Architect-expert in passive housing & teacher at the University ULB-La Cambre Horta. More info about the Faculty. Recommended by @chantal_vanoeteren.

  • :bulb: Sigried Kellen (Brussels). Participatory space designer; works in and around a fablab in Molenbeek. Works on modular interior design, currently designing her tiny apartment in Bxl in ingenious ways.

  • :bulb: Stefaan Vandist (Belgium). Green City Challenge, nature inclusive design. A consultant and speaker. See also this Facebook event.

  • :bulb: Renovas (Brussels). Company in in Schaerbeek, Brussels, providing sustainable renovation of housing and neighborhoods. Contact: Nicolas Boroukhoff, director.

  • :bulb: Superlab (Brussels). Highly equipped fablab with tools and operational creativity. Key player for the technical aspect of green building conversions. Recommended by @BaobabUrbain. Already disappointed from unrelevant coworking experiences. They are (or were?) residents in an industrial space in Anderlecht, Brussels. "The Superlab applies the principle of shared platforms. Its machines come second-hand from industrial workshops and have been fully repaired, revised and improved in certain areas. They are maintained in Superlab (“Product Life Extension”).

  • URA Architects (Brussels). Architect studio who designed the Wisselspoor project in Leuven. Competent in designing for co-housing.

  • Urbanistas (Brussels). Informal group of female urban designers 'We are the Brussels chapter of Urbanistas – a women-led network for growing women’s leadership and empowering collaboration on ideas that make everyday life in cities better for everyone. See also their Facebook group.

  • Vlaamse Bouwmeester (Brussels). Flemish opposite number of the BMA. The current VB is actively promoting a concept of “compact city”.

  • 123 (Cent-vingt-trois) (Brussels). A community of 65 people, often from precarious backgrounds, who lived communally in an old seven-floor office building in Brussels. The project started as a squat but became legalized after two weeks. 50% of inhabitants were on a low income, 20% with a difficult legal status, and some people had “issues”. Connection: Bernardo.

  • Follow-up projects of Cent-vingt-trois. (Brussels). The different floors of the original building managed to find a smaller building each, but what got lost from the original Cent-vingt-trois project is the extreme heterogenity of inhabitants. All the smaller buildings are based on a temporary occupation model. These spaces include Bosch Tanneurs (the space where Bernardo lives and which we visited).

  • St-Vide-Leegbeek (Brussels). An organization caring about abandoned buildings in Brussels. Referred to by Olivier.

  • L’Échappée (Brussels). The communal living space where Olivier lives. Split into about 18 apartments. We’re invited to visit.

  • Rotor (Brussels). An organization of architects and researchers that has a high worldwide reputation in the field of critique of mainstream “green” solutions. They created an exhibition and wrote a whole book about it, called “Behind the Green Door”, where they analyze ~600 “green” technologies. They have an interesting eclectic business model to fund their research activities, earning by making exhibitions, writing books, producing architecture and selling valuable furniture and technology that they extract from buildings before demolition. That last part of their business model is on the way out though, as modern buildings and their furniture will not last as long.

  • Mama Brussels (Brussels). The architecture office of Bernardo, in Brussels. They specialize in “maintenance as architecture” and offer many examples about the importance of maintenance.

  • Wooncoop/Coop Habitat (Gent). Flemish cooperative,
    become active in Brussels in 2019. IT developed an innovative model for co-housing. Since November 2019, Edgeryders is in discussion with them to assess the feasibility of The Reef as a Wooncoop project. A full discussion of the model and its advantages and disadvantages for The Reef is here.

3. Resources

Publications, concepts and so on. (Simply, everything that is neither an ecological building initiative to visit or a person to contact goes here.)

In alphanumeric order. :bulb: indicates esp. valuable resources.

  • Active for more comfort: Passive House. Also available to read online. Provided by the International Passive House Association.

  • Appropedia. The Wikipedia of appropriate technology.

  • Arcology. A concept in architecture and science-fiction that is the source for lots of solarpunk ideas and designs before solarpunk was a thing.

  • Autarky Library. A large collection of e-books to download, covering everything about appropriate technology and self-supply. So it also covers ecological construction, just not specifically for an urban context.

  • EarthOS. A large idea collection by @matthias for sustainable civilization. Not for immediate consumption, but a good source of raw ideas and inspirations.

  • European Resource Efficiency Knowledge Centre. A web resource organized by the European Commission that tries to help businesses become more competitive through resource efficiency. They provide a self-assessment tool for different types of businesses and industries. Not too relevant for building green per se, though.

  • :bulb: EuroPHit. A project funded by the European Union for retrofitting houses to be more energy efficient. Interesting publications include:

  • Fachportal Energieeffizientes Bauen und Sanieren. A collection of resources about energy efficient buildings and refurbishments by the German government.

  • Foundation for Intentional Communities: Community Directory. A worldwide database of communal living initiatives, with the most presence in the U.S.A. though. So far still the most comprehensive database of this type.

  • Greywater Action. Resources about greywater reuse, rainwater harvesting and composting toilets.

  • Housing Syndicate (“Mietshäuser Syndikat”): a housing model that is a bit famous in Germany and that could be adapted for the Reef 2.0. Advantage: the Reef 2.0 organization would outright own the building from the start, not having to leave an “upcycled” house after 10 years or something. And the organizational form protects the building from ever being sold again to a profit-maximizing investor. See an outline of the organizational model and esp. their section about international projects.

  • How Buildings Learn. A publication series by one of the people behind the Whole Earth Catalog. Very interesting. A bit on the artsy side, about how old, well adapted and well maintained buildings are “beautiful”.

  • Leben mit der Energiewende. German initiative with lots of content about using renewable energy for electricity, heating and mobility. Often promotes normal commercial technology, though, not DIY solutions. Still, it contains lots of ideas and inspirations. The mind behind the project is German journalist Frank Farenski. Their YouTube channel has lots of content. The main pieces are the (German-only) open source documentary films about using renewable energy:

  • Low Tech Magazine. Amazing magazine about low-tech solutions for problems of modern civilization.

  • :bulb: Mama Brussels reference list. Shows a list of 100 out of 500 case references of Bernardo’s research work: about the importance of maintenance, the component of human care, and related issues. Each picture / text combination is one reference.

  • :bulb: Passive House Database. An international database of thousands of low-energy “passive house” buildings. Operated by the International Passive House Association. The detailed search provides a great way to look for green building projects to visit.

  • Passipedia. A wiki about passive houses. Developed by three national and international passive house organizations.

  • Sustainable refurbishment. This seems to be a key term and a good search term to find relevant projects.

  • The Circular Design Guide. By Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

  • The (En)Rich List. It “celebrates a wealth of inspirational individuals whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.”

  • Whole Earth Catalog. DIY technology from the hippie era.

This work has been done with the support of:


Initial update from my search for projects to visit: this is an interesting nut to crack :confused: There is a lot about industrial / commercial “green” refurbishing of urban homes and buildings, and also a lot about artisan / natural / low-tech / unconventional green refurbishing of rural homes and buildings. But nothing that is both artisan, green and urban.

For the (meager) preliminary results, see the wiki above. I think our best bet to find places to visit will be to look for initiatives that get one element right in an urban context: either heating, electricity, water, refurbishing for communal living, food supply or local production and recycling. To create the final solution for Reef 2.0, there will certainly be a lot of eclectic combining of different bits and pieces.

I need to focus for a few days on H2020 deliverables now, so I can only continue with this search from July. Hope that’s ok @alberto @noemi?

(Had some own ideas for refurbishing as well, involving CNC cut insulation blocks of corrugated cardboard that are declared “furniture” to circumvent regulation about licensed materials :smile: I think the goal has to be a system for DIY-able green refurbishing that is 5-10% the cost of industrial solutions. That would finally make it affordable for every houseowner.)


yes, sounds like the feasible thing to do…!

I hear you, same here…

Maybe have a look at the participant list at that camp ouishare and the german ad agency a while ago, yannick was there…

Yes, that is: http://www.poc21.cc/

@matthias @alberto just to say that WBZ have an open day on July 28th, so if we go on a tour we can connect some locations - maybe we end up doing more than 3 for shorter periods. Thinks of it also as an opportunity to onboard people in the Deep Demo:


Hi there, I would like to share with you this project: Jellyfish Barge.

"Jellyfish Barge is the oating modular greenhouse for urban agriculture that generates its own fresh water and energy using only solar power.

Urban Agriculture is a proved strategy to provide fresh local food, as well as job and oppotunities to the cities. But, farming have to compete for land and wateraccess with other activities. Where to find hectares of farmland near the cities and millions of cubic meters of fresh water to irrigate crops? And, how to fully exploit Urban Agriculture potentiality to produce positive social and economic impact on urban communities?

Jellyfish Barge produces crops grown in high ef cient hydroponics. Water needed is extracted from the body of water where the greenhouse oats, whether salt, brackish or polluted water. All the need for energy is ful lled by sun power.
Thus, JFB doesn’t impact on existing land, water and energy resources of the city.
It just expands the capacity of the urban environment to provide job, economic opportunities, social relations and urban quality.

The connection module is a common space where developing a weekly market and didactic or leisure activities (solarium, tai chi or whatever people and associations want to do).
The greenhouse module can be an intensive production facility, the extension of bars and restaurants proposing self-grown vegetables, or a community garden. At last people can experience agriculture in their daily life!"

What about having a barge at the reef? :wink:


That is a brilliant concept. But doesn’t it take a lot of energy to desalinate water? I imagine the solar collectors would have to be quite large.

Yes, that’s what I thought too. I found two papers about that, if you’re interested. In fact, they are still researching.

EffectsofincreasedseawatersalinityirrigationongrowthandqualityoftheediblehalophyteMesembryanthemumcrystallinumL.underfieldconditions.pdf (1.5 MB)
SeawaterpotentialuseinsoillesscultureAreview.pdf (617.0 KB)

If I got it right, though, this barge can be also used on non saline water. I imagined that, in the future Reef, there could be space for it on the roof, where rainwater could be collected. I mean, like a roof pool of rainwater (which is not scarce in Brussels!) in which the barge could float.

Is it daydreaming?

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As an oldster who lived in a cooperative community and studied communes and social change communities I just want to put in a word for the importance of paying attention to how you are going to build, deepen and nurture relationships in this community. I recommend having your core group include people who are skilled in facilitation, relationship building and conflict resolution and having them work deeply first with the core group and then with the larger group as you expand. Most of us were not raised or trained to live well with others (collaboration was called cheating in school). You actually need to dismantle traditional, hierarchical culture and practice new values.


No daydreaming…unless the roof is not strong enough for all that weight.

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Strong agreement. And if nobody is that practiced in facilitation and conflict management, then keep a very open mind, don’t be afraid to give or receive feedback (while keeping it as civil as possible, which is not always easy), and always try to find something to like in every other person. You will need to fall back on that at times…(I lived collectively for 12 years.)


Right. Or, if there will be a garden, a rainwater pool in the garden :wink:

Completely agreeing. Facilitation in co-living is key, and we’ve seen it with several temporary iterations we did: unMonastery (house/cave in Italy), OpenVillage (house in Morocco), maybe even the house in Nepal, and finally The Reef (prototype Brussels).
John, @asimong, @simonedb, @rmdes and many other edgeryders contributed to bringing this point home often over the years.
I find that those who have practiced this more often than others have done it because they put governance and facilitation at the centre of things. But others (myself included, up until know) are very focused on the project(s) accompanying the co-living - so on the work dimension. And there, community members seem to be more unruly. At this point, I would argue that focusing on getting things done takes away attention from personal dynamics and feelgood of the community, because it takes it as granted. Rationalizing this, the expectation is that if everyone shares common goals with the work, than the ethics of it would carry personal relationships too.
In reality, I found that’s the wrong way to do it.

Have you had direct experience in communal living, June?


Yes for about a dozen years! We had several very skilled facilitators in our group of about 14 adults and eventually 5 children. And we all learned basic facilitation skills. We did lots of conflict resolution. I learned so much and grew tremendously as a person but it was very wearing and I finally left.

However, I think that instead of all getting together to make all decisions together (which tended to reflect the unhealthy family dynamics of our birth families), we would have benefited from teal/sociocratic processes of using circles and advice where smaller groups make decisions.

Also boys of the post WWII era were raised to be little princes which made for a lot of men who wanted things to be their way and they never really shifted their patriarchal ways. Still a lot of unawareness of privilege among men today and an unwillingness to see that not shifting their hierarchical values and behavior will doom projects such as this in the long run. Might want to share this article by Tema Okun that helps us see all the subtle aspects of hierarchical culture.

I also think co-housing models which are a more networked than communal are more likely to succeed - coming together for meals is more voluntary. It’s helpful to minimize areas that need communal decision-making.

Would be glad to think more with others interested in this.



You still making research?


Hi Simone! It’s because me and Alberto wish to move forward in Brussels with a bigger space..

Also boys of the post WWII era were raised to be little princes which made for a lot of men who wanted things to be their way and they never really shifted their patriarchal ways. Still a lot of unawareness of privilege among men today and an unwillingness to see that not shifting their hierarchical values and behavior will doom projects such as this in the long run.

You hit the nail on the head with this comment. Being one of those boys, and in a situation where every other male was of the same era (this was in the 70s), we had to work on that over and over again. It’s like doing laundry. It never ends – because it can’t. Way too much conditioning to just say, “ok I’m over it now!”

Sometimes men are useful for certain physical attributes, but otherwise the idea that women do W and X and men do Y and Z is destructive nonsense. But it is so ingrained.


ok, good luke.
let me know when the game gets serious

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@Matthias since we are nearing the start of this project in Brussels and building our team, which places you would prioritise for a visit, were you to choose? I think it is worth starting to plan the trips… Or at least block our calendars.

I’d definitely go to Sieben Linden and Calafou, and perhaps to Nea Guinea. (Wir Bauen Zukunft is also relevant (somewhat), but you have been there already.)

But even these projects are not really satisfactory to learn what we’ll need to know for refurbishing the Reef 2.0 site. And I don’t really know where else to look …

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