Notable points from Workshop 3: CoDesign Sprint

Hi all, this is a wiki with summary info from the workshop, please add as you see fit! At the bottom of the topic, see Edit button. For extensive unedited notes consult:

Attended: @manuelpueyo @BaobabUrbain @CynthiaWeber @LouiseB @alberto @irene_1 @Kai @ugne @ralu @matthias, Matthew, Clementine, Carlotta, Vincent, Luc.

1. The Reef: where we are now

2. Who is the community?

  • cca 35 members aged 20 - 56+, most of whom are aged 25-45
  • Belgian, German, French, Lithuanian, Spanish, Romanian, Italian, British, Luxembourg, Uzbek, Bolivian!
  • urbanists, sociologists, climate advocates, teacher, lawyer, architects, researcher, organisational developers, IT account manager, designer, agroecologist, receptionist, mother, entrepreneurs, community facilitators
  • aspire to a sustainable community, to living together ‘more than being just flatmates’, or to ‘a new type of family’

3. Designing the key components of The Reef

Instructions: If we imagine living there in 6 months, what do we prioritize? What principles and processes do we want to uphold? How do we formalize the commitment?

3.1. Living Together – What is the Dream?

  • Start with a small group: 6-9 people

  • Shared principles, not ‘rules’ that can be reviewed and adjusted over time

  • Values: Acceptance, tolerance to difference, diversity: socio-economic, cultural, linguistic: ‘To put the diversity of the City of Brussels in a house’. Younger and older people, people living different lifestyles -students, working professionals, people living life in different stages of their lives.

  • Talking circle once a week

  • Facilitator? This role is strongly endorsed by some, and not so much by others. A more professional, paid role: gather people together, someone who spots talents and pushes them to organise something; mediates conflict.


  • Individual spaces have different sizes depending on needs

  • Creative space: handcraft area; dancing room; other living arts which strengthen communal life

  • Coworking space / Cafe / Tool library connected to the street, like a front shop. Acts as bridge between the inside and the outside world and can be the space for organising more public events. Maybe those in the neighborhood could rent space when they need it.

  • A place for agroecology: a collective garden or terrace, because that is the place for a healthy lifestyle. Either the house is close to a forest, or if it’s in the city center The Reef would have a garden inside.

  • A large, 4.50 m high garage is a very handy, multi-purpose space to include in a communal living setup. Good for storage space, guest parking or as a provisional space for other facilities.

  • A big kitchen needs to be at the very centre of the place. It’s good to have a smaller kitchen if you want to eat on your own ‘without feeling pressure’ [like in communal meals]. The community meals should be vegan friendly - proposal, not rule.

  • There needs to be access to the private spaces that doesn’t involve going through the common room(s) (when you don’t want to see people or socialize). ‘Buffer zones’ - It doesn’t even have to be a space, it could be a vacant corner or something. Ideally the building would be structured on different floors to separate private and common areas.

3.2. Living Green - habits of consumption, sharing and energy saving

  • Clothes repair. As a response to fast fashion and consumerism: If there is 1 person that knows how to sew they can offer to everyone else this service of mending and preparing clothes. This is the type of service that if ends up working well, it can be offered as a service for the neighborhood. It’s not high impact, but it will have an effect on buying less clothes.

  • Learning through skill sharing. Takes a long time to learn on your own. Ex: programming, or gardening.** A board where you can write a skill that you want and what you can offer - it’s pretty organic. Something semi-formal would work best, to have a certain regularity. It could be every Sunday at a certain time, and actually you need to implement it at some point. Whoever is interested throughout the week they can get in touch.
    NB: 1) the people offering their skills should not be oversolicited, or instead they can pay lower rent. Also a solution could be timebanking.

  • Sharing with the wider community - ‘house projects’ Most people don’t want to take it on as a project and be ‘in charge’ of a public activity, rather they want to be part of something - they could allocate 1-2 days a month in an activity if more people take leadership. The only way The Reef could be self-sufficient and things be organised organically is if someone is passionate about something and organises activities that they already do and love. Otherwise it creates overhead.

  • Modular kitchen. Shared space for the inside of the house, but once per week you can open it, or even make it a pop up kitchen in the city (example: Cultureghem in Abbatoir, Brussels). You can introduce the rest of the community to the impact you can produce inside - by using recuperated food, being part of a food coop for local produce, means of preservation and storage, and other good examples.

  • Membership in food cooperatives. If one person in the house has this practice, maybe it can become a house practice through a common subscription.

  • Energy saving: how much can you go off the grid? Try to produce as much as you can but have a safety net. We don’t need to heat all the places all the time. In Belgium you need to be connected to the grid, but people live in the hangar and they have a little place there where they need only a chimney. Or you can have a smaller place that’s better insulated. Either way, everyone in the house needs to preserve the confort levels they wish, to be able to feel good in their home.
    This is also part of learning (see above): have tools and classes that teach people to consume less.
    Proposed mitigation: Agree on a midterm goal ex. ‘in two years we will have done a system for creating rainwater.’ If it only depends on individual choice/ behavior it will be difficult.

  • Ecological toilets: Toilets are the most underrepresented or uninteresting/ inefficient technology - you flush with your drinking water, but after the system mixes them and it has to be filtered again for you to drink it. Composting toilet is a very simple technology and safe, hygienic if you do it right, there’s books about it. in Brussels, the normal house is - the house, garden, and the toilets near the stairs. It’s not so hard to make it natural - it’s cold, far from shower, kitchen, living places.

  • Bathrooms: It makes sense to invest some more money / equipment in having more and different kinds of bathrooms (private and shared; toilets / bathrooms to brush your teeth) – some people might prefer to pay less and share more; other bathrooms need to be more public, when others visit or attend events in the house. Also: there is a very relevant, influential book from the 1970’s about the architecture of the bathroom, which was and is a neglected topic: Alexander Kira: The Bathroom (there and here available in fulltext online).


3.3. Governance

What structures are optimal for a healthy way of organising?

A mixed model between ownership and rental would be ideal. Fractal ownership is a way like this seems to be Woon Koop’s mixed rent-buy model (see below). Equity crowdfunding (crowdfunding into equity) you have a share of the space But sometimes this model appears as not fair. Because the ones with more money are in a way those with more power.


Matthew from conscious coliving made a brilliant analytical study on coliving… you can get a copy of his publication oncoliving insights

  • Gravity: someone leases existing building, then rents them out

  • Co-House: someone buys existing buildings, then rents out for co-living. By now the model is stuck on rents

  • Someone develops existing buildings, then rents them out for co-living

  • In all these models the inhabitants are renting. There is a trade-off between convenience and community: co-living is an inclusive model, everything is taken care of, so when convenience goes up community goes down. On the other hand, co-housing is about buying: it’s an ownership model. When convenience goes up, community also goes up. On the other hand, the need to stay liquid tends to produce conservative patterns of communal living.

  • Brussels model

  • Cooperative model (Woon Koop): the cooperative owns the building, people rent it but they also own the cooperative. In Woon Koop cooperators can put money in the Coop, and that lowers their rent. This leaves the problem of exit. Luc: “it is very difficult, because we ask people that they change their concept of ‘living’, away from just talking about money.”

  • Swedish housing associations: separate the right to live in the place from the ownership → OBOS livinglab

  • “ we invest in skills rather than embed the skills into artefacts” Alberto

  • Matthew When community get stronger convenience get stronger

  • Create a rental model with more commitment → like 24 months of information before living

  • Whatever the model there is still some type of management needed


  • Some shareowners are also living in our houses

  • Others are just investors. We offer a 2% ROI. Minimum investment is 3 shares: 750 EUR.

  • Exists since 2017. We are now running 10 projects, hoping to go to 20 by end 2020.

  • You can use it to coordinate purchase, development, management of buildings.

  • People do not own their place. They rent, but they rent from themselves. They do buy the right to live for life, and are expected to “participate like an owner” in running the building.

  • The spaces do not have to be standard “but you can’t have golden floors, still someone else needs to be able to live there potentially”.

  • We have the ambition to allow people to move from space to space staying within Woon Coop. To do this, we estimate we need at least 1,000 units. For this reason, we do not create a coop per project, but keep everything in the one coop.

  • In the future, it will be compulsory to move from one apartment to the other. This is not as bad as it sounds, because there are communal services (eg. guest rooms).

  • They work on demand. A group goes to them, and they create the model on demand. They have to put in at least ⅓ of the cost of the project. The rest is split between a banking loan and other investors. The group then gets a reduction of 4% of the amount they put in.

  • Shares can be sold. The procedure is strictly regulated. The amount of shares sold in a period might be capped.

  • “Become a shareholder in my apartment, and it’s still your money”.



Wayow ! Collective intelligence in its better shape !!!
Thanks a lot @noemi for facilitating and putting back together all those ideas <3

The discussion on governance models was super deep. If I understand it well I guess the Reef model should build a balance between coliving and cohousing.
Yet I still don’t know if the Reef should be its own entity or if a third body might incorporate both buildings, investments, partners in one multidimensionnal box…

Let’s have a look at Inclusio
It is a Belgian real estate company with social impact They are open to focus on green living for their next programmes.

Muchas gracias to WoonCoop and Matthew you are on the edge of urban living for sure !!!



I felt Carlotta, who was new to the project and process, has a lot of knowledge about managing a kitchen and would really like to learn more from her! I hope she joins us here and shares a bit more from her experience and how she would see it work, in terms of cooking skills, but also home food production and preservation!


Everyone, please check out this announcement and buckle up for next year :stuck_out_tongue:

thank you noemi! I am planning to review this next week and match the notes from group 1. it was a very interesting conversation and I want to make sure we don’t miss anything. i also have an audio file with the conversation in group 1

1 Like

Thanks again Noemi for the workshop! Here are my reflections:

I would say that it should be 10 people minimum in the beginning. We had the problem in the beginning that we didn’t have enough people (we were 6) so it was hard to had enough people for communal activities (because people have their jobs/ other obligations etc). With 10-15 people the group is big enough for those activities but not too big (so it gets anonymous again).

The whole goal of true diversity is nice but not sure if it will really work well/ flawless because people are in different stages of their lives. Its not impossible but i think it needs more adjustments and work (e.g. an 50 or 60+ old person might want to have diner earlier and goes to bed earlier then a 20 years old). But thats just my assumption (i don’t have any experience)! On the other hand, if you make it work, it could be quite fulfilling and inspiring because of all the positive effects. And you would make it out of your bubble and see other perspectives.

For us a weekly talking circle didn’t work but that doesn’t mean that it is a bad idea. I guess people need to push themselves in the beginning and make it a habit, then it might work well. it was too much of a commitment for our people. Twice a month works well for us.

Facilitator is super important in my opinion! From our experience, people need a small push sometimes to be more social and active. In my opinion the role has to be done by someone who really likes it (outgoing, very social person with a lot of energy who sees it as a fulfilling task). It might also be a good idea to make it „formal“ and offer this person a small rent reduction (or something similar). This „formality" could bring more commitment (its an ongoing task) and make it a clear role within the community. So in my opinion a mix of character/ intrinsic motivation and some small extrinsic factor, just to make a formal, would be best.

„There needs to be access to the private spaces that doesn’t involve going through the common room(s) (when you don’t want to see people or socialize). ‘Buffer zones’ - It doesn’t even have to be a space, it could be a vacant corner or something. Ideally the building would be structured on different floors to separate private and common areas.“
I think this is very important. For us this works well overall but sometimes I wish that the coworking/ common space would be directly connected to the staircase which goes to the private rooms/ apartments. Especially in the cold winter, it sometimes is barrier for people to use the common space spontaneously because they need to briefly go outside to enter from their private rooms to the common space. Therefore a whole (town) house would be my optimal solution where the rooms/ apartments are upstairs and the common spaces downstairs. Still you should be able to access the rooms over the staircase without being „forced“ to go through the community spaces in my opinion.

„Individual spaces have different sizes depending on needs“ & budgets. We once asked potential tenants exactly that and they all agreed on it, so it probably makes sense to look further into it. I can’t tell you from experience because our rooms are all quite similar.

„Coworking space / Cafe / Tool library connected to the street, like a front shop. Acts as bridge between the inside and the outside world and can be the space for organising more public events. Maybe those in the neighborhood could rent space when they need it.“
—> That works really well for us!
2 benefits:
(1) you can integrate people from the neighborhood with classes and activities organized by yourself or partners (like we do with yoga, stretching and singing) or have like a tool library etc.
(2) you can finance the project by renting out the space to start-ups or bigger companies a couple days a month. We do it to finance the coworking space by renting it out a maximum of 3 days/ month (to be able to offer low coworking fares and donation based activities/ classes)


Thanks @Kai. This is an interesting remark, and will reflect on it. There is a thin line between living in your home and living in a project, and The Reef might be more of a home for some, and more of a project for others. That should be OK, that’s also where diversity comes into play. Not everyone needs to be ‘active’ or social necessarily, if you ask me. Introverts, busy people, or more precarious ones, or people who have their own lives and are not so community oriented should have a space in this whole thing. of course, that means that others might need to compensate for that in order for the Reef to make an impact. But i’m not so worried. In this case, a facilitator would just act to optimise the opportunities for participation, but not to get everyone to be or act in a certain way. A community should survive with those different personalities, otherwise it will be a project. My 10 cents…

hey everyone, have finally joined the thread! very insightful comments and post, thanks to all for contributing! I am forwarding over a few thoughts/resources I sent to Noemi and Isabelle already, so that it’s all in one place. These are specifically around impact investing and social value in the coliving sector:

  1. Venn, a Tel Aviv based coliving operator has received impact investing from Bridges Fund Israel. Here is their 2019 Impact Report as a reference.
  2. Mason & Fifth, a new upscale ‘well-living’ coliving space in London received investment from ‘purpose-driven real estate investment firm’ FORE.
  3. KOIS, which is Brussels based, is another impact-driven asset management firm. I believe they are in talks with Cohabs (Brussels biggest coliving company as of now), based on shared connections I’ve noticed on LinkedIn.
  4. It’s also interesting to look into other purpose-driven/community minded property developers, such as the Office of Holistic Urbanism (Ohu) in Christchurch, NZ and Stories in London. Ohu are the ones I was talking about that have raised over 500k NZD through equity crowdfunding for their Collet’s Corner coliving project. Here you can see a public register of all their shareholders to date and a deep dive of their model on their PledgeMe page. Stories really focuses on ‘social value’, or the economic, social and environmental impact of their spaces. Here is a great resource on social value from the UK Green Building Council. Here is an article I wrote about social value in coliving, where you can find some info about impact measuring tools, such as SoPact.

think that these are useful for thinking about different governance models for The Reef. Looking forward to the next workshop session!


Thank you! These references will need their time for thorough consultation. Ping @patrick_andrews should these references be useful for our meeting this coming Friday where we look at how to structure a new organisation!