What we learned from Stekke & Fraas, architects

Today @Lee and I met Serge Fraas and François Stekke, partners in the architects’ studio Stekke&Fraas. All in all, our impression was very positive. They have the experience, the results to show, know Brussels building regulations very well and seem to know what they are doing. Here are a few things we learned.

  • You can build a cohousing to our specifications for a price per square meter which is in line with the average price for Brussels accommodation, ~ 3.300-3,500 EUR. You get very good value for money, with high-end real estate for average price, but you have to work hard on it for the customary 5-6 years. The saving comes from not having to pay the ~20% profit that real estate developers make.
  • Location affects price in two ways: (1) different location affect the price of the terrain, and (2) different communes have different TVA rates.
  • Serge and François agreed to prepare a more realistic guesstimation of costs, and a list of rates by commune.
  • They recommend to build 25-30 units. This is for social reasons: in small groups any small conflict looms large, larger groups are inherently more tolerant (Serge lives in a cohousing himself).
  • They recommend to purchase the terrain as soon as possible. In Brutopia, that happened within six months of the first meeting. This has two advantages: discourages tourists, and attracts new participants who are a good fit for the new location. We heard a couple of horror stories of groups that could not make up their mind, and lost great opportunities, or were still looking for a site after two years.
  • They have extensive experience on building cohousings, including things we find important like green building and soundproofing. They have a lo-tech approach: as few motors, sensors etc. as possible. What is not there cannot break down. They work with a physicist who specializes in green solutions for construction; this person has a useful role in “pushing the edge” for more ambitious solutions. They also works with an engineer specializing in acoustics.
  • Brussels still insists on 1 parking spot per unit, but you can ask for a derogation. Not obvious you’ll get it though for example, Brutopia could not get one.

Having lived for 7 years in a cohousing community of about 40 units, I would say that some nuance is needed for the size factor. Even if limited to 30 units, in my experience that is more than can create a coherent group. The differences that naturally exist in a group of that size inevitably will surface, and there is likely to be a withdrawal from collective practice as a result of factionalism — that’s what happened in mine, anyway, and I don’t see why the dynamics would be different elsewhere.

Various options seem sensible to me, based on my reflection on experience. One is to make sure that the “unit” is itself a “pod” (see e.g. Joe Lightfoot on this) i.e. a unit contains several adults, not just one or two. Another would be to design in subgroupings to the community, such that there is some common space held between (say) each 6 units.

Of course you don’t want people locked into small living pods, which maybe is the point being made by Serge. The way I see for avoiding the lock-in would be to design in the ability to swap pods. Thus, when conflict in a small group seems to be coming along, regroup so that everyone maintains psychological safety, in having a small group where they really do feel accepted.

Tolerance is fine, but the problem with tolerance in larger groups is that you lose coherence or a sense of common purpose and values. It may easily become simply a convenient place to live, when what we might really be aiming for is something that really pushes the edge. Because you lose the conflict, you also lose the closeness.

I’d be happy to come and visit to talk further, if there is a good opportunity. Let’s learn from other co-housing experiments!


Simon, there is a misunderstanding here: we adopt the word “unit” from the cohousing scene, and they use it in the real estate sense of an apartment in the building or – in a rural or suburban setting – a detached or semi-detached house in the compound.

In our society, housing is where many people store most of their wealth. So, it is essential to have freehold on units: without it, you pay to build an unit which is hard or impossible to re-sell if you got a dream job in Chile, or had some kind of emergency. What that means is that the cohousing does not concern itself with the arrangement within units: if people want to purchase large units and live with 8 adults within one, that is their prerogative. If they want to swap adults, sure, no problem. But the cohousing is not going to enforce this on people that do not intend to do this. In the decision making process, a unit is a unit, and I predict most units will be purchased by households: singles, couples with or without children.

By the way, Simon, our website is now up, and it contains a link where you can register to receive updates. I am flagging it because you seem interested! :slight_smile:


Thanks @alberto — no real misunderstanding! One key point is the mix of sizes of unit. In Lancaster there was nothing larger than 3 bedrooms, and not well sound-insulated at that!

The website is giving a security warning – is all well with the security certificate?

It’s not a certificate issue, most likely a discordance between A-records and AAAA-records so, on some ISPs (but not all), the domain it points to a wrong site, which also has an expired certificate. @owen is looking into it. The URL it redirects to (or should) is Edgeryders | Start.

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Quick update: we received a financial estimate from the architects. It is saved in the “Team Finance” folder on Nextcloud.

@alberto, would you have the time to have a quick look and see what is the one-sentence summary that we can present at the public meeting?