FIRST THOUGHT: Building Better Buildings
Do you think much about how buildings are designed? Yeah, me neither. I’ll notice a lavish veranda or a shabby mezzanine but rarely more than that. I usually see what’s wrong with design. Take, for instance, a winding grocery store that somehow leads me past the cereal aisle three stinkin’ times on my way to the cashier, or the airport at which the journey to Gate A7 for a connecting flight practically requires a train, plane and automobile to reach—in the “generously” allotted 10-minute time frame. Today, let’s all open our eyes a little wider to the beauty and efficiency of the architecture we experience.
WOMEN IN NUMBERS: More Than 100
Design plays an important role in either bringing people together or pushing them apart. It’s the difference between living in a cute and efficient dorm room and living in your parents’ dank basement. The concept of cohousing is mixing things up even more. Cohousing communities are those that are organized collaboratively, with residents having their own private areas, but also access to shared spaces, like a kitchen and entertainment room, for instance, that allow residents to make meals together and participate in community activities. In the United States, there are at least 130 cohousing establishments, with many more in development. But in Denmark, where the cohousing concept originated, currently, at least 8 percent of households prescribe to this lifestyle, including more than 100 that are women-only communities.
WOMAN TO WATCH: Grace Kim, Architect and Co-founder of Schemata Workshop
Internationally renowned architect Grace Kim is an award-winning designer and consensus builder who is changing the way Americans think about housing. Grace lives and works in a cohousing community, one that she designed, of course, and she can’t praise the community interaction enough. In fact, she’s spearheading the growth of the concept in the U.S. through her architecture firm, Schemata Workshop. The small company consists of fewer than 20 employees, but their work packs a punch, with the team operating with intent to create sustainable communities built on thoughtful designs.
Part of Grace’s magic is that her design process isn’t driven solely by looks. In 2017, she told a TED Talk audience about how a specifically built environment can affect inhabitants’ health. That’s right, the cohousing concept can help cure loneliness, something the former U.S. surgeon general deemed the most common health issue. Here’s why: Loneliness can result in higher mortality. In fact, that can even be the case if you’re shacking up with a partner but don’t regularly interact with those in your community. Having no connection with neighbors and no communication with your community are postures that can elicit loneliness.
Grace lives in a Seattle cohousing community with nine apartments, each with their own bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens. But it’s the central common house and courtyard where the interaction happens, urging residents to dine together a few times a week and simply check in. Residents rotate cooking and cleaning duties, which means most of the time, Grace just shows up, eats and chats up her neighbors. I’m sold!
Always focused on how to improve the lives of others, Grace also wrote a book about how to succeed in an architecture career, and regularly shares her outlines for how to design the perfect cohousing environment.
Though Grace is a powerhouse in the architecture community and takes an innovative approach to solving some of the most vexing housing issues, her overall message is simple: Use your talents to solve problems to make the world a better place.
QUITE THE QUOTE
Architect Charles Durrett coined the term “cohousing” and is credited for bringing it to North America. With an understanding of the importance of community, he said:
“Great environments don’t happen because architects create them, but because cultures create them.”
This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.
Head shot by Karen Moskowitz Photography. Background image by Danny Ngan.