One of my most important experiences during this year’s voyages was one week spent with wonderful people in Poland’s first mature prototype of cohousing estate. Those few days again opened my mind to the notion — that with proper attitude and focus on common goal — we can all live a life we always wanted to.
While in many parts of the world cohousing model of dwelling is widely known and cultivated by groups of passionates, in Poland this idea is still very fresh — and thus, generally misunderstood.
Overall accepted model of living is still heavily based on traditionally understood citizenship. We’re living in society of full-time jobs, more or less isolated families, consumerism, and saving resources for unclear future — while really being in abundace, with virtually endless possibilities of communication between us, our society and our environment.
So called western civilization society can really impose the impression on you, that there is no other rational way of sustainment than having a big house in the outskirts of a big city. All paid by loans, earned with hard work. Hard, but safe life — that’s just how it is.
But, is it really?
In social media you can notice that many people nowadays ask themselves this question, some with strong intent of getting the right answer.
It is just lately that society in Poland started to seriously recognize its natural need for living in healthy, unbleached and socially responsible environment. We want change.
Is then cohousing a change that we want?
Cohousing estates are able to fully respond to forementioned needs related with living in healthy environment, close to other people and to the nature. But first they need to be properly understood. What are the implications related with living in cohousing?
Social structure of cohousing estate implies close cooperation between all of its participants to perform at its optimum — thus, to develop sustainably. In small groups, this social system can be arranged physically by proper sharing of information and resources, evenly available for every member of the group. System must have the ability to adapt, accordingly to ever-changing individual and group needs and contributions. Simple rules work well here: Everyone is important, everyone contributes to common well-being, nothing gets wasted. This home-grown community presents its participants with countless new development possibilities in compare with standard model of citizenship — but as every sustainable solution, it requires a lot in return.
As each estate has to adapt to different, specific conditions of its evnvironment — one of the requirements is wide freedom of operation in building of estate’s economical and social model. The economy and relations in these kind of groups often have to overcome socially acceptable patterns, because otherwise they couldn’t serve as a foundation of estate’s future development.
Sustainable, unfortunately, has nothing to do with so appraised competetive. Cohousing needs totally different ogranization of priorities then commonly accepted model of living. Loans and safe full-time job won’t help you here as much as your ability to improvise practical use of manual skills or inventively apply your knowledge to solve problems encountered while adapting to the environment.
Maybe this is the cause of the critique that idea of cohousing has to deal with? For many, the concept of sustainable collective encouraging its participants for full freedom over their important life decisions renders close to impossible to realize. This is commonly seen simply as utopia, escapism or anarchy. And so, from society’s viewpoint it is often misinterpreted as a harmful waste of time and resources, action against generally established order. Danger.
Well — it’s not. If you can only bias yourself properly towards it, the number of positive effects it brings as mature and independent social structure is huge — for both the individuals and the public.
In my opinion cohousing, before it will become useful social movement, should first be correctly recognized, accepted and understood by society. Labeling it stereotypically won’t bring us nowhere close to use its wide potential.
Adaptation in natural environment requires firm, but open-minded attitude, and I think cohousing estates need it as well from society’s side to start up smoothly and then thrive at their fullness.
So, the question about cohousing that we really need to answer as the society is:
If cohousing is the change that we want, then are we ready to change?
This kind of living induces close cooperation of people with vastly different goals — and does it honestly, without pretending to be some kind of a candy cane. At the beginning, it seemed to me like some truly bold social experiment. When you enter this kind of community, even for a few days as I did, you need to prepare yourself for new level of openness towards yourself, focused on finding your specific place among the group.
If cohousing has to work properly, everyone of its participants should understand their broad personal potential, and bring on their best developed skills to face estate’s workaday requirements. Concious and responsible sharing of inhabitants’ time, resources and skills is crucial for well-being of this specific type of group.
It really doesn’t matter if you want to live in outskirts of a city, on a countryside or in middle of a highland forest. Any chosen habitat will set up responsibilities related with environmental adaptation that simply have to be faced by the group, in order to even allow its functioning.
Deep understanding of others and sharing of those urgent responsibilities among inhabitants is what builds up the whole community. Shared everyday meals, roll calls in commonhouse, economical handling and recycling of resources, more of a commonwealth than a property… Many examples of cohousing show, that those are neccesities for building of sustainable and effectively functioning estate. Any of them costs a lot of privacy, that you may not be willing to give away — and you’ll have to.
The beginnings are always hard — still in my opinion they are many times worth of giving them your maximum effort and care. With your proper attitude, after some time spent in cohousing you’d have distinct chance to witness group of people really creating their own home in their chosen place. And yourself as one very important part of this group. It’s a lifetime motivation and a life-changing experience.
“Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Life Without Principle
When you take a simple outer perspective, I guess that at first glance this rare kind of community may seem like a crazy survival camp in pursuit of some ephemeral dream, or maybe another group of wacky hippies wasting their time.
Why would you even join these people, if you can just take on what is already set up, safe and tested? Well, you don’t have to. The idea of cohousing doesn’t impose anything, it just shows the possibilities. It’s understood that not everyone can break out from their comfort zone to see the things the way they really are. And that’s OK, because cohousing is definitely not some fashion lifestyle for everybody. It’s more of a lifetime plan, that requires specific attitude of the whole group of people in order to work.
However, when you open your mind enough to conciously take part in live of this kind of group, gradually it becomes obvious how in fact cohousing lets its participants enrich their lives and realize their ambitions. It’s a long and dificult process, but it brings evident, solid effects.
It’s truly deeply satysfying notion for me — that in this fast-paced world full of unrealized ideals and artificial institutions, there are actual places where you can make your dreams come true. That is, if you really want it and know how to handle being fully yourself.
Do you know Cohabitat? This polish foundation spreads the knowledge and skills related with natural building, sustainable living and open technologies since its beginnings in 2007. It started with Internet discussions forum and magazine, bringing together a firm group of people interested in sustainable living: architects, builders, scientists, designers and all those who wanted to explore the idea further and closer.
From the broadcast of webinars and books, the organization went into coordination of public events and building sites that introduced natural building materials to polish building industry. Over the first few years of performance, Cohabitat had organized and conducted many successful workshops — like those related with building of strawbale and clay houses or creating household appliances with use of open sustainable technology.
Creators’ Village is the newest and most daring challenge of Cohabitat’s core team and most engaged participants of the movement. The goal: Create Poland’s first fully mature cohousing eco-village, serving as a base for organization’s future actions — housing estate made of natural materials, hub of meetings and workshops for its creators and for all sustainable movement passionates.
For now, the movement involves more and more people, joined in common intention of developing the place during series of summer workshops. The whole batch of participants is divided into smaller groups, each gathered around one of the Village’s thematical sections: natural building materials, permaculture, woodwork and open technology workshop.
This year the work was focused on insulating existing buildings with strawbale-clay and hempcrete insulation blocks, setting up the garden using natural fertilizers and “home-made” compost, replacing the old wooden roof construction and preparing parts for Village’s own rocket stove mass heater, that would prepare the Village for upcoming cold winter days.
After just few days of warm-up, the participants of different professions and often with different intention in mind created surprisingly well organized group. With setting of smooth workflow and great atmosphere during workshops, we also exchanged our vast knowledge about architecture, independent education and sustainable living. We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves: our characters, dreams and goals. Aside of all this, of course we’ve had great time together, close to the nature, and even made some long-lasting friendships.
My tale about Creators’ Village wouldn’t of course be full without mentioning my contributions into this amazing week of creative discoveries. I managed to make another useful piece of simple wooden furniture, as well as to conduct open-space presentation about do-it-yourself zero-waste design with use of cardboard boxes.
Design based on needs
After finishing work on big, heavy roof construction parts, woodwork section still haven’t faced the end of its creative work. We got an urgent quest for the greater good of the whole village — to provide a few more of seats and benches.
Time? Few hours divided into last two days of our stay. Materials? Wood scraps and our newly aquired knowledge of carpentry and joinery. Sounded like a great job to me!
Here is the effect of my few hours of work: bench of bare wooden planks, impregnated by thorough sanding. I like how the form of bench suggests spacious geometric solid object, while it’s been made solely of carefully rigidified flat and long planks. Very simple and legible form, and thus I found it fitting well to the context of Village’s space. Reminds me of garden boxes put vertically, or gives the impression of a windowframe emerged into a concrete plain of the floor.
Its design is similar to the one made earlier by another participant of workshops. His bench was also utilizing traditional finger joints and rigid framework of fitting’s faces as a main constructional method, but the whole was put together with hand-made wooden dowel pins, making the fitting glue-free and screw-free. Original bench was made only with properly processed wooden planks, drill, saw and sandpaper.
Unfortunately, I had to join my version together with use of simple black screws, because I was left with no time to manually prepare myself the dowel pins. Besides of that, all the elements were prepared very carefully, so that the final object is comfortable in use and construction-wise correct.
I learned many useful methods of carpentry and joinery along the process, and the bench (although not being perfect) became my contribution into well-being of the place, a design satysfying the actual needs.
During the week of workshops, I also managed to organize short open-space practice on making furniture out of recycled cardboard.
I was positively surprised by sharing this simple zero-waste technology with other participants and seeing how eagerly and easily we’ve engaged creative work to make some useful thing. In just half of hour we were able to make simple fitting out of cardboard scraps, that could serve as a seat, a table, an organiser, or a shelf:
This simple example of how to creatively re-use recycled materials, a manifest of the principle “do what you want, with what you have, where you are“, became my inspiration to create first of open source series of handbooks about Cardboard Grid fittings.
For now it’s available as PDF e-book, in Polish language version. I’m planning to make a whole series of handbooks, explaining creative process needed to create different kinds of simple cardboard accesories. Materials should be available in both language versions (Polish and English) sometime soon… and for free, at Creative Commons license.
Grab your free copy here!
So, I recommend you to share, like and follow — there will be more of good stuff coming from designdinova in the near future. With this blog entry, grab your free Polish copy of Cardboard Grid: CUBIC. Use it and share it as you like it.
Creators’ Village is a kind of experience that is hard to describe. Those weren’t just common holidays connected with “demo version” of how the life of a cohousing estate looks like. Those summer workshops gave us, participants, a chance to become team members for those few days, and fully emerge into workaday of a group of passionates making their dream come true.
If I had any doubts about my future contribution into development of cohousing, zero-waste trend and natural building in Poland — thanks to the visit in Creators’ Village my doubts were simply gone forever. I wish to see more realized endevours of this kind in near future, and I’ll gladly take part in popularization of this new, healthy way of building a society sustainably adapted to its surroundings.
Hopefully, someday soon the sustainable living in Poland will become natural and trendy alternative for isolation inside of the busy cities — a new fresh way of life for those, whose greatest dream is to really make the change.