The Commons: could co-housing offer a different kind of great Australian dream?

The commons: could co-housing offer a different kind of great australian dream?
The roof terrace of The Commons development in Melbourne / © Andrew Wuttke/Breathe Architects

The demand for attractive and affordable co-housing like Melbourne’s The Commons is high in Australia, but supply and access to land is a challenge

When Kate and Jason turned up to look around The Commons, they weren’t looking for a lifestyle change. They were just another hard-working couple wanting an apartment that was close to central Melbourne and wouldn’t cost the earth.

Only after they moved in did the upsides of the building’s co-housing ethos hit them. Built in the Brunswick neighbourhood by a consortium of local architects, the award-winning apartment block is designed with sociability hard-wired into it. About 15% of the property is devoted to communal facilities, including a shared roof garden and laundry room.

“I have lived in multi-residential buildings before and not known a soul … but here we have created genuine friendships,” says 33-year-old ballet dancer Kate. “The communal spaces encourage you to interact with your neighbours – we garden together, we make building improvements together, we go out together, we make dinner for one another.”
The concept of co-housing – where living arrangements encourage co-operation and community – kicked off in Denmark back in the 1960s. The Commons is the first of four co-housing projects developed by Nightingale Housing, a Melbourne-based social enterprise looking to bring the idea to Australia. Seven more are in the offing. So will it work, and can it spread?

Demand is high. Nightingale has a waiting list of 1,500 people, says Jeremy McLeod, a director at Breathe Architecture and a co-founder of the scheme. These aren’t hippies looking for a commune, he says. Most residents are professionals who are attracted to city living, but fed up with paying exorbitant rents for the privilege of a soulless apartment. […]