From Coexistence 
to Cooperation: 
Living Together Beyond the Family

Ilias Oikonomakis:

The Collective Old Oak, 2016, PLP Architects,
Mikhail Nemtsov, painting of Ivan Nikolaev’s Communal House of the Textile Institute in Moscow


The distinction between the different generations and their allocation to “appropriate” modes of living regardless of their common needs and attitudes, the discordance between the actual modes of habitation and the built environment, the housing shortage and the extreme land values, summarise the housing crisis in London. The significant shifts to cooperative modes of habitation which are apparent in metropolitan cities such as London, are still restricted by the traditional nuclear family model of accommodation and domesticity, and cannot express their full dynamics and perspectives. Single parents, ageing population, students, young professionals and workers, internal and external immigrants who live outside the nuclear family model, constitute the subjects of this transformation of habitation, which is in the direction of aggregated single or co- operative households, in order to handle their daily agendas and reduce their living expenses. Cohabitation and cooperative living constitute the most important carriers of the shifts on habitation and call for a reevaluation of the built environment and in particular of the domestic space. The discordance between domesticity – in terms of households, actions and agendas – and typology can be exceeded not just through the typological transformation regarding the requirements of cohabitation or aggregated households, but ultimately through the creation of common fields of habitation, interaction and responsibility, concerning a new type of domestic space based on com- mon needs. Cohabitation hides inside its logic and existence the potentials for this transformation and the kernel for new liberating forms of living and modes of social interaction. If cohabitation, as we know it in modern terms, is the beginning point to think about a typological transformation of the domestic space, then the historical and contemporary paradigms of cooperative and collective living can provide the criteria for this transformation. Cohabitation, cooperative and collective living are perceived as the major poles which can reflect modes of habitation and domesticity outside of the family model and beyond the distinction of generations, and their intersection can be found in the matter of activities regarding household. In order to address these matters, the research focuses on the ideas of multigenerational living, cohabitation and collective living, proposing that the present situation offers the possibility for a new perception and intersection of these concepts.

The Happiness Machine, Mark Lascelles Thornton

Part A

  1. The contemporary metropolitan condition: cohabitation and the separation of generations

The analysis of the reasons cohabitation constitutes not only a widespread living condition, but instead the dominant model of living in the metropolis for the lower classes and the young people, have to focus in two different aspects of the metropolitan condition. The first is the sovereign role of the Real Estate Market which struggles to speculate from every piece of space and hike the land values up. Therefore, cohabitation as the phenomenon of different individuals – who do not constitute a family – living together in a shared domestic space, is an inevitable response to the unaffordability of the rent prices in the metropolis. The second aspect is the extreme anonymity and alienation of the social interactions. Cohabitation is seen as a mode of socialisation and interaction, especially between people who have newly been established themselves in the metropolis. Therefore cohabitation can be seen both as economic and social response to the metropolitan condition: first as an aggregation of single households accommodated in a shared space and second as a possibility of socialisation. However, it can be supported that due to the huge economic pressure in the metropolis, the main base of cohabitation is primary economic and regards the very basic conditions of habitation: an affordable place to sleep. Therefore, cohabitation primarily appears as an economic necessity rather than an actual desire; however, this does not downgrade the fact that cohabitation is also a choice for social or political reasons.

Having this as a beginning point, cohabitation can be described as a forced action of sharing. If sharing can be initially distinguished in forced and voluntary sharing, then common needs which cannot be covered individually appertain to the first category, while social (and political) aspects regard the second. Despite the fact that this distinction is not completely accurate since the two forces impelling cohabitation mainly overlap, the primacy of the economic factor remains as the main reason cohabitation appears as a dominant phenomenon in the metropolitan areas.10

Cohabitation as the living condition that creates domestic relations outside of the family model of accommodation is traced in quite specific social and class groups. The most widespread case regards students, young professionals and internal or external immigrants. A more precise analysis about the mode of cohabitation and its character, have to focus in the economic and social status of the persons and their groupings. Cohabitation between blue-collar workers (immigrants or not) or precarious employees is completely different from cohabitation between young professionals who identify themselves as “creative class”. Therefore, it can be supported that the condition of “living together” outside the family model of accommodation constitute an interclass phenomenon which appears between the working class and the lower parts of the middle class. In addition to this, aspects of cooperative living exist in institutionalised welfare structures and mainly in projects for the elderly population, where the individual households are unified and the inhabitants follow a common routine defined by their common needs and agreements. Thus, the condition of “living together” (either as cohabitation or as cooperative living) outside the family model is not a phenomenon that is restricted in a singular age group, but can be found under specific economic and social circumstances across all generations. However, a coexistence of multiple generations under the concept of cooperative living and outside of the model of the extended family, cannot be found yet in a contemporary, structured and widespread way.

Comparative Analysis of the Furniture and the Rooms’ Furniture and Family Model, according to time

Collective and cooperative living is not a condition which appertains exclusively to the young generations, despite the fact that this age group regards the majority of the cases. Structures in which families (either the persons share biological relationships or not) can live together by sharing – except from common spaces – aspects of household, routines and agendas, can obtain complex social characteristics. The potential differences in age, culture, gender are able to create both fields of interaction and conflict and the harmonic symbiosis will always be under consideration and in a constant oscillation. Since these differences are apparent in the social structure of the domestic subject, the question of their translation to specific roles and hierarchies inside the domestic space is crucial. It can be an instrument of oppression and conflict, but under specific circumstances, this multigenerational living can be a deliberate factor of emancipation. The domestic space which can synthesise these characteristics, assumes a character of collective edification and leads on to the creation of new subjectivities.

  1. Historical and theoretical framework: Historical forms and
the idea of collective living in 19th & 20th century

Cohabitation as a metropolitan and economic-based phenomenon in the framework of the end of the 20th century, began in a way spontaneously and it is detached from any historical forms of cooperative living. These historical forms are driven mainly by political ambitions and intentions and these facts function as a conjoiner factor across the time and the transformations of the capitalist society12. However, either referring to the Utopian Socialists of the 19nth century, the British and American Communes or the Soviet Union collective living housing projects, a sequence and an evolutional process between cohabitation and collective living can be clearly traced. The utopian social and architectural models of Saint-Simon, Robert Owen and Charles Fourier came as a response to the horrible living conditions of the working class in England and central Europe after the industrial revolution.13 These conditions were including also phenomena of absolute congestion between several families accommodated in one house or apartment, which later were transformed to the Cooperative Housekeeping movements of the 19th & 20th.14 The New Harmony, the Phalanstère and the other proposals of the utopian socialists were a response to the housing and living- conditions’ crisis beyond the cooperative movements and cohabitation. They were not only new types of architectural models to accommodate the industrial workers but mainly new social and political structures, based on the collective living outside the family model. These models made a primary and fundamental effort to unify and exceed the contradictions between labour, social life and free time and between city and nature. From the other hand, the Soviet Union projects of collective living have as origins the restrictions of war era and the cohabitation phenomena that the population adopted in order to survive from the absolute poverty.15 These collective living projects probably constitute the most structured, sophisticated, discussed, and long-lasting attempts for the replacement of the family as the fundamental cell of society.

From the propositions and implementations of the utopian socialists’ ideas in the middle of the nineteenth century since the ultimate paradigms designed in the first decade of the Soviet Union, the displacement of the family model and its replacement with alternative groupings as the basic cells of society is the absolute target for the architects and the inspirers of the projects and part – or the intermediate target – of a coherent strategy for a fundamental change in the society. In the Soviet Union examples – and on the contrary of the model that is defined here as cohabitation – the condition which can be identified as ad hoc collective living occurs through the transfer of traditionally domestic services (or even dwellings services) and functions from the private domestic space of the dwelling to a new shared domain which is clearly distinctive from the private. These transformations gave to the built space a major educational character and were capable of giving an architectural expression to a new society, creating the appropriate environment that could house a new society model. The educational character of these “social condensers” aimed to abolish from each person all the capitalistic and petit-bourgeois characteristic that were integrated in their personalities, to eradicate the self-centeredness and to form new relations between the people, to emancipate women by defeating the patriarchal society, and mainly, to create a new system of values, different from that inherited from the past. The purpose was not only to destroy the capitalistic mode of production, but mostly to eliminate all its repercussions in the everyday life.16

Narkomfin, 1928, Units Analysis

The main idea behind the collective of people as a prerequisite is that it consists of persons who find and reconstruct freely their personalities inside it. The collective appears as an instrument of emancipation for the person and constitutes an antagonistic model to an oppressive society. The historical forms of collective living address habitation as a political and mass problem implemented by a centralised planning authority. However, a recent example of collective living which adopts some of the aforementioned design criteria but rejects and opposes all the political criteria, is the Women’s Dormitory designed by Kazuyo Sejima in 1991. This dormitory for eighty employees of a company in Japan is designed exclusively for women in their first year with the firm. Collective living is perceived as a training period in order to foster a team spirit and increased productivity. The intentions are reflected on the design of the building and the project is a contemporary interpretation of the complete dissolution of the personal space, since there is not private space at all even in the bedrooms, where four women sleep together. The core of the building is a large common room and all the bedrooms and other rooms are directly linked to this main area. The toilets, the bathroom, and other utilities are inserted as separate volumes into the large central room. Cooking, eating and resting are meant to be collective activities taking place in the common room. The fact that the common room is the physically and conceptually the core of the building constitutes an important typological transformation beyond the hotel typology and the aforementioned historical forms of collective living. The proximity of private and collective spaces and the usage of the shared space as connective space, adopts characteristics which are related to the family houses and opens the way for a new genealogy of collective living.

the fundamental characteristic that distinguishes cohabitation from collective living lies in their subjects and most of all in their intentions. While in cohabitation the individual inhabitants tend to share a common space and relationships of mutual understanding in terms of the use of this space and the interaction (or not) of their individual lives, in collective living the actual subject is not anymore the individual person but the collective. In collective living, the inhabitants have as intention – or as a prerequisite – the existence of a collective, a coherent grouping that constitutes a higher synthesis of the individual persons, rather than an aggregation of people living together. The persons who constitute the collective, do not share only spaces, but most importantly activities and daily routines. Sharing a space does not create, neither indicate nor presuppose any strong connections between the inhabitants per se. Therefore, the existence of a collective as the distinctive factor between cohabitation and collective living appertains not to the sharing of spaces but to the collective activities which regard primary aspects of the domestic life. The notion of commons26 in habitation emerges exactly in that point when the inhabitants share activities and routines. The aggregation of private domestic lives existing in the cases of cohabitation give in the collective living their place to a constant interaction between numerous private domestic lives and – potentially – one collective domestic life. According to these definitions for cohabitation and collective living, cooperative living has to be defined as a situation in the middle of these distinctive conditions. The agreements regarding specific parts of the collective domestic life and not on its whole – but moreover the detachment of the person from common routines and agendas – create a condition characterised by stronger interpersonal relations than cohabitation but surely weaker than collective living. This definition refers mainly to institutionalised welfare structures for the elderly population or in extended cohabitation schemes or examples of cooperative housing projects. In all the above schemes, the connection between the inhabitants and between inhabitants and spaces, are the activities. Therefore, in order to characterise a typology as “collective”, it has to assist or to force common actions. However, this does not mean necessarily the corresponding emergence of a collective, or really collective actions. When spaces and programme (by the meaning of agreements in specific agendas, daily routines and collective activities) are in an interactive relation, then sharing becomes a design problem which exceeds by far the conventional adaptation of existing forms as it appears in the dominant model of cohabitation in family houses in the metropolitan areas, and appertain to conditions of cooperative and collective living.

III. Research questions and aims

According to the previous analysis, if cohabitation and collective living be perceived as the two major poles which reflect modes of habitation and domesticity outside of the family model of accommodation and their intersection can be found in the matter of activities which regard the household; and if cohabitation be accepted as a wider and more abstractly and freely defined category than collective living, then a sequence can be built between them, a connection which leads from cohabitation to collective living. Moreover, if cohabitation in the contemporary metropolis be perceived as an economic- based model but with crucial social characteristics (in terms of interaction and socialisation), then for the social categories that use it, the collectivisation of specific aspects of living can be more effective at confronting the economic and social root causes of cohabitation. The viability of this evolutional process relies on the specific categories of people who at the present economic and political circumstances are forced to live together, either because their individual needs cannot be covered individually, or because the potential of collectivised aspects of domesticity can be a deliberating factor for their lives. Cohabitation per se as a model based on spontaneity and randomization does not refer to common needs; therefore, the idea of collectivisation of domestic needs can be applied only to people who share common needs, and have similar or connectable routines and agendas. The similarity of the needs is not perceived here as a homogenization of different people and most importantly of generation.


Therefore, in what instances across the different generations can be found intersections of common needs regarding different groupings of people?
How can the individual and the shared domestic space of cohabitation schemes be reconsidered and re-conceptualised regarding the domestic needs of an evolution from cohabitation to collective living?

How can this evolutional process be adopted by multigenerational schemes of living?
Can this process create new subjectivities in the metropolitan condition and challenge of the dominant role of family model?


Beyond the family house and the hotel types, what are the new typologies which can emerge through the gradual collectivisation of household aspects and the programmatic enrichment of domesticity? How the shared spaces can be reconsidered and reconceptualised as the medium between the living units, in order to create multiple centralities and layers of collective activities, rather than a single and detached space?


How can a new collective space -as the medium between the domestic space and the urban space – restructure the urban context of a housing project?

What relations can be built between multiple interventions in the urban fabric and more specifically between the different collective spaces? How can the relations between different subjectivities – which are formed by multiple interventions regarding different programmes, activities and subjectivities – transform the role of habitation in the metropolitan condition? What relations can be built between the commons in the domestic space and the urban commons?


The research methodology follows two main directions. The first direction regards the theoretical analysis of the object of research and the second the analysis of the corresponding case studies and typologies. The analysis of the object of research will trace the history of cohabitation, collective living and cooperative housing in the selected site and will identify the continuation of the matter in the present political, social and economic context. This historical and theoretical framework will be evaluated and its dynamics will be identified at the present, in order to justify the necessity for a reconsideration and reconceptualization of the matter. This framework will be furthermore enriched by the study of significant cases which are related to the matter, both historical and contemporary. These case studies will provide the criteria for a critical and contemporary proposal on the subject. Moreover, this analysis will be accompanied by the crucial typological analysis of the cases studies and will focus on the interaction between intentions, programmes and typologies, considering their prevailing historical framework. The selected case studies will be analysed and compared through diagrams, in order to reveal their typological patterns. Moreover, as defined by the research question, this analysis will not only appertain to the architectural scale of the buildings, but moreover to the urban scale, in order to show the connections between the projects and their urban fabric and therefore their importance for the composition of the city. The typological analysis of the case studies will lead on to comparative matrixes and to typological transformations and experimentations, which will guide to the design projects.


The design project will be approached not through a direct and one-dimensional design process but through a successive and analytical division of the generative components which will constitute it. These components have not to be perceived as self-standing or isolated issues, but as aspects which are in a constant, dynamic and dialectical interaction. Therefore, each one of the final projects – proposals assumes a paradigmatic role by combining and interpreting the different components in a unique way and for a specific purpose and instance. Thus, the proposal will be developed in multiple layers but mainly as a series of guidelines and series of interpreted experimentation, which will lead on to the final proposals. The purpose of the guidelines as the primary and generative components is to delineate the actuator issues which can assist the selected agendas but moreover to be able to further develop it autonomously according to the evolution of the community’s coherence. Since the actual purpose is the community itself, the design has to be adaptable and in a dynamic relation with the community itself. However, it is quite important to function as safe substratum which does not leave the presence of the community to be dissolved. The guidelines will follow a primary division between Programme and Typologies.


The programme will not be analysed as a distribution of functions, but mainly of collective actions and peoples’ interaction in the domestic space and in relation to the city, since it is a primary intention of the research to perceive habitation beyond the conventional arrangement of clearly separated and defined spaces. The fundamental aspect of the programme is habitation. Habitation is the base for all the other supportive aspects of domesticity which could be proposed or emerge, the cornerstone and the primary purpose of the proposition. However, and according to the preceded analysis about habitation as a dialectical action between the private and collective domesticity, habitation has to be analysed in the programme as set of relations and actions between these two poles.


Following the research methodology and its direction to the clarification and analysis of the distinctive typologies which appear on projects of collective living, the corresponding experimentation on typological transformation is crucial regarding the design proposal. This typological transformation will be concentrated on the outcomes of the case studies’ analysis. A first effort to this direction is the three design experimentations in the Part B.


The synthesis of the programmatic studies and the typological studies constitutes the final design projects, which assume a paradigmatic role in relation to the subject of collective living and its emergence from cohabitation for the specifically defined social groupings. Therefore, the final design projects will be conceived as hypothetical and critical frames which refer to the possibilities of design regarding the selected subject. This methodology aims at providing a reconceptualization of the subject in the present situation, by using typological patterns and guidelines which are able to open the discussion in a new basis, considering the subjectivities of the design not only as its receivers but moreover as its carriers and co-constructors.

Part B

  1. Design brief

The Design experimentation is divided into three main categories translated in three projects, which indicate different subjectivities, as well as different typologies which assist distinctive relations, programmes and interaction modes. The role of collective as the structural idea and generative element of the relations which emerge is transformable across the cases and expresses the different needs emerge but mainly the distinctive role of the idea of collectivization in each case. Furthermore, the design experimentation considers three main aspects, which will be further developed and analysed in the Dissertation. These are the typological aspect, the financial aspect and the construction aspect, as crucial matters regarding the transformation of the domestic space and the idea of collective in design27 and are strictly connected with the subjectivities of each project. The following experimentation projects focus mainly in preliminary typological ideas.

London’s ethnicities and households analysis 
  1. Design experimentations & separated design briefs

Design experimentation 1

The project regards multigenerational living and more specifically single parents with 1-3 children, retired couples or singles and young professionals or workers. The proposal regards mainly poor areas of the metropolis. The living units mainly cover the actions of sleeping, retreat and hygiene, while eating, cooking and resting are located in the intermediate space in between the living units. This arrangement aims at establishing relations and cooperative domestic actions beyond the people living in the separate units. As a result, the project has been conceived as an interior space with multiple patios attached to the living units. The proposal, through its construction provides the possibility of a gradual implementation and cooperative funding. Therefore, in this case the concept of cooperative housing [X] appears in addition to the other matters, regarding mainly the poorest social classes. The building consists of one layer in the level of the public space and the upper floor with the living units. The ground floor is closed in parts and inside them are accommodate collective facilities (such as kindergartens) or more public services (such as a library, a theatre, a restaurant etc.). The rest of the space is completely open to the public space as a new type of pilotis.

Design experimentation 2

The project regards precarious, professionals working from home, students, as well as retired couples or singles. The living units are grouped by 2 and their minimum common space regards mainly hygiene and in some cases the possibility of cooking. All the living units are facing a common space, oriented in cooking and eating, resting, socialising, recreation, studying and working. A vertical shared space is developed between different floors, which connects them through multiple layers and provides additional spaces for interaction. Moreover, this spaces functions as a connecting point with the public space, or otherwise as an accessible penetration of the public space into the private space of the housing project.

Design experimentation 3

The last design experimentation is based on the other two and synthesises some of their design elements. It uses the vertical shared space as a connecting point between the different floors and as an intense space of resting, socialising, recreation, studying and working. The living units are arranged in the concept of “home”. Each home consists of four living units, distributed in two floors. In the core of the house are located a kitchen, a living room and the bathroom. This model refers directly to the conventional model of cohabitation and its innovation lies in the use of the vertical shared connecting space.

III. Preliminary conclusions

The apparent housing crisis that London faces brings to the foreground of the debate around housing and habitation new modes of living such as cohabitation, cooperative living and housing. Despite the fact that this debate is quite intense and defines the discussion about housing, the corresponding actions regarding the architecture and the design of these new modes of metropolitan habitation remains in a theoretical level. The very few built examples reproduce old forms of spaces and habitation modes, without the will to take advantage of the fertile ground which emerges. Moreover, while they address the needs of the less economically affected social categories, without to confront the most urgent needs of the majority of the metropolitan population, they insist to the established distinctions between generations and identities. In this context, the dissertation proposes that these matters can be addressed in a more efficient and productive way under the reconceptualization of the ideas of multigenerational living, cooperative and collective living & housing.

The dissertation proposal has studied so far the phenomena of cohabitation, cooperative living in the contemporary metropolitan condition of London. Furthermore, it has defined the wider theoretical framework, by studying historical forms of these modes of habitation and by comparing them with the contemporary cases. Moreover, through the research have been identified a series of contemporary projects around the world which try to address the aforementioned matters beyond the conventional distinctions and dominant models of habitation and socialisation. In addition to these and through the studying of this dissertation proposal, new questions and problems have been raised and mainly appertain to the way architects address these matters. Despite the fact that the concept of creation of new interaction modes in the domestic space in the direction of collective living is quite popular and has been studied a lot and in many ways, this discussion remains always in a theoretical level and in the most of the cases stands above and beyond the real matters and problems that originate these concepts. And this discordance creates a problem of viability regarding both of the ideas and the discussion around them. The synthesis of all the above in the Dissertation, aims to provide a new contemporary theoretical framework about the concepts of multigenerational living, cooperative and collective living & housing, by proposing new architectural and urban ideas and design guidelines, capable of contributing in the discussion about urban space, domesticity and living in the present context.

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