A Word from Chuck [Training Program for Architects]

[Editor’s Note: Chuck Durrett with McCamant & Durrett Architects is developing a training program for architects, detailed at the end of this blog, which is reposted from A Word from Chuck: Reporting from the National Cohousing Conference in Durham, NC from MDA’s newsletter.]

When Katie & I traveled to Denmark in 1984 and studied the details of how to help plan a well functioning cohousing community, we watched the best in the world do it, day after day. We visited the best and we visited the worst and we examined in great detail, what made them different. We interviewed many hundreds of residents who had organized, co-developed and co-designed the communities. We interviewed dozens and dozens of architects, developers, bureaucrats and bankers. We looked at product; we learned Danish so that we could understand the process and partiality, the difference between a thoroughly capable process and a weak process.

We planned to be there six months, but by the end of six months we felt that back in the U.S. we couldn’t take a penny; we didn’t know enough yet. It would be unethical to be paid before we knew what we were doing. Again, it’s not only about the product in cohousing; it’s about the process and it turns out without a smart process you don’t get a smart product. Do you know exactly how to help 30 opinionated adults reach their potential? Professor Sixto Murrea’s voice kept ringing in the back of my mind. “American architects are all about promoting themselves, not about actually knowing what they are doing. Just look at the environment.” So we stayed for an additional seven months for a total of 13 months. Then one day, we said O.K. we think that we can ethically take peoples money to design a neighborhood that will bring the best out of everyone.

We learned, among many things, that Danish architects come in two primary flavors. The ones that have designed one community, and will never design another. They almost went broke, they disappointed the group, they got fired, or similar. Conversely there were those that designed fifteen or more. They learned from great mentors. They were extremely organized, they knew exactly how to help the group reach its potential, they knew exactly how to get the group to make their best decisions and you could tell exactly which was which the minute you walked onto the site. Fifteen or more and the common house had 300 to 400 people-hours per week. Just a one-off and there were usually less than 100 people-hours per week. Both cost well over $300,000 in today’s dollars to build. And there were hundreds of indicators between those who knew exactly what they were doing versus not.

So here at MDA we’ll do in the next five years what we can to share this information with capable local architects. Historically this has worked best when we have done the preliminary designs with the group and the local architect watched us and then did the working drawings. Then they did the next project themselves. We are launching a program to share our accumulated skills and documents to do this more aggressively.


We do the initial six workshops with the group.

The local architect attends to see exactly how to do the workshops – and all meetings with the local officials (so much of the success of the project is accomplished there). Too much has been given away when local architects did not know how best to make the argument that “cohousing is better, safer, etc.”

The local architect completes the working drawings

Then the local architect does the six workshops with subsequent cohousing groups.

There will be a little further ferreting of this program, stay tuned!

Write me at charles.durrett@cohousingco.com if you are an architect or a group that would like to participate in this program. We are confident that this will also help increase the number of cohousing communities built in America.

Category: History

Tags: architect

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