Connection-Centric Design

Erik Granum of UD+P, met with community partner Washington Commons to share insights into the ways that design elements foster and reinforce the social connection, an essential characteristic of cohousing communities.  With a large group gathered over ZOOM, ​Erik introduced cohousing as ‘Intentionally designed living within a community comprised of private dwellings around shared spaces’. 

According to Erik’s research, the hallmark of projects that succeed in creating cohesive community is ‘connection-centric design’. Erik identifies 2 types of connection-centric design: Overt and Covert. Overt design is represented in the physical features that create intentional engagement with your neighbors such as the common house, dining room, commercial kitchen, and guest and reception spaces. These are spaces which feature planned events such as community meals and meetings. Overt design facilitates intentional bonding.
Covert design elements, by contrast, are those design features that result in incidental bonding among community members. They don’t require community planning or intention to be effective. They work continuously, affect everyone, go unnoticed and don’t create undue annoyance.
What are these “Covert” design elements?

  • Walkways and courtyards that support circulation – where neighbors pass each other as they go about their daily routines. They have the opportunity to say “Hi” or stop and chat. In Washington Commons our courtyard deck provides many “pathways” for such connections as will our walking from the parking areas to the living spaces. We will be connecting many times a day as we go about our business.

  • Scale and spacing – Erik’s research ascertained that in communities of 40 homes or less, people generally know all their neighbors. In larger communities this wasn’t the case.  Washington Commons with 35 homes will have the sense of scale that Erik says is so important.

  • Sight-lines – the ability to see common spaces from a distance so that residents have a sense of what is happening in the community, what spaces are and are not being used at the specific time. In Washington Commons we will easily be able to check out what is happening in the courtyard just outside our doors.

  • Proof of Life – Seeing the lights of our neighbors’ windows creates a sense of warmth and connection. Erik noted how this creates a sense of belonging as we come home after a busy day; the lights enlivening our community.  The windows in our homes will look across the courtyard to our neighbors.
  • Identity and ownership – the ability to create personal space outside the entrance to one’s home with chairs, plants, artwork provides a sense of belonging and ownership. These personal areas become special places for more intimate one-on-one gatherings. All of our homes provide such spaces outside their doors.
    Passive communication – another element Erik noted, represented by community bulletin boards, name plaques on homes, and mailboxes.

​Erik left the group with a sense of how beautifully their community is designed – both for planned events and unplanned, magical connections.  

Washington Commons is still accepting new members for their West Sacramento, CA community.  For more information click here.

Category: Design


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