Ready, Set, BUILD!! (collectively!)


Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a series on Baugruppen, private owners collaboratively building affordable multifamily projects. You can see part 2 here.Vaubanallee transit boulevard

Pictured about is Vauban, Freiburg, a district of baugruppen; photo courtesy of Payton Chung.

‘Where no satisfactory, affordable property is available, independent citizens are taking matters into their own hands and founding building cooperatives, which now play a forward-looking role in modern housing’ – detail [konzept: gemeinsam wohnen]

I’ve done a lot of sleuthing/stalking/translating of baugruppen (lit: building groups) since I blogged about them over 2 years ago. My interest/obsession/adoration for this type of urban innovation has only grown (and exponentially, at that). Some of those tasty morsels are occasionally posted on my twitter feed (@bruteforceblog). After a lengthy series of tweets on the merits of baugruppen, Alex Steffen thought it would be worthwhile to present 10 of the best baugruppen/baugemeinschaften I’d come across to date. I’ve instead collated a number of strong concepts I like about baugruppen/baugemeinschaften (many previously discussed, and not exclusive to BGs), which will be interlaced with demonstrative examples and links galore.

Now a number of folks have asked if baugruppen are co-housing, which gets a ‘yes, no, sort-of’ response from me. My knowledge of co-housing stems from the Danish model–low-rise housing (e.g. rowhouses) densely organized around common areas and/or a Common House, where group dinners and events occur. For the most part, baugruppen are multi-story, multi-family buildings (think condos) rather than detached or semi-detached housing. There is no requirement for community space or common facilities in baugruppen, though many incorporate them (commonly: gardens, community rooms, roof terraces). However, like co-housing, baugruppen incorporate a participatory planning process. The largest difference is probably that baugruppen are generally funded without developers (self-financed), whereas co-housing communities can be self-financed or developer-financed projects. In the end, mostly semantics, though I tend to think of baugruppen as urban constructs and co-housing as suburban/rural constructs. I’m aware that’s not entirely accurate, but this ain’t your post and my mind’s made up. For more on Danish co-housing history, check out this presentation by Grace Kim (pdf) or

Baugemeinschaften are for the most part baugruppen–German can be fairly technical, but the terms are roughly equivalent. Utilizing both terms online results in more projects worth researching. For ease of reading, I’ll be using the abbreviation ‘BG‘ for both. In various offline discussions I’ve had over the last few years, I’m more and more convinced that forming a baugruppe would be an excellent way to get affordable, green digs tailored to your lifestyle, especially in cities with high land prices, without massive gentrification. In fact, short of city/state-owned development groups similar to Neue Heimat Tirol, I would venture it’s really the only way. Seattle could certainly benefit from their inclusion (hint, hint: local banks, DPD & City Council!).

Mike Eliason is a certified passivhaus designer, energy geek, and design nerd with an almost fetishistic interest in prefab wood buildings, low-energy architecture, social housing, and all things German. He has lived in Fremont for nearly a decade, and wants Seattle to become a greater version of Freiburg so his wife doesn’t force him to return to live in Vauban. He’s also begun the process of forming a baugruppe.

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Mike is a dad, writer, and mass timber architect with a passion for passivhaus buildings, baugruppen, social housing, livable cities, and safe car-free streets. After living in Freiburg, Mike spent 15 years raising his family - nearly car-free, in Fremont. After a brief sojourn to study mass timber buildings in Bayern, he has returned to jumpstart a baugruppe movement and help build a more sustainable, equitable, and livable Seattle. Ohne autos.

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Matt the Engineer

I may be misunderstanding the concept, so please correct me. Or tell me to wait for your the next piece. Are you saying they find, say, 100 households all willing and able to finance their future home throughout the planning, purchasing, and construction process? Are these homes for the well-off, or is there some sort of 3rd party helping them out?

mike eliason


i’ll go into this a bit in the series. Most definitely aren’t intended for the well-off, it’s a solidly middle class construct, though. BG units are relatively affordable because the cost of ownership in Germany is already high.
A typical home requires 20% down. New build, somewhere between 20-30%.

To give a sense of cost, let’s look at the fahrradloft in Berlin. Now this is a project I absolutely adore. Car-free/bike-centric. Vegetable garden. Large outdoor dining area. Kids play area. Business area on ground floor. 2 community rooms. The occupants for that project are insanely mixed, ~33 kids, ~ 35 adults, ~4 seniors.

A 100m2 (1,076 sf) 3 bedroom unit (with ~ 450 sf of balcony) is going for about €239k (~$310k, costs are pegged around 2100€/m2).
So down payment at 30% would have to be €72k.

New condo costs for that neighborhood are averaging over 2500 €/m2 – so 20% at 100m2 would be €50k. The BG costs slightly more up front, but you get a product that can be more tailored to the way you want to live and ultimately cheaper in the long run.

Here’s the price list for the fahrradloft. The most expensive unit is roughly $550k, at a cost/sf of about $327/sf.

There are a number of other factors, and I’ll talk about those in series. Cities prioritize it, some have set up a bank to cover the BG. Some cities sell land at reduced rates to BGs.