A few years ago, Seattle ran an interesting experiment on radically densifying low rise neighborhoods with microhousing–a typology of small, minimal units that provide somewhat affordable rents as an alternative to expensive apartments or shared housing. They came in two varieties – Small Efficiency Dwelling Units (SEDUs), micro-sized studios; and Congregate Housing, housing with smaller areas for bathing and sleeping with shared kitchens and amenity spaces. They were sort of a market-rate play on the existenzminimum –and they induced a lot of consternation– from homeowners who resented an influx of people who couldn’t afford million dollar homes, to those who believe small apartments are inhumane. In response, the city passed legislation that severely curtailed the production of congregate housing. This was intriguing to me, because Congregate Housing was a bit of a cousin to the Clusterwohnung.
The Clusterwohnung, German for cluster apartment, is a hybrid between a small apartment and a shared residence. It’s a housing typology that isn’t common, but has seen a bit of an uptick in recent years on some high quality affordable housing projects in Germany and Switzerland. They’re supersized dwelling units with communal kitchen, living room, dining spaces – that are paired with smaller private units or rooms with their own bathrooms, and in some instances kitchenettes. The idea is that the common spaces of the house, which are generally some of the least utilized, are shared between more people. In addition, the cost of food, utilities, and household chores can be divvied up to reduce the financial burdens and time.