Inside WindSong Cohousing
By Hugh Perry
The first architecturally designed cohousing
project in Canada has preserved the community feeling that characterizes
Moving along the city street of Langley,
British Columbia, one crosses a small creek shouldered by narrow
environmentally protected wetland banked by housing development on both
sides. Immediately across the bridge begins a wooded lot with mature cedars
lining the sidewalk. Then a little sign that reads, “WindSong CoHousing
Community” peers from amidst the cedars, sparking intrigue.
The first glimpse of the building says that
this is a place of organized ingenuity in action. The visitor parking lot
skirts around tall trees left during construction in 1996. Ground covering
plants fill the remaining spaces between traffic walkways and buildings. The
glass atrium rises above the roofs of the dwellings, contributing to its
unique look. At last, after many years worth of visiting communities and
writing about communities, I had arrived at my model community.
In a secure front foyer we spoke to our host
over the intercom, just as one would in any multi-family dwelling facility.
Once inside, my attention was immediately drawn to the exposed, low
maintenance, hand decorated concrete floors. The automatic watering system
for hanging plants looked ingenious. Then our host Susan McFee eventually
drew my attention to the many more architectural features.
We were standing in “the Heart,” Susan
explained. That is the area where all the community’s functional spaces are
located. These were purposely built near the entrance so that the traffic in
and out of the building would flow through this space. This functionality
serves to support community involvement, which is one of the main reasons
for living in a cohousing community.
Every room off the two-story open area has
windows facing the centre core. The commercially equipped kitchen/dining
room portion is fully glazed and boasts a garage door that leads directly
into the Heart. This door is fully extendable and serves as an open
invitation for passersby to participate in special events. Group meals are
served twice a week and members voluntarily take turns at kitchen duties.
Experience has given WindSong residents a
workable formula for using the same kitchen in the preparation of
conventional and vegan foods. They accomplish this simply through good
scheduling, dedicated cutting boards and specific utensil usage. Although
this can be a hot topic in any community living arrangement, this matter has
been resolved to the satisfaction of all through consensus. The dining area
also serves as a multifunction space with the addition of a small stage for
talent shows, a large screen TV and an attached lounge with a fireplace. All
this is complemented with a beautiful view of the outside, displaying Nature
at its best.
WindSong is ethnically diverse and
multigenerational. The 5,000-square-foot Heart includes three children’s
play areas that are adapted to different ages. While I visited, a child
played in the infant room under the care of a resident of grandparent age.
Among the 90 or so residents of WindSong Cohousing, when I visited, there
were five newborns. The upstairs loft is for the school age children and
across the hall is the teen room, decorated by the teens themselves. As
well, they have an art and craft studio/workshop.
Even though each unit has laundry facilities,
each year more residents abandon their own in favor of the communal laundry
room, perhaps due to the social opportunities available there. In a separate
area, there is a well-equipped woodworking shop that comes complete with
Upstairs, a large all purpose room is at the
disposal of those wishing to give or take lessons such as dance, yoga, etc.
A well-equipped office space is also available for the use of anyone wishing
to conduct business meetings, including the eight home-based businesses
operating at WindSong. All the business equipment is shared and the users
billed automatically for its use.
The work for the upkeep of this facility is
shared by residents who either contribute four hours per month or pay $15
per hour for someone else to perform these tasks. Specific duties are chosen
by each individual according to their personal preferences and include
cleaning, gardening, repairs and public relations.
Overlooking the Heart are 34 units consisting
of one to four bedrooms each. The units are owned as a strata corporation
similar to condo ownership. Payment of maintenance fees are based on the
size of the units and costs range from $225 to $450 per month, which
includes taxes, insurance, maintenance of the property and utility cost of
all the common areas. The individual units are smaller than conventional
homes due to the sharing of facilities. As well, there is a guest suite that
is shared by visitors, thus saving on rarely used extra bedroom space.
The architect allowed the contours of the land
to dictate floor elevations. As a result, one wing follows the slope uphill
while the other steps downhill in two stages. At the end of the lower level
are stairs leading to the community gardens. This creates a lounge area on
the floor above, overlooking the creek and gardens.
There are single story units on one side and
two story on the other with optional balconies or windows looking into the
glazed courtyard, giving it an early European look. Each resident has the
option of stepping out into the courtyard for community exchanges or using
their private door to the exterior if they wish privacy. The glass roof over
the courtyard has functioning windows for natural cooling. The space is
passively heated and is fully fire protected with sprinklers in all public
Walking along the closed-in street, one
meanders through a display of individual tastes in decor, for each resident
personalizes the place in front of their home. This led me to inquire about
how they managed order and possible conflict. Experience has taught that
individual responsibility and tolerance coupled with the least amount of
rules creates the best balance. Any personal conflict issue is dealt
one-on-one between the involved parties. If and when necessary, a friend
might be invited to intervene or as a last resort the concern might be
discussed in a community meeting. At that stage, the outcome depends on
consensus working its magic. Everyone, including the children, participates
in meetings and each has an equal say through the consensual process.
The development works well from an
environmental point of view. The footprint was kept to less than 50 percent
of the property by developing just 2.2 acres of the six-acre property. They
direct 100 percent of their storm water away from municipal infrastructure,
have a good recycling program, provide secure bicycle storage, have
minimized heat island effect with underground parking and have minimized
site disturbance by designing to suit the property and also keeping the
existing trees. Healthy, durable, long lasting, low maintenance materials
were used in construction. Future upgrades being investigated include storm
water reuse, radiant floor heating and energy recovery units.
Homeowners can sell their units at any time and
to whomever. The screening process for new buyers favors the purchaser.
Interested buyers are encouraged to share in activities and meetings and
become familiar with the sharing rules to help in their decision to
Leaving the WindSong Cohousing property
saddened me a little, but also strengthened my desire to some day build a
similar cohousing project in my own area.
WindSong Cohousing Community
Reinventing Community: Stories from the Walkways
of Cohousing by David Wann (Fulcrum Publishing, 2005)
Sustainable Community: Learning from the
Cohousing Model by Graham Meltzer (Trafford, 2005)
The Cohousing Handbook: Building A Place For
Community by Chris ScottHanson and Kelly ScottHanson (New Society
Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing
Ourselves by Kathryn McCamant and Charles R. Durrett (Ten Speed Press,