Melbourne's Co-Housing Units Offer No ACs Or Parking Space. Could It Work For India?
Would you opt for a house that has no provisions for air conditioners, car parking or even a second bathroom? It offers as community laundries and community cooking provisions. Sounds too archaic? You would be surprised to know that this model, known as the Nightingale Model, has interested many across the world. An apartment project based on this model, The Commons by Breathe Architecture in Brunswick, Melbourne, has bagged almost a dozen design awards for its perfect co-housing setting.
Here's why this format of houses sprung up.
In any housing model around the world, the key focus is always financial returns; liveability and sustainability are mostly secondary aspects. There is a reason behind this. If a developer has to ensure that his project is sustainable, he may have to go in for eco-friendly measures. The higher cost thus incurred would be passed on to buyers. If the market for housing is sluggish, there are little chances that a developer could make any gain out of a sustainable project. Hence, it perhaps makes sense to make what the masses demand i.e. affordable housing. The Nightingale Housing Model does just that, with an equal emphasis on liveability and sustainability.
Experts at Nightingale Housing, a social enterprise that advocates social sustainability, say: “By way of material reduction, we seek to implement an ideology of simplicity. We envision an architecture governed by humanity and functionality --- buildings that satisfy fundamental needs complemented by the beauty of architectural delight.” These formats stress more on alternative modes of transport, rooftop gardens, ground level activities to engage residents, renewable energy, and passive design principles.
One would wonder how could there be any demand for a housing space that does not offer car parking. In reality, the demand for The Commons has outstripped supply. Also, construction starts on need basis which means there is no unsold inventory or excess supply that may not find favour among fence sitters.
Some other critics pointed out that with no provision for air conditioning, the Nightingale housing model could not vie for preference. In reality, the architecture of these buildings is such that the temperature is maintained throughout the day, naturally. There is wall insulation and windows are double glazed. The frames are thermally separated which prevents indoor temperature from shooting. The Commons was completed in 2013 and hence interest in such projects is relatively new and still gaining ground.
Profits in a traditional model
In the traditional model, a developer's profits start from 20 per cent. In the Nightingale model, however, there is a cap at 15 per cent. There aren't any showrooms to publicise these units, market these or garner attention through real estate agents. Usually, these costs shoot up property prices which means if you have seen attractive advertisements over any of the social media, as a buyer, you are the one paying for all those costs too. With a Nightingale model, there aren't any developers. There are only investors.
Will this work for India?
Could Melbourne's award winning co-housing project be a model for India? Perhaps! These homes in the size range of 55-75 sq metres (590-800 sq ft) gives ample living space and since utilities are for self-use, the onus of maintaining and developing these falls on the residents---- from the laundry machine and community kitchens to terrace gardens. In India, affordable housing generally boasts homes below 500 sq ft, and in an attempt to make these lifestyle homes, provisions to add club houses, gyms, parks, etc, make it easy prey to a sub-standard living.
However, in India, this model may meet criticisms. Concerns on privacy could add to differences on the basis of eating habits, hygiene and shared amenities.
That said, at a time when the Central government is struggling to meet its Housing For All mission deadline, co-housing could be a model that can help them quickly achieve the target.