Existenxmaximum - Atlas of Shared Living. Vol. II Communal Living

[an uncomplete, and unfinished journey through times, people, and the sharing economy.] thesis by ani safaryan

[an uncomplete, and unfinished journey through times, people, and the sharing economy.] thesis by ani safaryan


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vol. II

[ an uncomplete,

and unfinished

journey through

times, people,

and the sharing

economy. ]


by ani safaryan

Milano 2019


Ani Safaryan

Prof.: Piero Poggioli

Tutor.: Micaela Bordin

Politecnico di Milano

Scuola di Architettura

Urbanistica Ingegneria

delle Costruzioni - MI

Laurea Magistrale

Architettura MI 1136



Milano 2019

# communal living

To immagine a successful shared living today it could be useful to check

which are the models of communal living that emerged in the past and

survived to our days.

It is as important to understand how they were organized in architectural

terms, as well as to try to grasp what was the social structure of those

dwellings, what were their advantages or the reasons of their creation. What

were the main features that facilitated the communal life, and last but not

least, what were the point of conflict among the dwellers.

By seeing what has succeeded in the past and which are the main points

provoking conflicts among the dwellers, one can try to evaluate, what of

those good points could be useful to integrate in the new model and which

of the potental conflicts we can eliminate by the help of pre-thought design

and by means of our modern technology.


# Sharing economy

Chapter I

“Of Millennials

and of their


manner of


Chapter II



grew up with

Technology and

where it leads


Chapter III

“Of the manner

the things are

shared, swapped,

traded and rented

in the Sharing





Chapter IV

“Of Airbnb, or

How to belong

Anywhere ”

Chapter VI



to Existenzmaximum,

Or how the Architects

designed our homes

in the last century”

Chapter VII

“Of Venice and

Shanghai and

how they treat

the Time differently”





# From Venice to Shanghai and back

Chapter I

“Of Home

as a Network”

Chapter II

“How a Palazzo

in Venice got


Chapter III

“How to move

from Venice

to Shanghai in

one day”






# Communal living

Chapter I

“How Hakka

people built


building and

lived ”

Chapter II

“What manner of


the Yanomami


Chapter III

“Of the manner the

Iroquis, the Viking

and the Austronesian

Longhouse is made”




Chapter IV

“How the Qala

Residents hid

their houses

from the

Strangers’ eyes”

Chapter V

“How people in


set their own

rules and of their

manner of living”

Chapter VI

“How Migrants

used to dwell

in Boarding





Chapter VII

“How the Squats

are vanishing

everywhere and

how people in Køpi


Chapter VIII

“How communal

dinners stopped

taking place in


Chapter VII

“Of Venice and

Shanghai and

how they treat

the Time differently”




# Author’s observations

Legal Issues

v.I, p.57


v.I, p.66

The two


v.I, p.80

The new type

of city dweller

v.I, p.95

Of Ikea and


v.III, p.21

“The mountains are high

and the emperor far away”*.


An old Chinese proverb


How Hakka people built earthen

buildings and lived in clans







Hakka people are one of the ethnic groups living in China. In the IV century in

the times when the Central China was a subject of continuous invasions they

escaped the turbulent territories and moved south to the remote Fujian villages

in the mountains.

Due to the years of relative peace they Hakkas became more powerful and wealthy.

Clan cohesion was an important political, religious and economical control factor

- and meant greater stability for the clan and the individual. Thus Hakkas started to

build houses that could accommodate an entire clan and protect it from possible

enemy attacks. One of the prerequisites that made it possible to built tulous*,

which were bigger than any other ordinary homes in the country by the time,

was the remote location of the villages which gave certain independence from

the government. In China there were regulations established by the dynasties that

were limiting the number or the stories, of the rooms, the shapes of the roofs and

other features of the houses. Here the old Chinese saying worked: “The mountains

are high and the Emperor far away”, meaning that the laws couldn’t reach this

place and it was difficult to enforce the governmental housing regulations**.

Most of the tulou date from the late 17th century to the 1970-s, though also tulous

from older dynasties are common. The oldest dates from 769 a. Currently there

are around 3000 tulous discovered, 46 of which are included in the UNESCO World

Heritage list for being “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function

exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization,

and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment, an

outstanding example of human settlement”. Listed are the Chuxi, Hongkeng and

Gaobei complexes, Yangxiang and Zhenfu buildings (Yongding c.), Tianluokeng

and Hekeng complexes, Huaiyuan and Hegui buildings (Nanjing c.), and the Dadi

complex (Hua’an c.).


*tulou (Chin. 土 楼 )– generally, the word is used to describe any earthen building over one storey,

(tu=earth, lou=building), nowadays it is used to describe the Fujian structures mainly

** Fujian’s earthen buildings / photograph: Qu Liming ; script: He Baoguo

People living in tulous have very strong sense of identity and

connection with the place, even if lately many young people

leave to urban areas and modern apartments. An evidence of

a strong bond of the people with the tulous is giving every

tulou its own name deriving from aforisms or clan histories.

A typical Hakka village consists of a couple of tulous, each

surrounded by a handful of huts and inhabited exclusively

by a single clan. Every tulou contains the functions normally

necessary for a village and in many respects, a tulou is a


Tulous are really sustainable in terms of their planning,

design, construction, lifestyle, resource management,

renewable energy, recycling of animal waste, low embodied

energy and the modest ecological footprint they have. The

shape of a tulou itself can differ from circular, square, phoenixshaped

to oval, half moon one of an Eight Trigram (there is

a strong connection between the layout of the tulou and the

Daoist and Confucian culture). Buildings vary from two to

five storeys and can accommodate from ten households up

to 800 people. Tulous vary also in size: the circular tulous

can have a diameter from 8 m to 70 m. Regardless of all the

variations, the life inside all of them is organized the same


Tulous are realized with a simple and efficient construction

technique: a high wall from rammed earth generally

interrupted with one stripe of small windows on the upper

level and a monumental entrance door, encircles a central

space protected by a big roof with inclined slopes. With their

thick earthen walls (up to 3m) the tulou let the air infiltrate in

and out thus regulating the temperature in the rooms, creating

a warm climate in the winters and chill in the summer. In

the interior a system of wooden structures is attached to

the exterior wall constituting the sequence of habitations

connected with staircases and an unobstructed continuous

gallery facing the court.

f1: Gaobei tulou cluster, Yongding country, f2: Hongkeng tulou cluster in Yongding country


The difference when entering the

tulou astonishes immediately. From

the outside the structure is completely

closed to its beautiful surroundings

and looks massive, monolith and

silent, while from inside it is lively, very

dynamic and inviting. It is a microcosm

on its own, sheltered from everything


The entrance passageway is the only way

for going in and out of the tulou, it is the

public lounge of the building organized

in the thickness of the walls. Usually

it has long wooden benches on either

side of the room to sit there and chat.

A typical scene to be seen in the hall are

women pounding rice or milling flour

while men sitting and chatting.


image: a tulou from the outide, photograph by Fon Zhou

on the right: a tulou from inside, photograph by christiesandsteve (flickr), dated 1988

drawings by Jens Aaberg-Jørgensen, originally published in Danish in ARKITEKTEN no. 28, November 2000

The courtyard is used

for drying clothes and

rice, for communal

activities, children’s play

and also the collective

celebrations, sacral rituals

and community meetings.

It may be empty or filled

with one- or two-story

buildings. These buildings

may be stables, guest

rooms, bathrooms, or,

for use in the summer, an

outdoor kitchen. It is also in the courtyard (in most cases) that the ancestral altar is

situated. It is used for worship, for discussing the business afairs, .as family council

or a school. There is at least one well in the courtyard. it’s another animated spot

of the community. Here women wash vegetables, do the laundry and chat with

each other.


life in a tulou in 1988

Around the courtyard there are the wooden verandas with four or more staircases,

evenly distributed, unobstructed corridors facing the inner court and the rooms

evenly distributed along it. Every family in the clan owns a vertical segment of the

house: a room on each floor, the number of the rooms it owns depends only on

the number of members of the family, otherwise all the spaces are equal in a tulou.

To access the rooms of the apartment people all use the communal staircases,

which makes the galleries a lively space for circulation and communication and

the building life in general more public than private. The guests access is usually

limited only to the ancestral altar and the family’s living quarters, while access to

the rooms along the gallery is restricted to the inhabitants.

On the first floor are the kitchens with no windows to the outside but large windows

towards the covered veranda gallery. Next to the kitchens there is usually another

room used for eating and daily living. The food is prepared in the courtyard right

in front of the kitchen, where the oven and firewood is to be found. The second

floor has the function of a storage area for farm tools and food. The bedrooms are

on the third floor and higher and only starting from the third floor there are some

narrow square windows towards the outside.


1988 images: photographs by christiesandsteve (flickr)

2018 images: photographs by Ilya Varlamov

same in 2018, 30 years after

Today situation with the tulous around the province differs: some are lively as they

were before, some are getting abandoned. Hakkas continued the construction of

tulou untill the late 20th century, when the power of clans went down and the

country underwent big political and social changes. Although people started to

move to the cities and many of tulous are empty, many families still continue to

live in tulou and the life there is as lively as it was probably many decades ago.

Recently there is also a new wave of interest towards these structures. This has

a twofold impact. From one point of view it attracts flows of tourists (mostly

local, since the place is quite remote) which contribute to the economical state of

the locals, from other point of view, there is a tendency to “renew” the tulous in

order to satisfy the tourist expectations and this often contradicts with notions of


Currently it is possible for a traveller also to stay in a tulou by making a deal with

one of the residents or by booking a place on Airbnb.


protection&defence limited access for guests

microcosm closed to the surroundings open to the inner

open to inner courtyard

even distribution of spaces

unavoidable encounters and interractions with neighbors

unconventional use of spaces


cut-away axonometry by Jens Aaberg-Jørgensen, originally published in Danish

in ARKITEKTEN no. 28, November 2000

self-sufficient a village on its own

identity&connection to place naming of the house

place for children to play and to keep an eye on them

a mix of public functions

gradient from loud to silent spaces


“Every time we are making a contact,

we are spoiling them..”


Charles Brewer Carías


What manner of dwelling

Yanomami have








Yanomami* are indigenous tribes of the tropical rainforest of Northern Amazonia

with a territory of ~192000 km2, located on the both sides of the Brazilian-

Venezuelian border, along Orinoco, Rio Branco and Rio Negro rivers. Although

the immense territory, their population today is around 26000 people.

The beginning of direct encounters of Yanomami and non indigenous people

started in 1910-1940**. Since then their territory is subject of interest and political

debates, because of its rich natural resources. If eventually their territory will be

limited, the current small mining operators will almost definitely be replaced by

larger scale commercial mining operations. And that will surely devastate the rain

forest and with it its inhabitants.

For the Yanomami, urihi, the forest-land where they live, is not a mere inert space

for getting out all the resources needed. They see the forest as a living entity, which

makes part of a complex cosmological dynamics of exchanges between humans

and non-humans. The space of the forest used by each Yanomami house-village

can be described schematically as a series of concentric circles. These circles

delimit areas with distinct modes and intensity of usage***.

The first circle, within a five kilometer radius, circumscribes the area of immediate

use by the community; small-scale female gathering, individual fishing or, in the

summer, collective fishing, occasional brief hunting trips (at dawn or dusk) and

agricultural activities. The second circle, within a five to ten kilometer radius, is

the area of individual hunting (rama huu) and day-to-day family food gathering.

The third circle, within a ten to twenty kilometer radius, is the area used for the

collective hunt expeditions (henimou) lasting one to two weeks, as well as the long

multifamily hunting and gathering expeditions (three to six weeks) during the

period when the new swiddens are ripening (waima huu).


*The ethnonym ‘Yanomami’ comes from the local language, signifies “human being”, and is used by anthropologists. This

expression is opposed to the categories yaro (game animals) and yai (invisible or nameless beings), but also napë (enemy,

stranger, ‘white’) (explanation by ISA - Instituto Socioambiental)

The Yanomami are both hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists and have a mixed

economy. Thus the sites they chose for their semi-permanent occupation need to

support garden plots for the growing staples. Yanomamo grow also maize, papaya,

bottle gourds, cotton and tobacco, as well as crops of tomatoes and beans used for

barter. There are no specialists among Yanomami, or in other words every one

from the tribe is a specialist: each man has to know how to make his own long

hunting bow and arrows and to build his own unit. The knowledge is passed to

the kids from the family or from the collective. The skills are developed also when

there is a decision to build a bigger shabono or to move the teri to a new plot. This

decision may occur because of an infestation by insects, or draught of the nearby

water stream or other considerations. The decision to move is collective. When

Yanomami move their village, they camp nearby in temporary shelters of the type

used during long hunting and gathering trips, while the construction is carried on

(usually it takes a period of several months).

The Yanomami believe strongly in equality among people. Each community is

independent from others and they do not recognize ‘chiefs’. Decisions are made by

consensus, frequently after long debates where everybody has a say. Evidently the

need for protection and security plays a big role in the choice of the sites and in the

preparation of forest clearings and erection of palisades.

** See the timeline n the next page for the history of the relations of the Yanomami tribes with the non-indigenous world.

***, f3 source: Instituto Socioambiental (ISA)

f4 aerial view of a shabono, photograph found somewhere on the web


The Yanomami used to spend almost

the half of the year camped in different

locations of the forest away from their

collective house or village. Now that the

tribes are more dependent on the “whites”

for access to medicines and merchandise,

they tend to move less (max. 2-3km) and

make more permanent settlements.

The Yanomami generally live in teri (or

household clusters) of extended family

and kin groups, who share the same name.

Each collective house or village considers

itself an autonomous economic and

political entity (kami theri yamaki, ‘we coresidents’)

and its members ideally prefer

to marry inside this community of kin

with a ‘cross’ cousin. However, despite this

ideal autarchy, all local groups maintain


images: On the right: Watoriki village aerial view

drawing: The shabono in its first stage when the number of the inhabitants is not very big.

* The Construction of a New Yanomami Round-House, article by W.Milliken in the Journal of Ethnobiology, 1997

a network of relations of matrimonial,

ceremonial and economic exchange

with various nearby groups. Links with

other teri are established for the security

reasons, allies being necessary when

warfare against the other groupings

occurs. Thus a “molecular” settlement

pattern of affinal and consangiune bonds

is created from one end of the indigenous

territory to the other.

Each household cluster dwells in

a shabono: approximately circular

structures facing inwards with a

diameter of about 30m. Houses vary in

size but are always round, so the size of

the opening in the centre (yano kahiki or

“yano’s mouth”) necessarily increases as

the diameter of the house increases*.

image: Watoriki village aerial view

drawing: The second stage of the shabono construction. The structure is enlarged and the central space becomes bigger in

order to house the increased number of the household members.


An average shabono may cover a score of hearts, sheltering a total of seventy

people, the diameter may reach 80m. Construction techniques vary, but typically

a pair of short poles are put in the rear side and a couple of frontal poles provide

the basic support for the roof frame. Obtaining and raising of the roof pole is done

by the men of the tribe, while the women collect and tie the palm leaf thatch.

The work is done from the lowest levels upwards, the palm leaves are attached to

lianas and run the length of a ring of shelters, each successive layer being partially

laid over the predecessor, to produce a weather-resistant roof. Thatch covering a

shelter may be overlapped with that of the neighbours, closing gaps and giving the

impression that the shabono is one continuous structure.

Usually a shabono is built in a clearing large enough to ensure that the tallest

trees in the adjacent forest will not cause damage if they fall. At the centre of the

yano is a large open space (yano a miamo). Here as elsewhere the Yanomami live

in family groups scattered around the ring, every family has its own cooking fire

about which the hammocks are positioned.


photographs on the left: found somewhere on the web

on the right, photograph from ISA - Instituto Socioambiental site

The principal openings of a shabono lead to the trails which run from the village

to the nearby streams, gardens, and to the other Yanomami villages or strangers

settlements in the region.

The floor of the roofed area is made of beaten earth, raised slightly above the

level of the central “plaza”. Rainwater can accumulate in this central area during

heavy rainstorms, which is channeled out through two drains. The roof of the

ring is made up of two parts; the outer (main) roof which covers the living area

and which slopes outwards, and the inner (secondary)roof which slopes inwards.

The outer roof overlaps the inner (about 5 m above ground level), preventing rain

from entering the small gap which separates them. This gap allows the smoke of

the cooking fires to escape.

The roofed area is approximately 10 m in breadth, of which a little less than half is

used as living space, occupied by clusters of hammocks around cooking fires and

by racks and shelves on which food and a few belongings are stored. This includes


Watoriki round-house plan with the

placement of the doors and main directions

and indications of usage zones.

the outer “female” portion behind the women’s hammocks, and inside this the

hearth area occupied by the men’s and children’s hammocks. The portion between

the hearths and the central opening (the inner half of the roofed area) is kept clear

and is used for communal and ceremonial activities and as a corridor. The central

open area (yano a miamo) is also for ceremonial use and acts as a playground for

children, place for communal feasts etc.

The overall impression is one of airiness and space, resulting in an extremely

pleasant living environment*. The outer wall keeps out most of the wind, the

inner opening allows sufficient light to enter, and the roof keeps the temperature

comfortable even on the hottest of days.

Domestic spaces may be divided or left without internal separating walls.

Supporting hut poles are used for the suspension of hammocks, which may be

made of cotton thread or of bast strips. There are no surplus items of equipment,

and baskets and water gourds for specific purposes are kept near the household

hearth where food is prepared and cooked during the day. At night, hammocks are

slung near the fire which is stoked all night to keep people warm.


photographs on the left: found somewhere on the web

on the right, photograph from ISA - Instituto Socioambiental site

Today a traveller can join an expedition to a yanomami village and spend some

time in a shabono. It is also possible to book a hammock on Airbnb.




Of the manner the Iroquois, the Viking

and Austronesian Longhouse is made





The Iroquois used to live in present New York State and in the Huron and the

Great Lake area. With an economy that was to a considerable extent agricultural,

they created stable settlements with semi-permanent living structures. They were

egalitarian matriarchal society and lived in groups of families related through the

female line. The tribes would remain on the same place as long as the land they

cultivated was productive (often a few decades).

Iroquois political philosophy was rooted in the concept that all life is unified

spiritually with the natural environment and other forces surrounding people.

The Iroquois believed that the spiritual power of one person is limited, but when

combined with other individuals in clan, spiritual power is enhanced. Instead of

formal instruments of authority, the Iroquois governed behavior by instilling a

sense of pride and connectedness to the group through common rituals.

For their dwelling they developed an impressive framed structure, known now

under the term longhouse. To accommodate the extended family under one roof

they simply stretched a wooden frame covered with bark to whatever required

length. Since the houses of the Iroquois were made of perishable materials, our

knowledge of them is based on early descriptions, the drawings of European

observers, and archeological investigation. Some more tangible notion of their

appearance nowadays can be get from the replicas, reconstructed following all the

available information in the 60-ies of the XX century. The oldest known settlement

is dating from the end of the first millenium AD (near today’s Hamilton and along

the Seneca River, NY), and the origins of their dwelling (the longhouse) may well

go back several thousand years earlier*.

The villages were usually located near water, wood and arable land and consisted

of a group of longhouses, as a rule oriented northwest-southeast, so that the end

faced the prevailing winds. Since the main occupation of the Iroquois men was the

warfare and the raiding of the neighbor tribes, they had to defend their houses and

the villages with perimetral wooden palisades of 4-5m height.

In time, the Iroquois developed a confederacy of tribes in the northeast region so

skilled in warfare, that it remained a significant military force untill the late XVIII


The typical Huron longhouse was about 24 by 8 m and had three hearths down the

centre (usually two families would share one hearth). The length of the longhouses

in the region could vary from 9 to 55 m with as many as 12 hearths, some of the


*A history of American architecture : buildings in their cultural and technological context

largest houses reached around 60m.

The Nodwell site near Southhampton on Lake Huron, inhabited around 1340, had

twelve longhouses of varying sizes. The largest reach about 43m in length. The

houses varied not only in size, but also in the interior arrangement, suggesting that

they were expanded as needs changed. The village was surrounded by a double

palisade and housed approximately five hundred people for at least twenty years.

Shortly before the contact with the European world, in the beginning of the XVII

c, the Iroquoian population increased in size reaching an estimated number of

60000. Gradually the size of the individual longhouses diminshed, while the

villages grew more rapidly and became more heavily fortified. In those times an

average Huron village would accommodate some 1200 people.

The villages and longhouses south of Lake Ontario were even larger. A late XIV

century structure of about 102m long aand 7 m wide was found at the Hodwell

Hill (near today’s Syracuse, New York); and one even longer (122m) was identified

nearby the Schoff site (1410). These villages rarely exceeded one hundred


The exterior walls of the longhouse were constructed by bending towards each

other wooden poles, which were tied at the top to form a tensile barrel-vaulted

frame. Sheets of bark (cedar, elm or other woods) were fastened between the poles,

and additional saplings were attached horizontally on the outside for reinforcement

and to hold the bark in place. Posts placed down the center provided additional

support for the roof. Holes were cut in the roof to allow smoke to escape, and these

provided the only light. There was a single door at each end, covered with a fur pelt

or piece of rawhide to keep out the weather. This seemed to be the general rule;

only one longhouse has ever been discovered that had an extra door, located in

the middle of one side. The ends of the structure were usually rounded, but some

longhouses had squared ends with a flat roof overhanging the doorway.

Sleeping platforms were arranged along both long walls, leaving a corridor

about 3to 3.7m wide down the middle. Each family’s living space measured

about 2 by 3m. Wooden screens and mats or hangings of animal skins separated

the families’ personal spaces along each wall and offered a certain amount of

privacy. A platform built about a foot above the floor along its exterior wall

provided seating, work space, and a bed. Woven rush mats and animal pelts

covered the platform and the exterior wall to serve as decoration, padding, and

insulation, and pelts and blankets were used as covers.



images from the website of the exhibit “A Mohawk Iroquois Village” at the New York State Museum, same for f.5


Each family stored personal items like tools and clothing beneath the platform as

well as some food and a small store of firewood.

A raised platform of the same size was often hung about five feet above the lower

one, and a third might be added above that. These were used to store clothing

and other items and for extra sleeping space as needed. Braided ears of corn and

sacks of grain, nuts, and other foods were hung from the rafters, and additional

household goods were hung on the walls and partitions.

A vestibule at either end of the longhouse provided storage space for corn and

firewood, and additional storage was available beneath the beds. If it is assumed

that a typical family had about eight members, and that a hearth served two

families, then the number of occupants of a particular longhouse would have been

about sixteen members times its number of the hearths. To vent the smoke, a hole

was made in the roof above each fire pit, with a sheet of bark that could be slid over

it in bad weather.

Life within the longhouse was communal, with all the economic and social needs

shared. In this respect the longhouse was a microcosm of Iroquoian society.

The natives recognized this, and used architectural terminology – indeed, the

longhouse itself – as a metaphor of life. The Leage of Five Nations (later six) – the

confederacy of Iroquois tribes in northern New York State – called themselves

the “people of the longhouse”. The westernmost tribe, the Seneca, were called

the “keepers of the western door”, and the Mohawks, who lived in the east

by Hudson river, were “the keepers of the eastern door”. The Onondaga in the

centre were the keepers of fire”*.

While for the natives the longhouse was surely comfortable, the Europeans found

it intolerable for its smoke, dust, gool, smells, sound and the insects. In the series

of Jesuit report sent from Quebec, the domestic life of the Iroquois is described

as a miniature picture of Hell, “seeing nothing ordinary but fire and smoke, and

on every side naked bodies, black and half roasted, mingled pell-mell with dogs,

which are held as dear as children of the house, and share the beds, plates and food

of their masters. Everything is in a cloud of dust, and if you go within, you will

not reach the end of the cabin before you are completely befouled with soot, filth

and dirt”.

The social system changed, formal village life disintegrated, traditional building

techniques were lost, and the Ontario Iroquoian languages became extinct.


*A history of Canadian architecture / Harold Kalman

Despite the massive changes, the Iroquois of today in southern and eastern

Ontario and southwestern Quebec still respect the tradition of the longhouse.

Many contunue to built it as a sacred meeting hall although the contemporary

longhouse differs from its old prototype, and consider themselves as “followers

of the longhouse”.




Throughout their vast territories the Norse people lived in longhouses (langhús),

which were typically 5 to 7m wide and anywhere from 15 to 75m long. The Norse

did not leave behind any plans, so all the knowledge about their houses is based

on the interpretation of the physical remains (the typical lifetime for a longhouse

was about 50-100 years). The house remains found in Scandinavia (Lofotr, Stöng,

Eiríksstaðir etc.) and in Canada (L’Anse aux Meadows) are similar in overall

construction, but differ remarkably in details, depending on the purpose they

were built and the status of the owners.

The Stöng farmhouse in Iceland is based on a permanent, continuously occupied

structure built late in the Norse era and owned by a wealthy family. In contrast,

the L’Anse aux Meadows site was temporary, a simple way station and ship repair

site built in the middle of the Norse era. So, for example, the Stöng house has

wood wainscoting on the interior walls, to cover up the turf, while the L’Anse aux

Meadows has no traces of it. The Eiríksstaðir house in Iceland falls somewhere in

the middle: it’s a permanent structure, but built by a family of more modest means.

In much of the Norse region, the longhouses were built around wooden frames on

simple stone footings. Walls were constructed of planks, of logs, or of wattle and

daub. In other Norse regions that had a limited supply of wood, such as in Iceland,

longhouse walls were built of turf.

Inside, the longhouse was divided into several rooms. Two rows of posts ran down

the length of the longhouse supporting the roof beams. These columns divided

each interior room into three long aisles. The columns supported the roof, and,

as a result, the walls supported little weight. Typically, the walls bowed out at the

center of the longhouse, making it wider in the center than the ends, mimicking

the shape of a ship.


The roof was made of several layers, it was covered with living grass and had a

sophisticated drainage system. Wood-lined smoke holes dotted the roof of the

house, above each of the fireplaces. They allowed smoke to escape from the interior,

and they were probably the only way exterior light could get into the house.

Other than the smoke holes, the only exterior use of wood was the front entrance

and door, which was sometimes elaborately carved. Doors typically had complex

for their time closing mechanisms to protect from strangers.

Another exterior feature of the longhouses was an entrance area paved with stones

outside the door, which kept that area from turning into a mud pit due to the

heavy foot traffic.

Inside, the central aisle was the passageway between sections of the house.

Fire hearths were built either in a fire pit running lengthwise in the longhouse, or

in individual fire circles in the rooms. The fire provided light and heat and was also

used for cooking.

image: L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, Canada. UNESCO World Heritage site



By now the largest Viking house known is the Lofotr house. Its excavations began

in Norway in 1983. The discovery was of a chieftain’s home 67m (220ft) long and

almost 10m (33ft) wide built around 500 AD and rebuilt a couple of times around

700 AD extending the longhouse to a staggering 83m (272ft) long. Now next to

the site of the original the Lofotr Viking Museum is built from turf and wood

according to the data found during the excavations and based on the knowledge

provided by sagas.

Benches on one side were open, and used for sitting, working, eating, cooking.

Tools, storage chests, tables, and the loom were on this bench. Benches on

the other side were partitioned, and served as beds. Surviving beds, benches,

and other sleeping areas are very small. It has been suggested that people slept

sitting up in the Viking age, with their backs against a wall or partition, or even

against their shields. It is unlikely that the longhouses had much furniture. Only

the master and mistress of the house would have had a box-bed in which to sleep,

usually located in an enclosed bed-closet. The remainder of the household slept

on the benches. Some of the stories refer to sleeping quarters in the loft of the




A loft over the pantry was used for food storage, and a loft over the entrance was

used for sleeping. It is thought that slaves and children slept in the loft.

Foodstuffs were probably stored and prepared in a pantry (matbúr), then brought

out to the fire in the main room for cooking. An outside storage room (útibúr)

stored food, as well as other valuables. Stories refer to tables being set up for

meals, then taken down for other activities. It’s possible that trestles, boards and

additional benches were stored overhead, lying on the cross beams, and brought

down for meals and feasts.

Houses of wealthy families probably had decorative wall hangings, or carvings, or

possibly paintings. The sagas tell of elaborately decorated shields hung on the walls

and tapestries hung to decorate the hall for feasts*.

At Stöng, which was a prosperous farm, the floor plan was quite elaborate. In

addition to the main rooms of the house, two additional rooms were stuck onto

the back of the main building. The room furthest from the entrance was the stofa,

the main living room. The saga literature mentions that women congregated in a

specific part of the house reserved for their exclusive use during the day, where they

did their daily chores (and, according to the stories, swapped gossip). At Stöng,

this room was probably that place. The loom was located here, along with tables

and sitting-benches, which are shallower and higher off the floor than the multipurpose

benches in the main room. The space under the benches may have been

used for storing textiles as they came off the loom. These benches were suitable

for eating, socializing, and a variety of tasks. The benches and tables would have

made the room a fine place for feasting, especially since the pillars were set back

closer to the wall, creating a wider open space down the middle of the room than

that of the hall.

The hall (skáli) was the main room of the house (right). Daily indoor work was

performed here. Food was prepared on the fire in this room. This room also held

the quern, used for grinding flour.

At night, this room was the sleeping quarters for everyone on the farm, so the

benches here are lower and deeper, more suitable for sleeping. It also has a bed

closet, a small, closet sized enclosure with a door, located on top of the bench. A

bed was located in this closet for the master of the farm and his wife.

The depth of the closet is the same as the depth of the bench, and the width is no


*Egils saga, ch. 78

f6 Lofotr Viking Museum, a contemporary replica of a longhouse, Bøstad, Norway

greater than the depth, so the closet is quite small. The bed takes up the entire

space within the closet. At night, the doors to the closet were closed and bolted

from the inside, providing the master of the house and his wife with additional

security against intruders. The rest of the inhabitants of the house slept together

on the benches on either side of the hall.

Sometimes additional rooms such as storages or lavatories where added (in some

cases the lavatories were integrated in the house). In sagas the lavatories are often

described as places for groups of men to socialize. The Flóamanna saga says

that while some men were sitting in the privy, others stood nearby and they all

talked. The lavatory might have been a good place to hold a private conversation,

something that would have been impossible in the open longhouse.

The longhouse was scarcely the place for privacy. The entire extended family did

everything here: eating, cooking, dressing, sleeping, work, and play, both day and

night. Everyone must surely have known what everyone else was doing. Privacy

did not exist.

In general the vikings lived in villages which were not regularly plotted. Houses

could have been anywhere between 50 and 200m apart from one another. Each

home generally had a small field for farming.

Besides the remains of some viking towns and also fortresses are known. Probably

the most significant is the Trelleborg Viking Fortress, dating from the end of

X century, since it gives a very vivid image of the regularly organized viking

habitation. It has an inner diameter of 136 m, consisted of 16 houses with length

of 29.4 m and had a rampart wide 19m.


longhouse plans: Aðalstræti, Eiríksstaðir, L’Anse aux Meadows, Stöng, Hofstaðir


lavatory drain


benches benches long hearth



Stöng longhouse plan


f.7 remains of a ring fortress of Fyrkat, Hobro, Denmark





The Iban are an ethnic group of Borneo of approximately 400000 people in the

east Malaysian State of Sarawak. In the recent past they were mainly known to

the world as head-hunter tribes.They live in longhouses, each of which consists

of the following spaces: tanju (an open gallery), ruai (roofed gallery), tempuan

(common walkway), bilek (family apartment) and sadau (loft)*.

Tanju (open gallery) is used mainly for activities that require the use of outdoor

and sunshine, such as drying rice, pepper, othet crops and clothes, as well as for

ceremonial performances during ritual festivals.

Ruai (roofed gallery)is used for multi-purpose daily avtivities, such as mending

tools, making fishing nets, weaving mats or ceremonial blankets (pua kumbu).

It is also a place for meeting and entertaining visitors to the longhouse. It is a

sleeping area for unmarried men, and male visitors. Ritual performances are also

conducted here, especially for funeral ceremonies (Rabat). It can be said that the

ruai is one of the most important aspects of longhouse living that provide space

for interactions between residents, especially for bringing up children and their

schooling in customs and cultures of the community.

Tempuan (common walkway) is a narrow space between the apartments and the

roofed gallery. This space is in fact the proper passage-way along the longhouse. It

is an accepted practice to walk along this passage rather than use of ruai when

one moves from one bilek to the other. The reason for this is that the tempuan is

commonly owned, whereas the ruai spaces is individually owned by the family

that has the ruai facing their bilek. At the end of the tempuan are the entrances

that lead to the house ladders. In the past when rice has to be milled manually, the

women folks used the tempuan as a place to husk and pound the rice.


*Fox, J., ed. Inside Austronesian Houses: Perspectives on domestic designs for living

images: Interior and Exterior of Sea Dyak Long-House, 1910 engravings

drawing: typical plan of a five-fire longhouse, around 1724



Bilek is the family room for members to have their meals and privacy, when

they wish to be away from the rest of the household. It is the place where the

family’s heirloom and properties are kept. Married men and women folks sleep

in there. Here also is where cooking is done and the family has their meals. In

some modern longhouse, the apartment inside is large enough to have several

divisions to serve as separated bedrooms. Usually the term bilik refers not only

to the architectural space, but also to the family group that occupies it. The

bilik-family typically consists of three generations. On one side of this wall, the

bilik apartments represent each family’s domestic space, symbolizing its existence

as a discrete corporate group, while the unpartitioned gallery on the other side is

a public space, symbolizing the longhouse as a whole and its membership in the

larger riverine society that encompasses it.

Sadau (loft) is mainly used for storage of implements and the year’s rice supply of

the family. It was used in the past as sleeping place for the family’s young unmarried

women. Nowaday, modern longhouses use the loft as family’s bedroom.

Every Iban longhouse has its common body of normative rules (adat) and rituals,

which are believed to be the guarantee of the continued existence of the longhouse.

Thus breaches of adat and disturbances of the ritual order are said to render a

51 f.8 construction of a longhouse, our days, photograph found somewhere on the web

drawings from Fox, J., ed. Inside Austronesian Houses: Perspectives on domestic designs for living.


longhouse “hot” (angat), leaving its inhabitants open to infertility, sickness, death

and other calamities. Responsibility for safeguarding rules rests chiefly with the

longhouse headman and other community elders.

An important feature of the longhouse are the hearths (dapur). Today most hearths

are built at the rear of the bilik in a separate cooking area. All of those who make

use of the same hearth are said to come under the authority of the particular

bilik, including visitors and temporary guests residing in the family apartment.

Within the longhouse, the hearths represent the principal link between the bilikfamily

and the longhouse’s territorial domain (meaning the outher world).

The installation of the hearths binds the separate bilik-families together into a

single ritual and adat community. From the time the hearths are installed in the

house until the structure is dismantled and replaced by a new one, they must not

be allowed to grow “cold”. A “cold” hearth signifies an unoccupied apartment,

indicating, in turn, the family’s withdrawal from the community. Observance of

the hearth rules prevents the permanent dispersal of longhouse families and so

keeps them from leaving the community without first paying compensation for

the ritual damage their departure causes.

Another important role in the Iban rituals plays the orientation of the longhouse.

The Iban believe that the sun should orbit the house; it should ascend the slope of

the roof from the gallery side, reaching its highest point directly over the central

ridge-capping, and then descend again as it follows the slope of the roof downward

to the horizon, at the back of the family apartments. In other words, the east–west

movement of the sun over the longhouse should cross-cut its internal upriver–

downriver divisions.

The gallery side of the house should thus ideally face eastward, in the direction of

the rising sun. The unroofed veranda (tanju) is strongly associated with the sun

and with the daylight phase of the diurnal cycle. In contrast, the interior of the

house is associated with night and, in ritual contexts, with its inversion: daylight

in the unseen world of the souls, gods and spirits. Thus rituals performed on the

tanju characteristically take place during the day, particularly in its early morning

hours, while those held inside the house are typically performed in the evening or

at night and recreate their inversions, early morning or day in the unseen world.

The principal point of entry to the longhouse is its pendai (river bathing place).

Here canoes are typically tied up, women draw water for household use, and


longhouse members bathe. Symbolically, the pendai represents the outer threshold

of the community. The Iban have rituals for the birth and death of their community

members all strictly linked with this area of the longhouse.

Just as each bilik is part of the longhouse, so each longhouse, too, is part of a larger

whole. Each local community is named, and so individuated, by reference to a

specific topographic feature which places it within a landscape, the dimensions of

which are defined by the configuration of the main river (and tributaries) on which

it is built. Thus situated, each longhouse is positioned within a social universe of

upriver and downriver neighbours, the ultimate limits of which are defined by

the river system itself. Since most travel was traditionally by river, the location of

a longhouse within this system of rivers and streams establishes the basic social

identity of its members. Surrounding the longhouse are neighbouring houses

bound to one another as “co-feasters”, allies who alternately act as ritual hosts

and guests during major rituals. Traditionally, in addition to feasting together, a

community’s neighbours were its principal allies in warfare and raiding, directing

their attacks against enemies living outside their home river system. Thus the

horizons of the river also define a further dichotomy distinguishing, very roughly,

one’s own river, the allies and kindred, from the rest of the world, enemies and


Ritual brings into play, at different times, each of the major structural levels

represented in the metaphisical and physical constitution of the longhouse. The

movement from apartment to gallery marks an increase in the seriousness of

the ritual and a shift in its social focus from the family as a separate entity to

the family as a part of the longhouse community. The first obes are essentially

longhouse rituals of intermediate complexity, while the outer ones are major rites,

witnessed by guests drawn from the larger river region, including the community’s

sapemakai (co-feasting allies).

Thus, the organization of longhouse space, through ritual performance, procession

and invocation, interrelates its architectural and areal features to display a series of

microcosmic images of the Iban ritual universe and reflects how each individual,

starting from its birth is incorporated into the longhouse social order. These

images are represented primarily as pathways of biographical transition or as

arenas of communication and journeying, in which the welfare of the longhouse,

its inhabitants and their domain is continually asserted and preserved, with ritual

not only dramatizing but effecting transformations in these relationships and so,

in an ongoing way, in the lived experience of its participants.



Sarawak longhouse interior, images found somewhere on the web




How the Qala residents hid their houses

from the strangers’ eyes






Maidan Valley

Qalas are houses of the Pushtun population of Afghanistan. They are mostly

located in the Maidan Valley (about 40km from Kabul). As a dwelling type qala

originated from a fortified farm compound. It has thick, massive outer walls in

square or oblong plan averaging 40-80m per side of 6-8m in height. At each corner

is a defense tower rising over the height of the walls. In larger qalas longer walls

require additional towers equally spaced along their length to reinforce the walls

and provide additional surveilance. Multistoried dwelling and storage spaces are

constructed against the outer walls with the doors and windows facing a central


Each qala is self-contained unit providing shelter and protection for an extended

family, their farm animals, and the provisions necessary for survival. Proximity

to a source of water is a determinant in site selection, and a water point is frequently

central to the qala court, although more commonly found immediately outside

the single entry gate. The qala is thus a small walled village which reflects in

microcosm the form of such traditional walled Afghan towns as Kabul, Qandahar,

or Herat, providing shelter and security for its inhabitants.

Since the beginning of the twentienth century the qala has retained its fortress

role only in more remote and vulnerable areas of Afghanistan. Elsewhere it has

gradually evolved into a simple farm compound. In the qalas constructed after

WWII, fortification elements are only vestigial and sometimes omitted entirely.

The corner watchtowers, if constructed at all, generally serve as storage space for

grain and winter fuel. In many cases the more affluent qala owner transformed

the tower into a guestroom with a magnificent view of the surrounding valley and

mountains. The large glazed (or unglazed) openings found in such towers are,

of course a direct contradiction to the original function of the tower, which was

to provide stations for surveilance with heavy impenerable walls and apertures


drawings (all of the chapter) from:

“Afghanistan : an atlas of indigenous domestic architecture” Szabo A., Barfield T. Austin

f.9, f.10 Afghanistan qala, images found somewhere on the web

designed solely for strategic placement of rifles. In contemporary construction the

outside wall is sometimes lower than the one- or two-story housing within, and

the walls themselves are often less massive than those constructed in earlier times.

One of the Pushtun villages with the biggest amount of qalas is the Deh Afghanan.

The economy of its inhabitants is almost exclusively agricultura. The village itself

consists of a series of scattered qalas,surrounded by irrigated fields.

The contemporary qalas in the Deh Afghanan can be divided into prestige and

tenant categories*. The prestige qala is an elaborate construction, designed and

executed to meet and ideal cultural standard of what a qala should be. The farm

compound qala, has a more utilitarian design in which function takes precedence

over form and cost is a critical variable. In the tenant qala, the face of the side

walls are broken by numerous toilet shafts and private entryways, whereas in the

prestige qala the side walls are unbroken.

*“Afghanistan : an atlas of indigenous domestic architecture” Szabo A., Barfield T. Austin 62


The prestige qala is constructed by the owner and members of the owner’s family. It

requires superior workmanship in the initial construction and demands continuous

painstaking maintenance. Its occupants are generally direct descendants of the

builder, with only a minority of the units occupied by tenants. Such prestige qalas

are a manifestation of Pashtun cultural radition, which places heavy emphasis

on achieved status and political competition in all aspects of life. Dominating

the landscape around it, and designed to last for many generations, it provides

evidence of a social history in which the status of extended families is visible for all

to see. A new qala constructed by a family rising in wealth and political power is a

palpable indicator of growing prestige, it keeps elements such as the watchtowers,

although they are expensive and not needed functionally. Such a practice glorifies

tradition for tradition’s sake, and it is precisely this feature that makes the prestige

qala such an effective symbol of social status. And, on the other hand, if a formerly

elegant qala shows signs of erosion, it is a sure sign that a family knew better times

in generations past.

The tenant qala is designed to house the families of farmers employed by a

landowner on a sharecropping basis, and its inhabitants are not necessarily

related to one another. The tenant qala is generally larger in size and houses

more families. The tenant qala also lacks ornamentation and guest rooms, and

is often subject to extrusive growth beyond its outer walls when interior space

is insufficient. This juxtaposition of several disparate elements often results is

lesser-quality workmanship, a detached kind of maintenance, and a general sense

of impermanence on the part of the tenants. This has a decided impact on the

longevity of the qala itself which, under the more desirable conditions, can have a

life of several hundred years.

However these negative factors are often mitigated in situations where land owners

share their own qalas with tenants. In such cases prestige ornamentation may be

better developed and maintained in the owner-occupied part of the qala, which is

often divided from the tenant units by a privacy wall and separate entrance.


More than other building types in Afghanistan, the qala is in a constant state of

evolution through time and reflects the changing demands of households which

live within it. The social evolution of households is reflected in the architectural

changes within the qala. As the extended family formed new households through

accretion, the central court was reduced eventually to a small circulation path or

square. The growth was vertical as well as horizontal, and it was not uncommon

for various family members to have “duplex” apartments with roof spaces for

women and men, for family sleeping during the hot seasons, and for drying

produce. When this vertical and horizontal expansion had used all available

space, the families were faced with the options of further compaction, expansion

beyond the qala limits, or relocation. However, this was not purely a question of

available residential space. The number of families in qala (or the number of qalas

in the valley) could not exceed the productive capacity of the available farmland.

When resources proved insufficient, people were forced to sell or rent their share

optimum point of subdivision within a generation or two of their construction and

then remained in that form because further subdivision (although theoretically

possible) became economically impractical.

However, the growth by accretion does not mean an anarchic approach to the

provision of dwelling spaces for one’s family. Certain principles of design are

usually respected. Each family’s space is continous, for example, and when qalas

subdivide, the preservation of common space tends to follow kinship lines. Close

relatives share entryways and courtyard space with each other while privacy walls

may split more distantly related kin from one another. In the tenant-farmer qala

there is normally a dividing wall between landlord and tenants.

Although from the outside the qalas appear to be single units, internally they

are divided into clusters that share common entryways and courtyard space.

The rooms surrounding the courtyard serve a variety of purposes: residential,

storage space, barns, kitchens, and waste disposal. The amount and variety of

space held by each family may vary markedly, particularly in the tenant qala

when owners and tenant farmers both occupy the complex.

The tenant qala is divided into two major segments by straight alleyway running

from the main entrance about three-quarters of the qala’s length. Line of sight is

then blocked by a wall set perpendicular to the alley, and the accessway then breaks

into a series of meandering paths, thus the main alleyway is bounded by unbroken

walls with virtually no windows. The only hints of occupation are the doorways

that lead to qala clusters. The entryway to each cluster replicates the entry to the


qala as a whole: a smaller straight alleyway with the line of sight blocked by a

wall. The entry to the qala is thus designed to insulate the inhabitants from

casual contact with the outside world, while the entryways to the courtyards

provide privacy from other qala residents. It is not possible to identify residence

clusters easily from the outside, and even upon entering a cluster one does

not immediately come upon the inhabitants. In a land where all strangers are

perceived to be potential threats, truly public space is always marked off from

family space in a very deliberate manner designed to provide as few visual clues

as possible.

Usually in a tenant qala, the residence units are at the center, surrounded by

personal storage space and kitchens, storage for fodder and wood, with animal

barns and toilets at the extremities. Much of this can be explained in mechanical

terms: the animals must be taken in and out every day from grazing, and toilets

are easier to clean if the waste can be directed to the outside. But the choice of

placement also serves a symbolic function. The entryways are lined with barns

rather than residences so that strangers first encounter livestock, not people.

Moving from the outside, one pierces a number of symbolic boundaries, beginning

with the massive walls of the qala itself, followed by blank alleys and entryways,

before entering any of the residence clusters. Even upon entering a cluster, the line

of sight is blocked and adjacent rooms have nonresidential functions. Only after

one enters the residential courtyard itself does the qala complex take on a human


While the architectural design of a qala physically and symbolically excludes

outsiders, at the same time Pashtun cultural values place a premium on graciously

receiving and protecting guests. This role of hospitality among Pashtuns in

Afghanistan cannot be overstated, yet this tradition must be reconciled with

the belief that guests also constitute a threat because they may be strangers. The

family, and particularly the women, must be protected from intrusions by this

outside world of strangers. The solution of this dilemma is overly expressed by

the presence of a specially designed guest room in virtually every prestige qala.

The location and orientation of the guest room is over the single entry of the qala,

with apertures facing outward, directly opposite the line of entry through the qala

doors below. This keeps the family compounds out of sight but offers no hardship

for the guests, as the room usually has southerly orientation, benefits from

summer breezes and has a meditative view of the countryside and easy access to

the mosque, which is also near the entrance. The guest room is used for meetings

of the elders, councils, visitors, and guests.


Animal space of family C


Family room














f6 Airbnb add-campaign 68


How people in Kommunalka set their own rules

and of their manner of living


Mother and I lived in a revolting communal apartment.

The long, gloomy corridor led, metaphysically, to the toilet.

The wallpaper by the telephone was covered with doodles,

leavng a depressing chronicle of the communal unconsious.


Our apartment was hardly typical. Its inhabitants were for

the most part, members of intelligentsia. There were no

open quarrels. No one spit in his neighbor’s soup (though

one can’t be completely sure). This didn’t mean that all was

peaceful and decorous. An undeclared, underhanded war

never subsided. A stewpot full of mutual irritation simmered

and bubbled quietly.

Sergey Dovlatov, “Ours : a Russian family album”



Kommunalka* is a specifically Soviet form of urban living, that was a result

of a housing policy aimed at the redistribution of living spaces in the cities in

favour of the working class. It was an outcome of the postrevolutionary housing

crisis and also an experiment in practicing utopian ideologies and to destroy the

bourgeois habits. Besides being a living evidence of a never implemented utopian

communist design, the kommunalka became an institution of social control, and

the breeding ground of police informants between the 1920s and the 1980s**.

Right after the revolution, following Lenin’s orders, what happened was literally

taking the “rich” apartments*** with multiple rooms from the property of a single

person or a family, and redistributing the spaces in it according not the personal

and varying needs, but according the square meters that were considered the

“sanitary norm”.

If before one had a dwelling which one could afford to have, now the new criteria

became the biological need of the organism to have a certain space, the volume

of the air, cleanness, dryness etc., which were established according to sanitary

and hygienic research. A minimum living space of about 10 square meters per

person and 13 square meters per family was established. The space was divided

mathematically with no considerations about the real space of existing apartments.

As a result, most of the apartments were partitioned in an incredible and often

unfunctional manner, creating strange spaces, long corridors, and so-called black


As a result of this policy already early in 1930s, overpopulated state-owned

apartments with several non-kin tenants (and sometimes the former owner

among them) became the predominant type of urban dwelling. In most cases

the tenants belonged to different social groups. The order of everyday life was


*short from kommunalnaya kvartira (communal apartment)

**Svetlana Boym, Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia,

(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994)

prescribed by officially adopted regulations and was being enforced by so

called kvartupolnomochennyi, the person elected by the collective of tenants as

representative of the apartment.

The new communal policy implied the dwelling of the families in the apartments

which were not dense enough. The former owners had two weeks time for a

voluntary “self-densification”. After that period the local housing comitee would

bring the new residents in an obligatory way. This means that in some cases

the apartments kept their social consistensy, in some other cases some “classmesaliance”

occurred. Sometimes the former owners from the noble or rich

families would register their servants as new residents, there were also many cases

when the former owners had to flee from the country, and only the servants stayed.

The “separate apartment” became a sign of special privilege, or occasionally, of

special luck. Only in the late 1950s was there a new revolution in Soviet daily

life, consisting of resettlement out of communal apartments to outlying “microdistricts,”

where people were able to live in separate apartments-many for the first

time in their lives. It took 40 more years and the end of the Soviet Union to put an

end to the communal apartment as a social institution.

In the beginning of the 30-ies a complex of “routine discipline rules” was developed

by the housing comitees to organize almost all the basic processes taking place

in the communal apartment. It had sections for queing and timing: the food

preparation schedules and modes, cleaning duty schedules, use of the common

spaces, keeping silence in the night hours, etc., there were rules regulating the

relations between the neighbours, rules regarding the sanitary and hygiene:

quotidian cleaning, washing of the floors every 5-6 days, keeping the kitchen

and the dishes clean, the division of the bills among the dwellers according to

the “fair” criterias etc. The official regulation gave some ground and mode for the

neighbours to claim their rights or to influence the neighbours whose behavior

wouldn’t correspond to the normal coexistence standards.

This period of 30-ies is usually remembered as the time of best organized

communal life, even though the density of residents was very high. That time is

remembered for its clean communal entrances and yards, safety of the courtyards

with their gates locked. The key figure of the time was the “dvornik”, the man

whose responsibility was to keep the communal courtyard and entrance areas

clean and organized (as well as unofficially was responsible to inform the party

about any move happening in the community, all the guests coming and going,

***The “rich apartment” is defined by Lenin as “the apartment where the number of rooms equals or surpasses the number of

residents who permanently inhabit this apartment 74

everyones time schedules etc.) Later this figure’s power decreased and the state of

the outer common spaces underwent strong decays.

After a while people started to add their own rules, since no regulatory document

could be vast enough to include all the possible life situations. Some paper notes

started to appear usually next to the points of the most active interation or conflicts

(the phone, the kitchen door, the bathroom door). Usually the most active and

energetic resident, or the one closer to the governing regime (sympatizing or

having some position in structures close to party) would take the initiative

and responsibility for setting the new rules and entering in discussion with the

neighbors which in their opinion would disregard the established rules.

The relations inside the neighbours’ community vary from endless conflicts to

quasi-family relationship involving a whole system of mutual help. Prototypical

public scandals are performed in the kitchen that is the main place for both

disputes and peaceful communication. Special strategies are elaborated to control

deviant behaviours of local drunkards and drug addicts.

Any kommunalka consisted of “places of communal use” - shared bathroom,

corridor, and kitchen. and relatively private areas of the tenants’ all-purpose

rooms (living rooms, bedrooms, and studies became a “decadent luxury”). In the

late period of kommunalkas, when they became less dense, they started to have

the so called “empty rooms”: after some tenants had moved elsewhere, sometimes

their former room was given to the tenants for joint use as storage area. Usually

such collective storage facility was filled with all kinds of old and broken artefacts,

ranging from furniture to old footwear and empty jars. It is also used for smoking

or, sometimes, for drying clothes.

Visiting a Soviet home one is struck not only by a deep contrast between the

public and private spheres, between official communality and the community

of one’s own inner circle, but also by that strange no-man’s-land, the space

that belongs to everybody and therefore to no one and that creates discomfort

in both public and private existence. The hallway occupies a special place in

the Soviet mythical topography; it is a space of transition, a space of fear, the

dark limit of the house. It could preserve traces of a building’s former elegance:

fragments of mosaics and ruined, not-so-classical pilasters with obscene graffiti

scribbled all over. When entering the communal apartments one would most

probably see a massive door with several separate bells: “three rings for Petrov,

two for Khaimovich, one for Skripkina, four for Genalidze.” This is the first


f11 Illustration from “The story of an old apartment” by A.Desnitskaya

f12 a typical entrance corridor of a communal apartment, photograph found somewhere on the web

affirmation of separateness- if we don’t have a separate door, at least we’ve got

a separate door bell; if not a separate kitchen, at least a separate gas burner. If

we share the same electric light, then each of us should have a switch; even if it

is completely irrational and inconvenient, we will go all the way along the long

corridor to our room in order to turn on the lights in the toilet. In circumstances

of extreme overcrowdedness and imposed collectivity there is an extreme-almost

obsessive-protection of minimal individual property*.

Entering the communal corridor the typical situation would be hearing flutter of

slippers and the squeaking of the floors and many pairs of eyes scrutinizing the

guest through half-opened doors. When a guest comes to the apartment it is

everyone’s business, a mini-event, a source of gossip and argument.

The environment of a kommunalka is transparent*, that is, it provides for a high

level o f neighbours’ acquaintance with each others’ daily life. The environment

is closed, that is, one neither can escape communication in public areas nor can

avoid meeting the challenge of certain amount of daily problems.

The particular organisation of privacy in a kommunalka originated from the lack

of space that led to a situation when several individuals — usually belonging to the

same family — lived in the same room. Alongside with such intra-familiar almost

complete transparency of life, a kommunalka is quite transparent for neighbours’

regards; all everyday practices, concerns and events are perceived by other tenants

who can see, hear and smell everything that other tenants do or have. The fact that

in public areas one’s possessions cannot be permanently controlled by the owner

gives birth to continuous state of alert. It is mainly related to acute sensation of

vulnerability of the private sphere — and not necessarily associated with the

material value of the things. The disputes which at the first glance seem to be about

property often turn out to have the covert content of privacy matters.

The partition is the central architectural feature of the communal apartment. Most

of them are made of plywood and they mark the intersection of public and private

spheres within the apartment. After the expropriation of property, the old rooms

and hallways were partitioned and subdivided, creating weird angular spaces, with

a window opening into a sunless back yard or without any windows. Every tenant

exercised her imagination in inventing curtains and screens to delineate their

minimum privacy. A plywood partition was so much flimsier than a wall, more

a sign of division than a division itself. It let through all the noises, the snoring,

the fragments of conversations, the footsteps of the neighbor, and everything else.

*Утехин, Илья Владимирович, et al. Очерки коммунального быта. ОГИ, 2004.

(I.V. Utekhin “Notes on the Communal being”)



photographs by V.Lagrange


The partition served not so much to preserve intimacy as to create an illusion that

some intimacy was possible. Secrecy is one of the most important ways of keeping

the illusion of privacy.

Neglected privacy has always led to an oversensitivity to violations of privacy and

its substitutes. The constant being “on stage” is combined in a communal apartment

life with specific practices of hygiene because of sharing same toilet, bathroom

and kitchen facilities. The places of communal use-kitchen, corridor bathroomwere

both the battlegrounds and the playgrounds for the communal neighbors.

Yet the effect of imposed communality of the kommunalka is contradictory and

paradoxical; people professed to hate any form of communal interaction yet they

internalized the communal structures and later recall them with nostalgia.

Today, almost in any big communal apartment there would be a resident (not

necessarily of very old age) who would take the role of a guide for the new

residents and will tell about the initial function of every room of the apartment,

about its former owner and its transformation history in general. The remaining

decoration elements like columns, plaster ornaments of the cornices and the

ceilings were hinting on the former configuration of the spaces not thought as

spaces for communal living.

The link with the former residents of the house is invisible, but is felt very

strong by the current dwellers. People feel they are living in a special place. The

fact that the communal apartments are usually situated in the city center adds

strength to this feeling. This type of bond with the place is not common at all

for the inhabitants of the perifeic standard block houses, where the apartments

don’t have nor their own character, nor special history. It’s hard to imagine

one would put a memorial plate about someone living in the house of a sowiet

panel building wall. Those type of houses built by a standardized project are not

meant for staying in memories, they are built as merely temporary bedrooms.

On the contrary, the housing in the center of the city connected with the past

in so many ways provokes interest even among people not usually interested in


Of course the relation of the residents toward the former owners, the so called

“socially foreigns” was not always warm and nostalgic. On the contrary, those

people usually provoked agression, envy of the neighbours and were very often

the target of groundless anonymous accusations, sent from the neighbors to the

party, with the aim to sent them in camps and become the new owners of the freed


square meters, or sometimes even having no aim but making harm.

Recent social change has increased the number of “temporary” dwellers, who

are not fully incorporated into the established apartment community and who

consider their komunalka as a provisional residence, which is clearly opposed to

the attitude of people with traditional communal mentality.

On the contrary, a temporary tenant renting a room, as if he lived in a hostel,

as a rule, is doesn’t care for the long-term relationships with the place and with

people. Everything around him has foreign origins and his own things are not too

numerous. He is in some ways freer than the permanent residents: he has fewer

rights, but fewer duties. Temporary tenants, for example, do not deal with the

repairs and rearrangements of the apartment, due to the temporality of their living

in place. Of course they have contractual responsabilities towards the room they

rent. On the other hand, the residents who are living in a communal apartment for

a long (undetermined) time, feel the house as something more than a more or less

temporary place of sleep and rest, where your things are stored. They also have,

as a rule, some attachment to their district, block and house, especially if a person

grew up there and has his own history bond with the history of the apartment,

house and quarter.

In the recent years, real estate firms dealing with the redistribution of large

communal apartment spaces in the center of the city, face the refusal of tenants

to settle. No matter how attractive it may seem to get a separate apartment in

exchange for your room in a communal apartment, many residents show stubborn

resistance, refusing to change their way of life and residence. To some extent this

is due, of course, not so much to the attachment to the genius loci as a necessary

element of the “home”, but to the fact that the work and the school are close by,

the usual shops and transport are convenient; people are already used to live in

the center and woven into social networks, partly related to the place of residence.

Sometimes, however, residents agree to move to new buildings - but in order to

be on the same staircase with their former neighbors, which is also somehow



Above: Example of how a big apartment was subdivided in the 1950-1960.

Image from the M.Bulgakov museum

Next page: a list of spaces and scenes from the film “Pokrovsky Gate”, which happens all around a communal apartment

“On her own and without a drunk sapping

all her dough, she opened a boarding

house for Dublin’s travelers, artists,

and middle managers”.


James Joyce “Dubliners”


How Migrants used to dwell

in Boarding Houses




Boarding houses were common in growing cities in USA mainly throughout

the 19th century and until the 1930s, mostly among the migrant population.

In Boston in the 1830s, when the landlords and their boarders were added up,

between one-third and one-half of the city’s entire population lived in a boarding

house. Boarding houses ran from large, purpose-built buildings down to “genteel

ladies” who rented a room or two as a way of earning a little extra. Large houses

were converted to boarding houses as wealthy families moved to more fashionable

neighborhoods. The boarders in the 19th century didn’t belong just to one class,

anyone would board from well-off businessmen to poor laborers, and from single

people to families. Boarding was really a common practice. Usually in big cities,

the situation was same as in Boston: between 1/3 to 1/2 of urban dwellers rented

a room to boarders or were boarders themselves. Thus, example, even notable

people as rs Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe used to live in a boarding house.

In New York in 1869, the cost of living in a boarding house ranged from $2.50 to

$40 a week*. Some boarding houses attracted people with particular occupations

or preferences, such as vegetarian meals.

The boarding house reinforced some social changes: it made it feasible for

people to move to a large city, and away from their families. This distance from

relatives brought social anxieties and complaints that the residents of boarding

houses were not respectable. Boarding out gave people the opportunity to meet

other residents, so they promoted some social mixing. The advantages were

the overcoming of the solitude and learning new ideas and new people’s stories,

but there were also disadvantages, such as occasionally meeting disreputable or

dangerous people. Most boarders were men, but women found that they had

limited options: a co-ed boarding house might mean meeting objectionable men,

but an all-female boarding house might be – or at least be suspected of being – a


*The Physiology of New York Boarding-Houses, Thomas Gunn, New York, Mason Brothers, 1857

brothel. Boarding houses attracted criticism among some of their contemporaries,

also on the high political levels. Attempts to reduce boarding house availability

had a gendered impact, as boarding houses were typically operated or managed by

women “matrons”; closing boarding houses reduced this opportunity for women

to make a living from operating these houses.

There are many parallels of the criticism with the today’s battles against the Airbnb.

Usually the lodgers rented one or more rooms for one or more nights, and

sometimes for extended periods of weeks, months, and years. The common

parts of the house were maintained by the houselord, and some services, such

as laundry and cleaning, were provided. The typical offer was the “room and

board,” meaning a space to stay and at least the meals provided by the house.

Boarders would typically share washing, breakfast and dining facilities.

Boarders could often arrange to stay bed-and-breakfast (bed and breakfast only),

half-board (bed, breakfast and dinner only) or full-board (bed, breakfast, lunch and

dinner). Especially for families on holiday with children, boarding (particularly

on a full-board basis) was an inexpensive alternative and certainly much cheaper

than staying in all but the cheapest hotels.

Lodgers legally only obtained a licence to use their rooms, and not exclusive

possession, so the landlord retained the right of access. In the UK, for instance,

where the boarding houses were typically run by landladies, some of them

maintained draconian authority in their houses: the residents might not be

allowed to remain on the premises during the daytime and could be subject to

rigorous rules and regulations, stridently enforced.

Later, groups such as the Young Women’s Christian Association provided heavily

supervised boarding houses for young women. Boarding houses were viewed as

“brick-and-mortar chastity belts” for young unmarried women, which protected

them from the vices in the city.he Jeanne d’Arc Residence in Chelsea, which was

operated by an order of nuns, aimed to provide a dwelling space for young French

seamstresses and nannies.Married women who boarded with their families in

boarding houses were accused of being too lazy to do all of the washing, cooking,

and cleaning necessary to keep house or to raise children properly.

In the decades after the 1880s, urban reformers began working on modernizing

cities; their efforts to create “uniformity within areas, less mixture of social



Images by Esther Bubley, 1943. Courtesy of the Esther Bubley Photo Archive


classes, maximum privacy for each family, much lower density for many activities,

buildings set back from the street, and a permanently built order” all meant that

housing for single people had to be cut back or eliminated.

By the early 1930s, urban reformers were typically using codes and zoning

to enforce “uniform and protected single-use residential districts of private

houses”, the reformers’ preferred housing type. In 1936, the governal law

defined a dwelling as “any structure used principally for residential purposes”,

noting that “commercial rooming houses and tourist homes, sanitariums, tourist

cabins, clubs, or fraternities would not be considered dwellings” as they did not

have the “private kitchen and a private bath” that reformers viewed as essential

in a “proper home”.

As a result, boarding houses became less common in the early 20th century.

Another factor that reduced boarding house numbers was that improved mass

transit options made it feasible for more city residents to live in the suburbs and

work in the city. By the 1930s, they were uncommon in most of the United States.

In the 1930s and 1940s, rooming or boarding houses had been taken for granted


as respectable places for

students, single workers,

immigrants, and newlyweds

to live when they left

home or came to the city.

However, with the boom in

housing in the 1950s, middle

class newcomers could

increasingly afford their own

homes or apartments, which

meant that rooming and

boarding houses became used

mainly by post-secondary

students, the working poor,

or the unemployed. By the

1960s, rooming and boarding

houses were deteriorating.

*Typical plan of A.T. Stewart’s Hotel for Women on Park Avenue, New York.

Conceived by the owner with the architect John Kellum (1869)


“Warning. You are leaving now the capitalistic sector”


a graffiti from Køpi , author unknown


How the Squats are vanishing everywhere

and how the people in Køpi resist.



Due to various elements of its recent history and largely because of its post-war

destruction, and both the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, the city has long been a

breeding ground for countercultural movements of many kinds. Perhaps one of

the most striking and unique of which is the large presence of squatters in various

districts of the city. Yet, their existence is increasingly tenuous in recent times,

something that reflects deeper shifts in the life of the city.

Unlike other urban areas, Berlin’s squat houses and their inhabitants are visible

fixtures in the city. With signs condemning capitalism plastered to their shabby

facades, these squat houses certainly aren’t easy to miss, and for the most part

Berliners still continue to be unfazed by them. They are considered a distinct force

in keeping Berlin “weird”, or at least less conventional in ways that most of its

residents can appreciate.


map of Squats of Berlin

Squatting rose to prominence in West Germany during the 1970s. In Berlin, this

was particularly the case in the district of Kreuzberg. Squatters ran collectively

governed microcosms complete with their own housing cooperatives, ‘people’s

kitchens’, and print publications. These communities were typically united by

politically charged agendas, oriented towards anti-Free Nationalist (Neo-Nazi),

anti-capitalist, feminist, or other radical objectives.

It was this culture of activism that helped to keep the squats afloat. The Autonomen

Movement’s tactics of direct action, for instance, safeguarded squatters from

eviction or political persecution through demonstrations and the construction of

police barricades around the squats themselves. With a stronghold in the West

that endured after the fall of the wall, squatting culture seeped into the many

abandoned buildings of eastern neighborhoods such as Mitte, Friedrichshain, and

f.13 the courtyard of the Køpi 100


archive photographs from the earliest squats, found somewhere on the underground web

Prenzlauer Berg, including the famous Kunsthaus

Tacheles. At this time, squatting was technically

legal in these areas. Of course, its presumed legal

status didn’t last long, as stability in the East was

eventually regained and increasing numbers

of squats were converted into conventional


As is the case in most major cities, housing prices

have since been on the rise as real estate developers

set their sights on new investment opportunities.


103 archive photographs from the earliest squats, found somewhere on the underground web


Even Berlin, despite its culture of social activism is falling victim to the grip of

gentrification, the biggest enemy of squatting culture to date.

There have been massive confrontations between the squatters and the state, usually

via the police. Brunnenstraße 183 in Mitte, for instance, was closed in 2009 when

600 policemen stormed the building. Some of the city’s last squats, Rigaer 94 and

the anarchist shop, M99 have been closed or are currently witnessing their final

days as well. Both police and landlords are cracking down on legal technicalities

while legilators pass more laws that encroach on the squats’ existences.

In the case of Rigaer 94, such raids typically involve over 500 police officers, armed

with dogs, as helicopters circle overhead. Meanwhile, the owner of M99, a disabled

man in his late 50s, is scheduled to be evicted from the shop that also functions

as his home. These tactics are not without controversy and resistance, however.

Many question whether these events are lawful or necessary. The inhabitants of

Rigaer 94 are now facing an eviction which has proven to be unlawful, and the

issue has made international headlines. Marches and demonstrations have been

held in protest of the state’s aggressive efforts to oust the city’s last squatters, but

unfortunately these acts of civil disobedience are not proving to be as effective as

they were in the 1970s during the days of the Autonomen Movement.

As Berlin settles down and assumes a more solidified structure, taking after the

socio-economic situations found in other major capitals, it’s not so surprising that

its squatting culture would eventually dissipate as well. It is becoming less clear

whether these anti-establishment refuges will have a place in Berlin as the city

continues on its current social and economic trajectories, something that reflects a

broader climate of change towards conventionality in a city that has always touted

its edge.

Probably the most resistant squat of Berlin is Køpi, known for the discussions,

cinema, vegan food meals, exhibitions, performances and above all punk concerts

that it organizes. It is self-managed already for more than 25 years, but its future

is still uncertain, despite the legalization of the space occurred in 2008. The

announced plan of redevelopment of the area, already affected by gentrification,

could in fact also cancel one of the few remains of the Berlin resistance of the


On 23 February 1990 the occupation of Køpi began, at 137 Köpenicker Straße. A

few months after the fall of the wall, a group of “Western” squatters occupied the


Above a graffiti from the Brunnenstrasse 183 in Mitte: “We all stay”


former Fürstenhof, a housing complex for Reich officers, preventing its demolition

and giving way to an autonomous housing project and a cultural center. Located

on the edge of a no-man’s-land, in the border area between East and West,

right where the wall ran, the five-story building has resumed life slowly, hosting

a climbing wall (among the oldest in the city), a screen printing and printing

workshop for works of art and documents, several concert halls, a recording

studio, a bar with a kitchen and a space for the cinema. Instead, the area outside

the house houses a large car place, a parking lot for trucks, trailers and other

means of transport used as dwellings by a temporary community of travelers,

vagabonds and nomadic subjects.

During its long history the squat faced a lot judicial causes with the Commerzbank

and various changes of ownership, and developed a well-funcitoning selforganization

mechanism which helped to organize the spaces colas of Germany,

even ending, perhaps in spite of himself, to be mentioned in the city’s tourist

guides. It became for the city A space to practice new forms of community life

and a symbol of the resistance of Berlin against the progress of capitalism and of


107 Above an archive squatter poster: “Køpi remains!”


“It takes a village to raise a child”.


an African proverb


How communal dinners stopped taking place

in Kollontai







Thirty years ago, eight women embarked on a radical experiment in urban

living: they built a communal house in central Amsterdam in which practically

everything — from kitchen utensils to childcare — was shared.

The house was conceived as an alternative to expensive, single-family apartments

and atomized urban lives. it also reflected decades of progressive thinking on

feminism, gay rights, and collaborative living. With co-living making a comeback,

New York-based designers Irene&Anton made a wonderful website telling the

story of Irene’s childhood house. Below an excerpt from the video they made:

“I was born in Lima, Peru to a Dutch mother and a Peruvian father. In the 1980s,

the ongoing civil war made living there very difficult, so everyone with the means to

do so left.

When we arrived in 1989, Amsterdam was recovering from a massive artificial

housing shortage. Property owners had been keeping buildings empty for years to

drive up prices, resulting in widespread squatting. In response, the city government

enacted new regulations, including a mandate that one percent of all newly built

houses had to be communal.

Without a job or any savings, and with the waiting list for subsidized apartments

in central Amsterdam years, or even decades-long, my mother had to think of an

alternative fast.

Since residents of communal apartments were allowed to choose their neighbors, we

were able to bypass the waiting list and secure a massive downtown apartment for

an affordable price.

113 f.14, f.15 and all the images of the chapter from the onesharedhouse.com website

The decision to move into a communal house was made out of economic necessity,

not ideology. And yet, almost thirty years later, my mother still thinks it was the best

decision she ever made. She lives in Kollontai to this day.

Most communal living arrangements at that time had strong leftist political leanings,

and our house was no different. Kollontai reflected the political climate of 1980s

Amsterdam, which was brimming with social change. Second-wave feminists and

gays and lesbians had taken to the streets to demand equal rights and recognition;

the anti-racist and squatting movements were in full-swing, and leftist ideologies

and alternative lifestyles were entering the mainstream. The Communist Party of the

Netherlands, now defunct, was still a major player in Dutch politics, and most people

in our house had once been card-carrying members.

One kid I grew up with remembers the moment he realized that our living situation

was a little unusual. He was about six years old, and his teacher had asked him and

his classmates to draw every person in their house. He raised his hand and asked,

“Do I have to draw all 12 of them?!”

The house was named after Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952), a Russian revolutionary,

pioneering feminist, and diplomat. Due in part to her efforts, the Soviet Union was

the first country to legalize no-fault divorces.

After the Revolution, Kollontai served as People’s Commissar for Social Welfare

and ambassador to Norway, Mexico, and Sweden. She believed that marriage and

traditional families were outdated concepts rooted in an oppressive system of property

rights, a sentiment many of the house’s inhabitants shared.


Who named the house after Kollontai? I spoke to many former house members and

read through years of meeting notes and letters, but never found a clear answer.

Nobody remembers exactly who came up with the name, but everyone agrees that,

considering the house members’ political views, it was a very appropriate name.

Kollontai was designed by new brutalist architect Sier van Rhijn, whose previous

works included the De Bijenkorf department store in Rotterdam, a collaboration with

Marcel Breuer and Abraham Elzas. Over four years, soon-to-be Kollontai residents

watched their home take shape and proposed numerous alterations to van Rhijn’s

plan. “It was fun. Even though they had no experience designing living spaces, they

were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal

with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy. They’d

often come to our office with their many children, who always wanted lemonade and

needed to pee.” — Sier van Rhijn, architect.

They settled into their rooms, started having communal dinners and hanging out

in the communal room, kitchen, and garden. The adults built a darkroom, a crafts

corner, a guest room, and a painting studio.

They met up with groups from other communal homes, threw parties, hosted dinners,

and got involved in city politics. They were hailed in the press as a shining example

of communal living at its best.

Since the house members were jointly responsible for paying the bills, they named

one woman house treasurer. At first, everyone paid their dues on time. But as time

passed, more and more payments went underpaid or not at all. This led to a lot of

friction in the house, as the house treasurer was forced to go door to door to collect


overdue payments. At some point, the treasurer got so fed up that she wrote an angry

letter to the entire house. “Managing the house finances is a horrible job. Not because

I don’t like doing the math. On the contrary, as a purely administrative task I quite

enjoy it. The main problem is that certain people, for whatever reason, don’t pay

their share of the bills. Didn’t you have to pay your electricity bill under penalty of

termination prior to living here? I really don’t understand how, now that we have an

alternative way of sharing the finances, people are not paying their bills on time!” —

Kollontai House Treasurer

The women used consensus

decision-making at their monthly

house meetings. Sometimes

they’d write letters to each other explaining their grievances, which they’d then

review together. Since nobody was in charge, it was sometimes difficult to make

decisions, but most of the time they found a way to resolve any conflicts that arose.

Not always, though. One woman got so fed up with her floormate that she moved

all her belongings into the common room. The other house members, who hadn’t

approved the move, retaliated by evicting her. Things got so heated that the police

had to be brought in to resolve the standoff. A proposal was made to split the group

in half, which would have required significant renovations and effectively killed the

communal dream. Shortly before the meeting to discuss the measure, however, one

of the feuding floormates moved out, and so the house remained intact, and morale,

which had hit an all-time low, was restored.

In 1989-90, psychologist Daniel Greenberg studied children in more than 200

intentional communities across the United States and made a series of striking

observations. He noticed that community children had many more adult role models


than non-community children and tended to develop more friendships with adults

who weren’t relatives. This close proximity to adult life meant that the children

were constantly exposed to informal learning experiences such as, for example,

leadership, negotiation, the use and abuse of power, conflict resolution, consensus

building or voting, financial planning, cooking, construction, etc.—from an early

age. Greenberg concluded that because of their exposure to adult life, community

children tended to be more “socially mature, confident, outgoing, competent, and

verbal (and at far younger ages), than

their non-community counterparts.”

Multi-age friendships with other

children also helped produce more

confident, outgoing, socially comfortable

kids, Greenberg found, something that age-segregation in traditional public schools


“The deal was that each

tenant payed her own rent

and had her own private room. Pretty much everything else was shared, including

the kitchen, a communal tv room, a garden in whiich they all had a tent, a washing

machine, the rooftop and a couple of bathrooms. They agreed to have house meetings

every month and dinner every night. Every single night. Move in day was July 18 1984

and at first Kollontai flourished. The women hung out together, ate together and even

vacationed together. Everything seemed possible: should we build a darkroom? Sure!

How about a guest-bedroom? Done! Let’s do it! So, really, everything was going great,


eventhough for most it was the first time they lived in a group. -Yeah and I really

wanted to live in a group. Coming from a large family, all nice and cozy together…

and the social aspect of

raising kids together. Not

in a claustrpophobic little family of two people with children but with more options.

But the high mood phase was short-lived. The problems started with the communal

dinners. People with kids wanted to eat earlier than people who didn’t have kids,

vegetarians got offended when meat was served. Work schedules didn’t allow some

people to cook and some who did cook were terrible at it. Within a matter of months

the communal dinners stopped. And a really sad realization was that the women

actually didn’t like each other enough to have dinner together every night.

“A couple of things did change over time and I don’t remember us ever making a

decision about that. It just happened naturally. Eating together is very intimate,


you do that with friends and if they don’t become your friends it’s not interesting

and to keep doing it just to keep

the household efficient, just doesn’t

work. So it’s really quite simple. You

end up eating together less and less,

you start joining less. You start to

think you might as well cook upstairs. And then gradually the dinners are no longer


Besides the problems with communal dinners they also started to argue about every

little thing, like where to set the thermostat, some would conveniently forget to opay

their share of the bill.

-“Once I went upstairs to cook, which was really something else and tini completely

lost her mind because she had seen me take her salt shaker and felt that I had

commandeered it! And I thought to myself, well if this is how it’s going to be, I won’t

be cooking here anymore, I don’t care.

The final straw came in 1989,

only five years after they all

moved in, when one woman

got so fed up with her floor

mate that she moved all her

stuff into the communal room. The other women were pissed: it wasn’t her room, it

was everyone’s room. Someone called the police.

“What we always had to agree on, was the division of the space. If somebody would

move out we had to agree on who would move into that space. And that ultimately

was the only agenda item we ever really had. If someone was moving – oh my god -

we have to decide again on what to do. And at some point that went wrong. There was

a fight about a move in the house and one of the residents squatted the communal

room as leverage. Squatting! And then evacuating. Yes! the other residents decided

to evacuate her and her stuff!

I still remember that: me

standing there with all these

people moving her stuff out

and thinking oh my God”. And that was pretty much the end of the communal phase.

The women continued to live there but more like neighbours in a conventional sense.

So, Kollontai was a flap, a failed experiment. Or was it? Well, not for me, because


while the adults were arguing

and slamming doors, I was free to

explore what was essentially a living

breathing wikipedia. On the fourth floor I discovered Queen and The Police and I

made my first piece of graphic design – a drawing of a skeletton. It wasn’t awesome.

My friends lived on the third floor.

We used to have sleepovers and ride

old matresses down the


So much fun! I used to go

to the second

floor to be watch the Fourty Towers and other British comings. It’s also where I’ve

got my first lesson in Middle

Eastern Politics. We were

watching the eight o’clock

news when I said: Hey,

Yaseer Arafat looks like a really sweet guy! And my mom looked at me like what?! and

burst out laughing. And I didn’t told you about my favorite floor yet. The first floor,

the long abandoned common

room – it was fool of

everyone’s garbage – the good

kind. Philosophy books, psychology books, clothes, old bikes, tools, paint, random

furniture, disko records and who knows what else. Totally appropriate things for tenyears

old to be playing it. If I think about it, it didn’t really feel like a was living in

apartment building, it actually felt like I was living in a little village. “- Well, that’s

not an unhealthy environment to grow up in. I think a lot of villages have that. They

have their own village idiot and they have their own artist, and they have someone

who just kind of walks around, they have lots

of different people and for children that is

very interesting. It was really interesting and

I never met anyone who grew up the way I





How Millennials are scared of Autonomy

and prefer Networks and Communities





With all the factors such as the unaffordable housing, economical uncertainity

and shifts in the mindset, the co-living phenomenon started recently to rise,

and not only among the young adults, but also among people of all ages who are

increasingly looking for innovative housing solutions. Of course, millennials are

the driving force of the co-living, but other generations today are facing similar

circumstances that are fueling the growth of the communal living.

There is a reason why millenials are seen as the stereotypical end-user for most

co-living communities. Naturally, university students are an important part of this

demographic, and co-living has been normalized for several generations for this

specific stage in life. After graduation, when people become young professionals,

co-living also has been culturally normalized. Additionally, young professionals

have been flocking to large cities with tight real estate markets in search of wellpaying

jobs. Co-living thrives in areas where housing is notoriously unaffordable,

and housing tends to be more expensive in places with healthy job markets.

Beyond the present day economic realities, it’s widely perceived that millennials

are much more open-minded when it comes to co-living. They are known to

value the networking over the autonomy and are definitely more inclined to share

physical space and be a part of community then the previous generations.

But co-living is not just about them, the economic realities driving co-living are

not limited to the youth. Housing affordability has become a major issue in the

vast majority of metro areas around the globe, and every age group is actively

impacted by this growing trend. Also wages and pensions have not kept up with

rising real estate priced. Another major factor driving co-living is the graying of

the population in much of the industrialized world, where entire populations age

quickly. Co-living can often be attractive, if not a necessary option for people as

they age.

Furthermore, local residents, job seekers from other regions, and the global elite

often compete with one another for limited housing stock in the world’s most

prosperous cities. These economic factors make co-living an attractive option for

communities amidst a growing global housing crisis.

Looking beyond the economic factors that have profoundly influenced the growth

of co-living, one cannot discount shifting cultural norms that are influencing

people of all ages and leading them to a co-living lifestyle.


In a digitally driven world where we’re more interconnected than ever, there’s a

pervasive epidemic of loneliness, countless people feel isolated by modern society,

and there’s obviously the need for community. In this sense, co-living is much

more than economic efficiency, it’s also about the natural human desire to create

genuine communities where interaction is a part of daily life. For many, this

perhaps is the most powerful element attracting them to co-living.

Nowadays co-living startups are opening largely in USA and UK (The Commons,

The Collective, WeLive, and so on), gradually they will also spread to Europe. As

regards Asia, China is the most prominent place for those kind of startups to grow.

You+ China

In a digitally driven world where we’re more interconnected than ever, there’s a

pervasive epidemic of loneliness, countless people feel isolated by modern society,

and there’s obviously the need for community. In this sense, co-living is much

more than economic efficiency, it’s also about the natural human desire to create

genuine communities where interaction is a part of daily life. For many, this

perhaps is the most powerful element attracting them to co-living.

Nowadays co-living startups are opening largely in USA and UK (The Commons,

The Collective, WeLive, and so on), gradually they will also spread to Europe. As

regards Asia, China is the most prominent place for those kind of startups to grow.

In China, the co-living was there long time for young professionals - and it is

growing much faster than in the US. One of the reasons of course is also that with

the huge amount of migrant rural population in the cities, it is a really common

practice to share the lodging with others. For now there is one really major player

on the market: the You+, initially opened in Guangzhou and now present in few

big cities in China. The residences proved living units and large amount of public

facilities, all stuffed with the latest technological features.

Most bedrooms are between 20 to 50 square meters, and cost 2,000 yuan ($303)

per month to rent. Bathrooms are private. The minimum duration of a stay is

six months. Many You+ residents are startup founders or employees. Guangzhou

isn’t the startup center that Beijing is, but its large population and proximity to

manufacturing hubs like Shenzhen and Dongguan keep its tech industry relatively

vibrant. They don’t necessarily choose to live in You+ to save money on rent—


2000 yuan per month in Tianhe, on of Guangzhou’s main business districts, will

get one a complete apartment of equal size, and prices go lower in more remote

parts of the city. But You+ lets young Chinese live in an environment that’s more

social than the average apartment complex.

You+ isn’t exclusively for startups—residents in the Guangzhou Baogang branch.

for example, include office workers, service industry professionals, and parttime

models. One resident is a make-up artist by trade who operates a makeshift

convenience store out of her room. Another is is a hairstylist who charges his

neighbors RMB 50 for cuts when he’s around.

The startup founders try to keep a proper mix of regular office workers and selfemployed.

We will also keep a good mix between male and female, singles and

couples [without children].

There are no rules for residents, beyond banning drugs, gambling, and prostitution.

So when problems arise, Yu has to encourage residents to come up with their own

solutions. It has proven popular so far. All the You+ projects have been leased out

within one month after opening and there are still long queues in cities such as

Beijing and Guangzhou.

You+not only provides a bedroom, but also a big shared sitting room for these

young people to make friends and share resources so that they can develop a better

career in big cities. The criteria for project location are the convenient transport,

good living facilities in the neighbourhood and downtown area, but a quiet place,

not facing the main street. Such criteria are set to cut costs as much as to create a

tranquil living environment.


above: drawing by officePROJECT for You+ Shenzhen location, former dormitory building transformed


The Collective, UK

The Collective is a startup operating in London, UK. For now they have one

location in the city: Old Oak building in West London with 546 micro-units with

total 16000sqm, spread over 10 floors and designed by Whittam Cox Architects.

Currently the Old Oak is the world’s largest co-living building. The company also

plans to expand its network in the coming years, two new projects for London are

already launched.

The strategy of the Collective is to combine private studio apartments with stylish

shared spaces, enriched with various events for the community, all included in one

monthly bill. The rent of the living, predicated on high-density, communality and

shared experience is affordable in comparison with the expensive rental market in

London for separate apartments.

The target are those millennials who are moving to London and want to avoid the

trouble of being in a new city without knowing anyone or anything. They also count

on locals, that are feeling lonely in the city and want to try a new way of living.

By settling in the Old Oak one gets an instant network of over 500 people from

all walks of life, that are all eager to share. For many this is a good alternative to

residing in a multiapartment building with having say 500 anonymous neighbours.

Residents are encouraged but not obliged to participate in the community events.

The amenities include communal kitchens, a gym, spa, restaurant, games room,

disco launderette and supermarket, a variety of shared spaces for working, relaxing

and socialising, as well as a concierge, superfast internet, room cleaning and access

to the community led events, such as exercise and yoga, live music, board games,

coding classes and film nights.

From architects: “The building is conceived to safeguard privacy and individual

space but also to allow small intimate clusters of people to spontaneously form

around shared spaces, communal kitchens and dining rooms. These clusters,

predicated on people feeling comfortable in each other’s presence, are key to

community forming. At a large scale, the building attempts to fold within itself the

effects, moods and atmospheres of the city to enable unexpected and sometimes

counterintuitive encounters between its inhabitants. The Collective maximises

shared community spaces through a design that elicits socialization. The nature of

these social spaces, their layout and distribution throughout the building, is perhaps

the most important consideration of the project. The residential component of the

building is also accompanied by a co-working space: an incubator for young startups

which adds its own energy to the communality and creative possibilities of the



the variety of spaces of the Old Oak, photographs from The Collective’s official website


ROAM, Bali, Japan, USA, UK

Roam is an international network of coliving spaces for digital nomads. It was

founded in 2015 by an enterpreneur with architectural background Bruno Haid

and currently operates complexes of furnished residences in Miami, Tokyo,

London, San Francisco and Ubud, in Bali, with some more on the way (in New

York, Berlin and others). The founder’s goal is to expand Roam globally in order

to provide for the members a home literally anywhere. Residents pay rent starting

at $500 a week (depending on the location) to comfortably live and work and have

to possibility to switch location within Roams network.

All the locations of Roam have fully furnished private units with bedrooms and

bathrooms, as well as various communal areas. The access to all communal areas

is unlimited and free, every location has a coworking space (open 24/7), shared

kitchen, and laundry facilities. Communal areas are cleaned every morning.

Rooms are cleaned every other week. Most locations also include extras like a

pool, media room, event space, and other areas for communal gatherings. All

utilities and impeccable wi-fi are included. Food is not included. Classes, trips,

or other activities may cost extra. Up to two people may share a room (friends,

couples, partners, etc). Pets are not allowed in any of Roam’s properties.

The shortest stay period is one week, but the company favors members that stay

longer, because that promotes better connections and a stronger community.

For its first location Roam had chosen Bali, an island in Indonesia that always

captivated travelers and has become a global surfing and yoga hotspot, a place

for reflection and mindfulness, as well as an energetic technology hub for remote

workers from all over the globe. Roam Ubud gives the residents possibility to live

in a relaxed way with a community of likeminded people around and at the same

time be able to work and get things done thanks to the internet access and battletested


With the help of architect Alexis Dornier Roam has fully converted a 1500sqm

boutique hotel into a coliving space with 24 rooms, all with spacious private

bathrooms, sitting area and private patio, all encircling a pool, and a coworking

space on the rooftop, an open space for events like nightly talks, yoga and capoeira.

The ground floor is built around a pool, plenty of space and a large communal

kitchen. The coworking space, eatery and large event area on the rooftop offer

a beautiful view of the whole island. The architecture allows a clear distinction

between the public areas on the rooftop, the communal spaces in the courtyard

and the privacy of one’s very personal unit.


drawings courtesy arch. Alexis Dornier


133 Roam Bali locations

End of vol. II


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