“The project in the Hunziker-Areal is all about a new departure for planners, where aesthetic sit alongside ethics, ecology sits alongside economics and social welfare sits alongside the lounge itself”.
While attending the Sustainable Built Environment conference in Zurich last June, I was lucky enough to join the site visit to the “more than housing” living lab – as I like to call it – guided by Andreas Hofer, senior construction manager involved in the project since its early creation.
As we walk into the neighborhood the feeling of new immediately arises. Unusual materials and architectural choices paint the facades of the buildings that surround a big silent, but smiling, square. The children playing and the people engaged dispense a deep sense of community embodied in the shared spaces. Mehr als wohnen is a Zurich neighborhood, home to approximately 1,300 residents since 2015. Initiated and founded by 35 housing cooperatives in Zurich, it is based on the sustainability principles of the “2000 Watt society”, striving for affordability, social diversity and community engagement.
Why did I find it so special and feel the need to tell to folks interested in sustainability about it? Here are my 3 why’s.
1. A car-less life
The inhabitants of this brand new neighborhood – living in number 1 city on the list of the wealthiest ones with the highest GDP per capita in 2015 and 2014 – committed to a life without car. The plots offer different solutions for bike parking; in some buildings there are common parking zones divided by floor, while in others you can find individual spots next to the flat entrance door. There is a “mobility station” where bikes can be rented and it is possible to make use of a car-sharing service.
It is rumored that a long debate took place between architectural firms working on the plan and the municipality, since by regulation it is not allowed to plan a district without enough parking plots for every living unit.
2. Pre, Peri & Post Community Engagement
The second aspect that caught my attention is the structure of the housing cooperative in itself. Probably familiar to many but very new to me, is the concept of ownership while being a tenant. The inhabitants pay a rent but they are also shareholders, buying a part of the neighborhood.
The sense of community is enhanced also in the way the planning process was designed. During the architectural competition, residents and neighbors were allowed to interact with the jury, engaging in a process of dialogue and several participatory sessions that aimed to establish the future principles of cohabitation in the neighborhood. Since the architectural competition, there was a joint effort to bring together future residents, neighbors and public entities through regular events and share information about the progress of the project.
In the cooperative there is currently a reception where inhabitants can refer and where the staff is able to speak different languages to listen and accommodate the needs of the community. But how can they afford such services? Among others, the cooperative built a hotel where guest rooms are available to a special price for the community. In this way the inhabitants who wish to have guests can afford it. The empty rooms are then advertised online at a competitive price and the profit goes into the cooperative budget devoted to provide the services needed. In the district you can find several shops, daycare center, restaurant, bakery, hairdresser and an exhibition space. Other workspaces and office for the 10 people employed are also part of the neighborhood.
3. Innovation as financial mean
Hofer tells that nearly every house has a different ventilation system. This is because over thousands companies were invited to provide and test their prototypes. The neighborhood is a living lab where currently new technologies are functioning and are under study, helping improving high-tech needed to serve sustainable architecture.
More than housing: Cooperative Planning – a case study in Zurich
A+256 Zurich Pilootproject “Meer dan wonen”