Het Kwarteel: COHOUSING PROJECT FOR THE OVER -45s in CULEMBORG
This cohousing development in Culemborg evolved from the ideas of a group of 30 people who held their first meeting in 1994. The building contains 24 apartments.
Note on the name of the Community
The name ‘Het Kwarteel’ (in English ‘The Kwarteel’ ) is due to the fact that the 30 friends who initiated the project belonged to a national discussion group called ‘Het Kartel’. Subsequently the ‘w’ from ‘woongroep’ (Dutch for cohousing), led to Kartel being changed to ‘Kwartel’ and finally, the word for tile in Dutch is ‘teel’ and Kwartel became Kwarteel.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CULEMBORG COHOUSING PROJECT
Initially we needed to identify our different reasons for wanting to create and live in a community. To do this we carried out a detailed survey and some of the questions and answers are listed below. Happily many of the desires expressed at that time have since been realised.
Some questions and answers:
Why do we want to enter this next phase of our lives together?
– A stimulus for joint activities
– Companionship close to hand
– Not being a burden on family and children
– Starting a project and carrying it out together
– Moving while we’re still fit and ready and able to face new challenges
– Not taking this step alone
– Friends nearby when you’re left on your own
What do we want in common?
– A meeting space, including a library and with a large terrace
– Garden, guestroom(s) launderette, a workshop, a cycle shed
What do we want as individuals?
– Privacy, i.e. our own front door, living-room, bathroom, bedroom, study, kitchen, storage area
What’s the maximum we would be willing and able to pay?
– A purchase price of 300,000 guilders
Where should it be?
– High scores for: in the country, in the centre of the Netherlands and readily accessible by public transport
DESIGN AND PLANNING PHASES
Following the survey 18 people committed themselves to this project, 7 hesitated. This was sufficient for us to start looking for locations. After visiting various places in the country we met Marleen Kaptein who was pioneering the EVA Lanxmeer eco-friendly residential district in Culemborg, in the centre of the country. The earmarked land for this district was close to the railway station and had planning permission for 200 dwellings. We were very taken with the ideas and the enthusiasm of the people who had already made a start there. We decided to become part of their vision.
The immediate consequences of choosing Culemborg were that:
– Our group was halved as a number of people wanted to live on sandy
soil (Achterhoek) so we needed more members
– We became members of the EVA Lanxmeer Residents Association
– We found out that sustainable building is costly building
– We decided to maintain our independence. We set up the Kwarteel Cohousing Development Project Association.
By now it was 1999 and we numbered 10 households. This became the
planning group. A so-called participation resolution was signed, giving these 10 households first choice of the apartments which were to be built.
The Social Process
We knew right from the beginning that it is important to invest a great deal of energy in sustaining the cohesion of the group.
We drew up our Recruitment policy
– In order to recruit new members we spread the word as far as possible and organised an information day
– New members must attend 3 meetings or other group activities
– Then someone from the recruitment committee will ask them if they really want to participate
– Subsequently at least 2 committee members visit the prospective members at home to discuss what kind of apartment is wanted, how it will be financed and questions are asked about their skills and which working group they are interested in
– As soon as the prospective member declares a real interest in membership, the group votes on whether or not s/he should be admitted and if there are sufficient votes there follows a festive admission into the association
– As part of this ceremony a poem the group is fond of is to be read out and given to the new member
We set up a co-ordinating committee which included, where possible, members of the committees responsible for building, finances, obtaining subsidies, legal issues, social issues, the garden.
– With advisors we drew up a critical path
– We chose our architect: opMAAT, a young firm which was gaining a reputation for sustainable, aesthetic building
– We organised a ‘construction safety-net’ in which Principaal, a project developer for residential building associations, played a considerable role, by ‘providing’ a project manager, among other things
– The building contractor was chosen: van Leeuwen, a specialist in timber-framed building
Meanwhile, on the basis of advice from estate agents, the cost per apartment (without the legal/transfer/estate agents fees) was calculated, together with the share of the costs for the common spaces and the garden.
Just when definitive costs had been arrived at and the contractor needed to be paid, a number of participants unfortunately had to pull out for financial reasons. Luckily buyers were found for all dwellings when the building was complete.
Building began at the end of September 2002 and was handed over in November 2003. Now we have a beautiful and friendly building. The architecture emphasises togetherness: two bananas linked by a communal garden.
Challenges we faced:
Costs, which kept rising despite a great deal of economising on the building. These high costs were the consequence of many factors:
– The design of the building
– The sustainability criteria
– Non-identical apartments
– Lack of experience with regulations
– Difficulties in identifying organisations providing subsidies
– Lack of clarity in the early discussions between the architect, project manager and building contractor
What has actually been achieved;
– A housing development in an ecological district and in the centre of the country
– A socially cohesive community
– A beautiful building
– Everyone is pleased with their own apartment
Recommendations and advice for people interested in cohousing:
– Watch the costs: thorough discussion with architect and contractor at an early stage
– Is it better to go for a team of builders rather than a building contractor
– Request an estimate from several contractors
– Consider whether to opt for standardised buildings or different types of dwelling which naturally cost more
– Decide whether or not to include kitchens and bathrooms in the specification
– Visit existing Cohousing schemes
It’s a long journey
The destination isn’t everything: the process itself has a great deal to offer. Our journey together continues, even though the building was completed several years ago.