Questions on housing: Could we be the “architects” of affordable housing?

Roisin O’Donnell

4th of October 2021


As we analyse the Government’s recent plan to address the housing crisis, this three part series aims to consider what questions are worth asking ourselves surrounding housing, and why.


What kind of space do you want to live in? Our ability and capacity to shape our spaces is rarely considered a priority in the conversation about the production and supply of social and affordable housing. Housing is generally understood to be something people passively receive, or as the case may be, do not receive.


One organisation that is confronting assumptions about how we overcome housing challenges is Self-Organised Architecture (SOA). SOA is a ‘not-for-profit action research think tank’, examining potential of collaborative and cooperative housing in Ireland. SOA’s work is based on the ‘conviction that a house is not just a building, or an asset, it is a home: a place to live’. Community-Led Housing (CHL) encompasses a variety of approaches, including cooperative housing, co-housing and Community Land Trusts (CLTs). Their recent work has been the production of five rich and comprehensive guides to establishing a Community-Led Housing (CLH) infrastructure in Ireland. They define CLH as an ‘empowerment of future residents to meaningfully participate in both the design and long-term management of their homes’.


“Co-living brings images of tiny living environments to peoples minds, which is not at all what co-housing or collaborative housing advocates for


Speaking with Kim O’Shea of Collaborative Housing Limerick, she emphasised that co-housing is a means of creating homes that enable individuals to live intentionally, communally, and often more sustainably. Interestingly, Kim pointed to co-housing and collaborative housing as a means of living in cities that are becoming increasingly expensive, arguing that: “If people could figure out what they want from their living spaces… and come together to find like-minded people who have similar needs, then they could pool their resources and potentially have enough to buy somewhere in the city centres to live. Of course, this is simplifying the idea, so actually going about it is a bit more complex, and certainly very time consuming”.


She identified public perception as one of the barriers to the expansion of collaborative approaches to housing, stating that cohousing “has been incorrectly conflated with the idea of co-living, and brings images of tiny living environments to peoples minds, which is not at all what cohousing or collaborative housing advocates for”. There are now several co-housing and collaborative housing groups across Ireland. The main barriers to their growth include the lack of recognition of Community-Led Housing by state agencies and local authorities, and the lack of access to affordable finance and public land.


Nimble Spaces’ Inclusive Neighbourhoods is one example of the potential of Community-Led Housing. Nimble Spaces is a housing project that was initiated in 2012 by Camphill Community–a community of people with intellectual disabilities living in Callan, Kilkenny–in collaboration with Callan Workhouse Union. One of the first and most important phases was the collective exploration of people’s different ideas of home. Lid Architecture practice used games and movement as a means of determining people’s spatial needs. Nimble Spaces is hoping to soon embark on the construction of a mixture of social and cooperative homes. Nimble Spaces’ Rosie Lynch argues for the power and potential of engaging people’s “innate understanding of [their] needs”, emphasising that many people “just maybe haven’t had the resources, the time, the processes, the support, and the space to be able to articulate those needs”.




This article was supported by: STAND Business and Politics Editor Sean


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