Mehr als Wohnen

Pioneering Collective Living
A radical housing co-op that challenges the norms of private and shared space to provide a model for significantly reducing individual consumption whilst making the most of communal luxury


The standard model of developer-led housing that dominates cities around the world typically delivers rigid, single-family units that are prescriptive in how they can be used. This creates a number of problems: firstly, units lack flexibility and adaptability; secondly, provision is standardised around the most common ways of living, excluding anything and anyone with non-standard housing needs. Such rigidity and lack of diversity in the provision of housing breeds redundancy: as times change, and patterns of occupation and family structures evolve in response to social and environmental change, certain buildings become difficult to use and (instead of being retrofitted) end up being demolished and replaced.1Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till, Flexible Housing (London: Routledge, 2008).

At the same time, these houses are seen as much as investments as they are places to live— investments that are to be defended, not shared. The financialised model of housing not only excludes vast swathes of the population from access to good housing, but creates a culture of where housing is primarily valued as property (exclusive, individual) rather than community (enabling, shared). In relation to climate, alternative housing models are needed to avoid the built-in obsolescence, inflexibility, and restrictive patterns of ownership and tenure that are built into the market system of housing. 


The protagonists behind the radical housing cooperative Mehr als Wohnen (“more than housing”) describe their flagship development Hunziker Areal in Zurich as both urban settlement and research project.2Anna Haller, Andreas Hofer, Agnès Laube, Peter Schmid, and Andrea Wieland, A Vision Becomes Reality – 10 Years Lessons Learned (Zurich: Mehr als Wohnen, [n.d.]) <> [accessed 4 July 2023], p. 5. This attitude reflects the unfinished or experimental nature of the community. Supported by the City of Zurich—who owned the former industrial site—and realised through an international architectural competition, Mehr als Wohnen was intended as an experiment into the radical potential of co-operative living, and as both a celebration and reinvigoration of Zurich’s urban housing policy.3Ibid., p. 7. It makes use of experimental leasing and financing models: “Social and ecological commitments as well as investment in art within architecture are part of the long-term lease contract”, and membership rules prevent residents from profiting from their dwellings.4Ibid., p. 9. Rents are kept low by the co-operative’s principle of non-profit, meaning “average costs for apartments are 20-30% less than market values for comparable apartments”.5‘More than Housing’, World Habitat <> [accessed 4 July 2023].

The design was led by Anne Kaestle and Dan Schürch of Duplex Architects, with other architects leading on different blocks. The combination of housing, workspace, and communal facilities that makes up the development as a whole is reflected in the planning of individual blocks, which mix private and communal spaces in innovative ways, generally by minimising the individual accommodation (a one-person studio can be as little as 25 square meters) to allow for generous shared facilities such as kitchens, dining and living areas, laundries, and playrooms. This system of clustering around shared facilities also works at a large scale, as the thirteen blocks are intersected by open spaces for a wide range of uses, as well as workspaces, restaurants, and shops. 

“It’s exactly this tension that makes up the special feature of this project: on the one hand, security and privacy and, on the other hand, the wide range of opportunities to be part of the community.”6‘More than living, Zurich , 2009–2015’, Duplex Architects <> [accessed 4 July 2023].

Mehr als Wohnen builds on existing co-operatives housing models, which have a particularly long history in Switzerland and significant financial and political support, by going to quite extreme lengths to challenge spatial norms vis-à-vis private and shared space. It is planned according to the principles of the 2000-Watt society, and reflects this holistic philosophy of radically reducing individual consumption whilst making the most of communal luxury. Conditions of climate breakdown will require new spatial models of how to live together in a manner which is equitable and does not rely on financialised and exploitative systems of land and housing. Coop schemes such as Mehr als Wohnen, and the stems of ownership and tenure within the coop protocols, provide inspirational examples of how new living patterns are not just feasible but desirable. 


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