Making space for collective living: an urban design guide

One of the basic principles of the Inclusive City is that everyone has equal access to the opportunities and facilities offered by the city. To ensure this equal access, the City of Rotterdam aims to create mixed urban environments. Mixed collective housing enables residents of different incomes and backgrounds to share collective spaces - allowing them to interact, share experiences and thereby access opportunities. With this assumption in mind, we asked: what forms can collective housing take, and how can urban planners and designers play a role in the development of collective housing?

Through design research, in collaboration with the Municipality of Rotterdam, we have mapped what mixed collective living looks like, what types of collective housing forms can be developed and which projects set a good example. This research was made possible in part by the Creative Industries Fund NL.

Why collective living?

Achieving mixed urban environments would not only mean that people of different incomes and backgrounds live scattered across neighbourhoods, equalising physical distance to facilities. It would also mean allowing for random encounters (between people of different social groups). Coincidental encounters can help strengthen mutual trust in a neighborhood - which in turn can lead to new opportunities.

In professions concerned with housing, ideas on cooperative housing as a long-term affordable housing solution are becoming widespread. A housing cooperative is an autonomous organization of individuals who voluntarily unite to meet their common housing needs and desires through a non-profit enterprise, which they jointly own and operate, and which they democratically control. As the cooperative is not-for-profit, its real estate cannot be treated as a commodity. Income that is generated by the cooperative project is not taken as profit, but reinvested in the system itself (Operatie Wooncoöperatie, Arie Lengkeek and Peter Kuenzli, 2022). Cooperatives thus build up capital over time that can be invested into new housing projects, as happened in the case of Zollhaus in Zurich. This project is developed by Genossenschaft Kalkbreite with money earned through their housing project that carries the same name.

Why does it concern us: urban designers?

Experimenting with collective housing forms is not new to the discipline of architecture. However, by the time the architect is commissioned to design a residential project, many choices, that could have promoted collective living, have already been made – often not in favor of collectivity. As urban designers, we influence the quality of residential projects from an early stage. While spatial principles that foster collectivity have been studied extensively on an architectural scale, our common understanding of the impact of these principles on urban design (and vice versa) is still limited. Therefore, we focused on the research question: what can urban designers do to stimulate collectivity?


Urban designers lay out the preconditions for collectivity by fixing certain important aspects, such as the transitions between public-private or the desired GBO - BVO ratio. Certain block typologies are more suitable to house collective housing projects than others. We therefore show block typologies that can facilitate collective housing projects, for instance by allowing enough space for circulation, collective spaces and outdoor (public) spaces.

Spatial principles

Interviews, literature research and the analysis of reference projects analysis have led to the development of eight design principles that should be taken into account to foster collectivity in urban developments.