Genossenschaft Kalkbreite Housing Cooperative in Zurich

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Description

SUSANNE SCHINDLER:

"Zürich is, like New York, a prosperous and expensive city, an international banking center with an ample share of the global 1 percent. Yet unlike New York, it has sought successfully to maintain a range of residential options: since the early ’90s, the municipal government has been promoting mixed-income housing — especially large apartments suitable for families with children — in the formerly industrial west side. Cooperatives are particularly popular, and they are being founded by diverse groups — building trades interested in generating work, artists seeking to convert former factories into long-term creative communities, activists intent on keeping neighborhoods diverse. Cooperatively owned non-profits now constitute 22 percent of housing in the Swiss city; and while the majority were built from the 1920s to the 1970s, approximately one-third — about 5,400 apartments — have been constructed just since 2000.

The Kalkbreite cooperative, which opened to residents in spring of this year, is a recent and remarkable example. Located in central Zürich, the 1.5-acre parcel in Kreis 4 — bounded on two sides by busy thoroughfares and on another by below-grade train tracks — had been occupied by a tram depot, and had long been considered too noisy for housing. But in 2006 a group of activist citizens and housing experts held a series of public workshops, and together they took a new look at the old site. Soon the Cooperative Kalkbreite was incorporated, and by 2007 the group had submitted a proposal to the city. This time the authorities were convinced; and what persuaded them was the broad and generous vision. As presented by the cooperative board, Kalkbreite would encompass 54,000 square feet of commercial space and 80,000 square feet of residential space. The project would feature 97 apartments and would accommodate 250 residents of diverse income, ethnicity, and age; it would include a new tram depot with a public park on its roof; it would be socially inclusive and environmentally sensitive.

The residential options were breathtakingly intricate and innovative. The cooperative design responded to changing demographics and the need for multiple household configurations. There were apartments with two, three, four, or five bedrooms for traditional nuclear families; apartments with up to seventeen bedrooms for extended households; and studios with bathrooms and kitchenettes grouped into larger “clusters” with shared common space and a communal kitchen. There would an extra-large group of twenty apartments for fifty residents who would together fund a staffed kitchen; and to allow for the usual household flux — e.g., a grandparent arriving to help the parents of a newborn, a visiting professional in town for a project — there would be nine “jokers,” small units (about 290 square feet) with private bathrooms but no kitchens, distributed throughout the project and available for temporary rental for residential use.

This programmatic mix is an achievement in itself. Within a single building it addresses the kind of demographic diversity and programmatic flexibility that U.S. municipalities have struggled to foster across entire cities — with only fitful success — through initiatives that encourage accessory dwellings, shared housing, or micro-units. 4 And at Kalkbreite the social vision is complemented by a commitment to resource conservation. To this end the cooperative made several key decisions: to optimize the excellent on-site transit connections and forego car parking entirely, instead providing ground-floor storage for several hundred bicycles; to adhere to Switzerland’s rigorous Minergie-P-Eco standards for passive housing construction; and to limit the floor area per resident to 344 square feet, much lower than the 485 square feet now typical in Swiss housing. This last decision allowed Kalkbreite to offer an unusually large number of multi-bedroom apartments — a notably family-friendly approach compared with the current trend toward pod-like micro-units in many high-priced cities.

To propel the project from concept to reality, the municipal authorities granted the Kalkbreite cooperative a 95-year lease on the city-owned land (which enabled the cooperative to qualify for private construction loans). Meanwhile the city council approved 3,25 million Swiss francs (approximately the same amount in U.S. dollars) for a feasibility study, predevelopment costs, and an architectural competition. The competition — standard process for projects with public involvement in Europe — yielded 55 proposals; Müller Sigrist Architekten, along with landscape architects Freiraumarchitektur, were the winners. Construction of the 63-million-Swiss-franc project began in early 2012 and was completed, on schedule, in late summer of this year.

Demand has been strong. By spring 2014, almost 900 people had paid the refundable membership fee of 1,000 CHF (again, about the same in U.S. dollars) and joined the cooperative — the first step in applying for residence. Res Keller, a member of the development team, described this to me in a phone conversation, with obvious satisfaction, as “an ur-form of crowdsourcing.” 5 When I visited the nearly completed project, earlier this year, the first residents had been selected according to criteria stipulated in the cooperative’s statutes — an ethnic, gender, age, and income mix. A glance at the overview of apartments and prices on the walls of the management office — where I saw, for instance, that a three-bedroom, 1,020-square-foot unit required an equity deposit of 25,000 CHF and monthly payments of 1,854 CHF — made it plain that Kalkbreite is indeed meeting the goal of providing below-market-rate housing. And it is attempting to advance broader ideals of social inclusion: while the majority of apartments are targeted to middle-income occupants, the statues allow 20 percent to be rented to high-income residents and permanently reserve eleven units for low-income households. All are full members of the cooperative." (https://placesjournal.org/article/housing-and-the-cooperative-commonwealth/)