Culture + Commerce: If I Had a Hammer... Our DIY Future – Are Cohousing and Self-Build the Answer to our Domestic Woes?

Weds 18 September 2013, 7pm

  • The LILAC common house and pond. Courtesy Andy Lord

Can't afford to get on the property ladder? Bored of the latest new builds? Perhaps building your own future is way forward. As rental and property prices escalate ever skywards, the government, like minded individuals, and even a few developers are trying to turn on its head the way the UK thinks housing, by making its planning, actualisation and inhabitation a more participatory activity. Cohousing and self-build have been floated as the answer, and they are not without precedent. In Denmark where the cohousing movement started in the 1960s, it's now estimated that 8% of households are cohousing. At present, only 10% of UK homes are self-built, compared to 80% in Austria, and 60% in Germany. 

In 2012 the government announced the 2011 Community Right to Build Act, which was followed in 2012 by an £8 million mayoral self-build fund for London, to spur on the movement. Yet as of February 2013, the fund had only had two applicants. Can this DIY and communitarian ethos be the answer to today's housing problems, and a growing desire to re-humanise and diversify the city's built fabric?

LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) is the UK's first affordable ecological cohousing project, comprised of a community of 20 households and a common house. Based in Bramley, West Leeds it welcomed its inaugural residents in May 2013. Built with sustainability in mind out of prefabricated ModCell panels and straw bales (and designed by architects White Design), the development seeks to encourage social interaction, and to reduce the economic and environmental footprint of its residents. It has also pioneered new financing models to address the barriers of acquiring a first home, implementing a mutual home ownership scheme and tailoring rent levels according to residents' incomes. 

"I'm sick and tired of noddy houses. I don't understand why our 21st century housing has to look as though it could belong anywhere." So says Grand Designs' Kevin McCloud, who established Hab Housing (Happiness - Architecture - Beauty) to address the mundanity of volume house building. Having recently acquired over £1,000,000 through crowdfunding, following the award-wiining Triangle development in Swindon, HAB is seeking to focus on the custom and self-build market.

Silvia Ullmayer has deep experience in the research and reality of the self-build typology. Her practice cut it's teeth on an award-winning collaborative self-build housing project in 2004, and last year Silvia ran a unit at The Cass exploring self-provided housing models for London, alongside David Kohn.


Paul Chatterton, Founding Member and Secretary, LILAC, Leeds
Jim Dyer, Project Director at Hab Housing Ltd
Silvia Ullmayer, Director at Ullmayersylvester Architects and Diploma Unit Leader at Cass


Dr Cristina Cerulli, Director at Studio Polpo and Lecturer at the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield