Charles Durrett is an architect often credited with introducing the concept of cohousing to the United States through his co-authored book, Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves. Over a number of years, he has built a career around this idea – one he was introduced to as a student in Copenhagen. These Danish housing projects captured his imagination enough that he set about bringing this novel idea to the U.S.
Today, Charles oversees The Cohousing Company, which designs cohousing projects for many kinds of clients. A typical design includes densely packed cottages of 30 or so homes that form a ‘village,’ with a liberal sprinkling of communal areas and amenities, occupied by people who want to live co-operatively. The historical idea of planned communal ‘villages’ in the U.S. is not totally new – you have everything from worker housing to the freeform communes of the 1960s and 70s. But Charles has taken it further, inspired by the Danish model and adding in a dash of the principles of New Urbanism. Most interestingly, Charles describes himself as more of an anthropologist than an architect because every design begins with a deep dive into the psyche of the 30 families that plan to live together. Only once he understands how they want to live their lives, does he embark on the process of designing the physical place.
Charles has received numerous awards and regularly gives presentations on cohousing to interested citizen groups. He has spoken before the United States Congress and has lectured at many universities. His most recent book is A Solution to Homelessness in Your Town, about the Valley View Senior Housing project, built in 2019 in Napa County, CA. Charles lives in Nevada City, CA, in a community he and his office designed.
Insights and Inspirations
- Cohousing is just a modern-day village.
- Financing a cohousing project is easy. 70% of the homes are pre-sold and banks like that!
- Contrary to expectations, over half of cohousing inhabitants are introverts.
- Cohousing owners believe that their life will be easier if they live co-operatively. That’s the common thread.
- To design cohousing one must be as much an anthropologist as an architect, making sure that what is designed serves the eventual occupants.
Read the podcast transcript here
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Eve: [00:01:16] Today, I’m talking with Charles Durrett, an architect often credited with introducing the concept of cohousing to the United States. Charles has built his career around this idea, one he was introduced to as a college student in Copenhagen. These Danish villages captured his imagination. And so he set about bringing this novel idea home. Today, he oversees The Cohousing Company, which designs cohousing villages for a variety of clients. His designs are densely packed cottages of 30 or so homes that form a village with a liberal sprinkling of communal areas and amenities. They are occupied by people who believe their lives will be easier if they live together. You’ll want to listen in. If you’d like to join me in my quest to rethink real estate, there are two simple things you can do. Share this podcast or go to Patreon.com/rethinkrealestate to learn about special opportunities for my friends and followers and subscribe if you can.
Eve: [00:02:27] Good morning, Chuck. Thanks so much for joining me today.
Charles Durrett: [00:02:31] Well, top of the day. Thanks for having me.
Eve: [00:02:33] Very good. So, you’re known as a cohousing expert, and I wanted to start by having you explain what is cohousing?
Charles: [00:02:43] Oh, well, yes, cohousing is at some level, it’s a custom neighborhood. It’s very much for people who are quite motivated to live in a high functioning neighborhood. When I first discovered it, I met a woman in Denmark who said that her and her husband grew up in high functioning neighborhoods. And it was pretty much chance these days to find a neighborhood where people knew each other, cared about each other and supported each other. So cohousing has six fundamental components. One is that the future residents are very much a part of making it happen. And it turns out they’re better at making neighborhoods function than any bureaucrats, business people, bankers, builders, even architects, frankly. I’ve done about 55 cohousing now, and every time somebody says, Hey Chuck, why don’t you just design it? We’ll see if we like it. And I always say no, because with you we’ll do a much better job, and we’ll make a more high-functioning neighborhood. And that’s really been the case, no doubt about it. So, future residents extended common facilities, self-managed design that facilitates knowing each other over time, completely resident managed and no hierarchy of decision making.
Eve: [00:04:05] So what did you learn about cohousing?
Charles: [00:04:08] I learned, I went to the University of Copenhagen in 1980 and…
Eve: [00:04:12] Lucky you.
Charles: [00:04:13] You know, it was fantastic, actually. Really fantastic. And walking home from school one day, I just stopped, and I noticed as I was walking by single family houses, there was no life between the buildings, walking past apartments and apartment buildings. There was zero life. Condos, none. Assisted care, none. And then there was this one neighborhood that every single day that I walk by, when the weather was halfway decent, there would be people outside sitting at picnic tables talking to each other, kids running freely in and out of a building where it looked like nobody lived, but everybody lived. And that turned out to be the common house. And I just stopped and asked this young mother, hey, what’s going on here? in my broken Danish and she answered me in her perfect English that, yeah, this is a neighborhood that we made. And we made it so that we lived in an environment that we felt was not only healthy but sustainable over time. Anybody who hopes to make a single family house that is remotely sustainable is just putting lipstick on a pig, no doubt about it. I mean, we’ve got enough single family houses. We need to make villages now.
Eve: [00:05:26] So were there any cohousing projects at the time in the U.S.?
Charles: [00:05:31] Zero. We came back and made the first one and it was built and finished in 1991 in Davis, California, Muir Commons. Very much based on the Danish model and it’s elaborated on extensively in our book called Creating Cohousing, as well as another 200 other communities have been built since that first one was built in 1991.
Eve: [00:05:54] So how big was the first community?
Charles: [00:05:57] 26 houses and that’s about par for a new cohousing community, 26 to 30 houses. I mean enough people that everybody relates well with five or six others and turn into good friends and not so much that, not so much the consensus and other decision making and management becomes difficult at all.
Eve: [00:06:25] And architecturally, because you’re an architect, so what do these, what does a housing cohousing project look like? How does it differ from, you know, a regular neighborhood or an urban neighborhood or a suburb?
Charles: [00:06:40] Well, fundamentally, it’s quite different. You’ll notice when you walk in. I mean, it’s very much a modern-day village. And the Danes would say they’re not creating anything new. They’re just recreating what used to happen naturally. We now have to make very consciously and subconsciously we have to get our sleeves rolled up and make them happen. So, for example, imagine a typical suburban block and and now imagine when you drive on to that street with nice little porches and all the rest, that you everybody parks at the very end of the street and walks by all the other houses on their way home. That fundamentally changes the nature of a neighborhood basically where you see everyone, that’s germane in terms of knowing them and, you know, it plays a big role down the line. Now, imagine you take all the garage doors off of the front of the houses and you move the houses, oh, instead of a typical suburban neighborhood is about 110 feet doorknob to doorknob. And our houses range about 20 to 30 feet, doorknob to doorknob. And so now when you walk by, you can see the smile on the face of the person in their kitchen waving at you. And it’s simply the opposite of anonymous housing or spread out housing or even warehousing like a typical apartments are. And now imagine where that street used to be there are sandboxes and play cards and picnic tables and gardens. And that’s what a cohousing looks like, basically. Quite different.
Eve: [00:08:23] In addition to housing people in a friendly manner, there’s also sort of the urban design aspects of bringing activity to the street, that really part and parcel of it, of the sounds of it.
Charles: [00:08:37] Oh yeah. I mean, like to the tune of thousands of people hours per week. In a typical cohousing neighborhood, there’s thousands of people hours per week of communing basically with each other. How’s Johnny, I heard he wasn’t feeling well. Hey, I’m taking my kids to the zoo this weekend, are you interested? And if you were to walk down a typical single family house neighborhood, you’d probably find less than one hundred people hours a week of people communing. I mean, really barely extends past salutations, rarely passed salutations. So, but it does. And there are some fantastic neighborhoods in the U.S., but far too few. Probably runs much less than one percent. And then the common facilities play a big role. I live in a 34-unit cohousing and we have dinner in the common house available six nights a week for anybody who wants to make it. You sign up a couple of days in advance. But we usually have 30 to 40 people there a night, and there’s nothing like breaking bread together to enhance and sustain a sense of community. No doubt about it. I mean, it’s timeless.
Eve: [00:09:51] Interesting. So, was it hard to get the first one, the first project done?
Charles: [00:09:56] And by the way, we also have a childcare center on site, and we just have a lot of things in our neighborhood where, a music room, a lot of things that stitch us together. Was it difficult to get the first one done? Well, you know, people often ask us, you know, Chuck, or ask me is, is it the zoning codes that make it difficult? Is the bankers that make it difficult? And that has not been my experience. My experience has been very much it’s our culture that’s challenging, makes it challenging. We’re very much grown up on the shirttails of movie stars like John Wayne, who, by the way, has starred in more movies than any other actor or actress in American history at 126 films. So, that’s a lot of propaganda about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, which is probably a big reason we have millions of homeless people in this country, is because that’s a myth that does not work. What does work is people helping people. We know that. I can imagine a community pulling you up by your bootstraps, but I cannot imagine you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. It is physically impossible. So, our culture is slowly but surely making a shift. And that’s great. The second cohousing community we finished in the U.S., hardly anybody was born in the U.S. Which is interesting and it’s largely because…
Eve: [00:11:23] That is interesting.
Charles: [00:11:23] Yeah, it’s largely because these are people from the Philippines, from Mexico and other places where it was obvious to them that community was fundamental to their quality of life. And so it was not a big culture shift. So…
Eve: [00:11:39] Perhaps also extended families which are in the community, right?
Charles: [00:11:44] And they were away from their extended family. So they were seeking other means to grow nearer to the people that lived around them.
Eve: [00:11:54] Really interesting. So, since you built the first project, have they evolved at all to suit U.S. culture?
Charles: [00:12:04] Yes, absolutely. I think U.S. culture is evolving as well. But the key thing about cohousing is it’s very much based on who that group of people are. I mean, I feel like I’m as much of an anthropologist as I am an architect. My job is day in and day out figuring out who this group of people is. How do they stitch their shifts together in general? What do they care about? Where are their values? What are their experiences? And I built two cohousing communities right across the street from each other and been quite different, actually. Because it’s very much designed to reflect the values of that group of people and fit like a glove, consequently. Some of them that we built today are almost exactly like the first one we built them, but more likely all of them in between have been quite different, quite, quite different. What is interesting is what are the constants? And the constants seem to be that the common denominator among all these thousands of people that now live in cohousing, the common denominator is they have one thing in common, and that is that they believe that their life will be easier, more convenient, more practical, more economical, more healthy, more interesting, more fun if they give cooperation with their neighbor the benefit of the doubt. And in other words, if we don’t cooperate on anything unless we consent to it. But consequently, we have one lawnmower for 34 houses. We have one swimming pool for 34 houses. We have one hot tub. We have hundreds of things we share. We have discovered that we can successfully share together.
Eve: [00:13:47] Have you ever done a survey on how many introverts versus extroverts we have in cohousing projects?
Charles: [00:13:54] That survey has been accomplished numerous times with surprising results. The general population is running about 60 percent extroverts and 40 percent introverts, and the cohousing population runs about 60 percent introverts and 40 percent extroverts.
Eve: [00:14:12] Oh, that’s really fascinating. Really fascinating because introverts get the energy by being alone, having a lot of alone times.
Charles: [00:14:21] Exactly, but on cohousing is very, very much designed to give you as much community as you want and as much privacy as you want.
Eve: [00:14:29] And I say that because I’m an introvert, so I know how I get my energy.
Charles: [00:14:33] Right. Sure.
Eve: [00:14:34] Interesting. It’s really interesting. So what’s the process like then? Walk me through the process to design a cohousing village.
Charles: [00:14:42] Okay, I will. And by the way, that is the one common denominator among not only every American but every European I’ve met. I’ve been to about 385 cohousing communities, the one common denominator is that these are people they distinctly want to balance between privacy and community as opposed to feeling like they have as much privacy as they want and as much privacy as they want. And cohousing, they want as much privacy as they want and as much community as they want as well.
Eve: [00:15:08] Interesting.
Charles: [00:15:09] That’s distinctive. The process. Well, typically, somebody has gotten a hold of our book called Creating Cohousing and or the book Senior Cohousing by myself or and Creating Cohousing was written with Kathryn McCamant and has a little study group in their town. And then those eight or nine people invite either Katie or I to come to that town. I’m actually getting on a plane on Thursday and going to Richmond, Virginia, and that’s typical. So then I’ll do a presentation, usually an hour or two. They usually have about 100 or 150 people show up. And from there they’ll have what’s called a Getting It Built Workshop for the 15 or 20 households that are motivated to proceed. And that’s two days of this is how this whole thing gets built. The residents play a big role in the development, and they figure out how to get everybody on board. Even those who come to the table who really can’t afford it. So, there’s some grant writing involved and such. And then after the getting built, let’s say there’s, where I live 25 houses at the Getting It Built Workshop. 21 households were at the next workshop, which is Site Designing. Where we do exercises to figure out how far we’re going to make the houses away from each other and all the rest. And then Common House Design Workshop a month later and then Private House Design Workshop a month later. And then we go through the design of the whole project. And then there’s bank financing that has to be procured and building permits. And while the buildings are being built, the group hammers out their management, how many days a week they’ll have dinner and all the rest and kind of goes like that. That sounds easy, but they take two to three years to pull off.
Eve: [00:17:15] Yeah, I’m sure. So, I have two really big questions. And one is about NIMBYism. What are the neighbors think when you build a village like this? And the second issue is how do they get financed?
Charles: [00:17:27] Yeah, question one, that is a really good question. I’m surprised rarely do people ask that. I guess most people don’t know what goes into getting a project built, and dealing with the neighbors is certainly one of the biggest hurdles.
Eve: [00:17:41] I know. I’m an architect by training and I used to work at a planning department, so, yeah, I’m pretty familiar.
Charles: [00:17:49] So and yeah. And it’s a workout. In 55 projects though, we’ve only had one stop by the neighbors, oddly enough. So we have a much better track record. But it has to do with the fact that, you know, you get two or three nursing moms up at the podium and asking the city counselors, why wouldn’t you approve this? I need this. In fact, I need it by September so my other kids can go to school, etc., etc. So, the human appeal really eclipses the normal “just say no to the developer” attitude. And the magic bullet really is being able to put 150 people in the room that are saying, why wouldn’t you build this project? You know, it’s just prejudices and all the wrong reasons. So, and especially today, with affordable housing being such a crisis in the U.S., we’re running into much less NIMBYs than we used to. And now I don’t have to fill the room of 150 people but more like 50 to 100 before the bureaucrats and the politicians say, hey, we just have to do this. But we had some absolutely miracle projects, right? Pulling a rabbit right out of the hat. Like, for example, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Vancouver, B.C., where we have bought with the group a single family house on a big lot and transformed it into 24 houses in one case.
Eve: [00:19:16] Oh, wow, that’s fantastic.
Charles: [00:19:18] 31 houses in another case. And we’re just doing that more and more. And it’s even getting better than that. We just have our first case right now in Auburn, California, where the county has come to us and said, Chuck, if you build a high functioning neighborhood on this property, we will give you this 4.6 acres. That’s very European. And it’s the first case in the U.S., some 30 years after we introduced it to the U.S. So.
Eve: [00:19:46] And what about financing and banks who are traditional?
Charles: [00:19:49] Yeah, they are. Well, there’s a couple of things that they really like about cohousing. The main one that they like is that the project is pre-sold, so we don’t start construction without 70 percent pre-sales. So compare that to a regular developer who’s now designing 30 units, but not one single pre-sell. So, they have to do this market study after market study. I know a woman developer who just spent 350,000 dollars on a market study to prove to the banks that her houses will sell. And we just spend zero money on the market study because they’re at the table and then not only at the table, but they put in their down payment to get the project built, which is 20 percent of the value of their house. So these are people with real skin in the game. If they walk, they also lose. So the market walks, they lose. And, you know, there’s nothing like getting a project approved. And when I meet with the bank the first time, I usually ask a couple of the residents to come. And, you know, everybody just says, hey, these are just people. I mean, you know, you got to get past all the prejudices about, you know, a village which could look like a commune under the wrong circumstances, but it never does. I mean, it’s far from a “commune”. There’s no guru, there’s no strident back to nature ideology. There’s just people who want to live lighter on the planet and live closer to other human beings. I mean, the banks themselves realize that they’ve been looking in the rearview mirror too much. You know, what sold last week.
Eve: [00:21:19] Exactly.
Charles: [00:21:20] They want to get past that.
Eve: [00:21:22] Yes. Yeah. So I’m getting the sense that you play a very large role in getting these projects off the ground because you go to the bank with them. You make sure that there’s enough people at hearings. So explain what your role is in a process like this with a community.
Charles: [00:21:42] Well, ostensibly, I’m the architect and however I’m an architect, I’m going to argue with a little bit of a mission and whatever the mission presents itself, I have to help solve. So, for example, nobody would publish our first book, which came out in 1988 and ended up selling 30,000 copies and just a couple of years. But, so we published it ourselves and sold 3,200 copies in the first six months and then another publisher picked it up. So, you know, sure we’ve run it up against too much skepticism, no doubt about it. America is an innovative land, but not socially. When it comes to social innovations you look to the Swedes, the Danes, the Finns and so many others, and so we barely know how to sustain a viable society. I mean, it’s clear. And so we just basically have to do whatever is necessary. I mean, I had to learn about publishing. I had to learn about kerning and letting and fonts and all the things that I formerly didn’t care about at all. So whatever presents itself, we have to embrace and get past that hurdle. So that’s our big problem.
Eve: [00:23:03] You’re a problem solver. So tell me, is there a typical cohousing project in terms of amenities and or are they all like, what sort of amenities to they have and how do they vary and why?
Charles: [00:23:16] Well, I’ll describe a couple. Where I live, we have a lovely common dining room. I mean, the acoustics have to be perfect from an architect point of view, a lovely super gourmet kitchen, much more gourmet than any of the private houses. I mean, there’s one very, very gourmet kitchen for 34 houses and then there’s 34 standard kitchens. We have a kids room where we have child care and after school and after dinner play, we have a lovely music room with a piano and we have lots of musicians there that teach the children after school music and you know, and then they do rehearsals at the local assisted care and recitals at the nursing care, et cetera, et cetera. We have, for sustainable reasons, 26 of the 34 houses use a single laundry because that’s the only place we can have recycled grey water and use 100 percent biodegradable detergent. We have two guest rooms, which means that, you know, the single family, the houses could be smaller. People didn’t need a third bedroom for potential guests. So, there you can, you can book them out up to two months, two weeks, a year. But most people, we don’t really pay attention to that. But that’s our goal. And they’re full all the time. We have a lovely sitting room with a fireplace with lots of men’s clubs and stuff like that happens in the evenings. And women’s knitting happens and quilt making happens on the weekends. And we have a lovely teen room, which is fantastic. We moved in with 21 seniors and 37 kids and the rest were adult parents. And you know, I went to the teen room one night and there were 21 teens there. Actually, only ten of them lived in the cohousing and they were having a slumber party on the outside deck there and it was midnight and I just popped in on them to see how everyone was doing. And I counted 21 kids. And then coincidentally, the next morning in the Sunday New York Times, I read that the safest thing you can do with your teenagers, because being a teenager in America is relatively dangerous, is to keep them at home and however they want to be where the action is. So you want to make the action in your neighborhood and basically keep them at home.
Eve: [00:25:50] Yeah, yeah.
Charles: [00:25:51] And so we have a great workshop. I mean, it’s fantastic. We can build, people build all kinds of stuff in the workshop, and people are learning from each other all the time. You know, the things are one thing, but really, they’re just all a format for us to learn from each other all the time. Some people like myself make homemade bread for dinner for the common dinners, and other people are learning how to make common homemade bread and all the rest. So, it’s all about what am I getting out of it? I hate to say it, but I think, and Ayn Rand was correct, and it’s all about me and yet, and so that’s the way it’s kind of set up. Everybody feels like they’re getting something out of it and therefore it just it just continues to grow that way.
Eve: [00:26:33] Interesting. So, you know, I know in the U.S., each state seems to have a cultural vibe of its own. And there’s some states where we’re more housing projects have been built than others.
Charles: [00:26:47] Oh, yes, for sure. And there are.
Eve: [00:26:50] That was a loaded question.
Charles: [00:26:51] That was a loaded question. California has by far the vast majority of cohousing because as Paul Ray, in his book, Cultural Creatives, points out, and he was our keynote speaker at one of our yearly conferences, as he points out, the people who move into cohousing are, in fact, cultural creatives because they don’t feel like they have to do what the parents did. It’s not interested in growing old like my parents did. They were wasted away in a big, dumb, single family house. And then they went off to assisted care and then they went up to nursing care. I’m not interested in growing up like my little brother did, where I had already left the house and my little brother was alone and forlorn and watching video games and social media all the time. I think there’s only like two or three residents in our 34 houses that even have a TV. TV is not a big part of growing up where we live. Running out the front door is and having races in the swimming pool and just goes on and on. I mean, I know I make it sound a little bit idyllic, because I feel that every time I walk home from work every day. But managing it is a workout, by consensus does make it a workout. The thing I love about cohousing more than anything else, above all, is how many people that live there that say the best part about living there, is I’ve learned how to get along with other people. I take these lessons to my church. I take these lessons to my school. I take these lessons to my work. And I know from my own experience, my daughter is 29 now, works for a Congresswoman in D.C., but she worked for the U.N. for four years and I just watched her go to Africa and introduce different concepts to different villages like clean cookstoves, so young girls weren’t walking in the middle of the night to go get firewood, etc. and Jesse simply knew how to help people get organized. She simply knew how to work with a lot of different people, both at the U.N. and in the villages. So, she had something to offer, and people wanted to listen to her because she knew how to get her proposal passed.
Eve: [00:29:02] So you’ve also written a book on housing the homeless. How does that tie into your cohousing work?
Charles: [00:29:09] Well, thank you for asking. There is a movement afoot called Housing First, and I fully respect it. It’s about getting a roof over people’s heads and then you can deal with their alcoholism and their mental illnesses and they’re just down and out situation. But I’m a big believer in community first because I’ve seen too many times now where I’ve built a homeless project like a five-story project in downtown San Francisco, where the residents currently make dinner for each other six nights a week again, and how community has played such a huge role. And they’re leveraging relationships to bettering their lives. I’m infinitely impressed with a project in Eugene, Oregon, called Opportunity Village, where they built 30 units for 8,000 dollars each, volunteer labor mostly, but with the homeless. And then after the volunteers left and the homeless were left to self-management with some help from some local elders, from various churches, all of the amazing things those guys did. First, they had trucked in water. They had porta potties trucked out. They didn’t have a kitchen, et cetera, et cetera. They built the trenches for the water, the sewer.
Eve: [00:30:32] Wow.
Charles: [00:30:32] Then the dining facilities. And then they put heat in the units because the first winter, they had no heat. These were just little tiny boxes. And one person was clever with getting some solar panels donated. And then they put in some batteries and then they were able to create some heat. Now all 30 of them have heat. I mean, I’m just astounded by how much cleverness out there is homeless. It’s just astounds me. Every time I organize a new project, some very wise people come to the table and given the right format, they can actually provide for each other immensely. And we’re so hellbent on victimizing those folks. I wish they would just move on that we don’t even embrace the potential there and help those people reach the potential. It’s very sad. So, yes, I do hope a lot of people get the book, A Solution To Homelessness In Your Town, because it’s to the extent that that book stays in circulation is to the extent that more will be built.
Eve: [00:31:40] Just changing text a little bit. Are there any current trends or innovations in real estate development that you believe are important for the future?
Charles: [00:31:48] Oh, there’s actually a lot, but I wouldn’t call them trends per say. I would call them innovations. And unfortunately, those innovations are sexy and interesting and yet don’t get the kind of traction that they need. I mean, the Congress for New Urbanism, for example, I mean, building towns that feel more urban instead of more suburban. No strict commercial, no boxes surrounded by a sea of asphalt, which is America everywhere. You know, if you drive through Spokane, Washington; Sacramento, California, it’s just parking lot after parking lot after boulevard after box in the middle of a pool of asphalt. So, however, the most distressing part of the whole thing is I don’t know what the percentage of last year. They were probably about 1.2 million houses built in America and by probably over a million were single family houses. And that’s the trend that we’re continuing on, simply because that’s the rearview mirror. You build out into the farmland. And if you build on the farmland, you won’t have any NIMBYs, as you alluded to earlier. If you build into the farmland, you won’t have any management issues because these people are not organized. It is the path of least resistance for the banks. If they sold last time, they’ll probably sell this time. It is the most deleterious solution that we could come up with for the planet or for us as healthy social beings. They say that our second responsibility as a species is to get along. The first responsibility is surviving, and that’s true for every species. But getting along is particularly important for our species. And if we don’t get along, we might not survive. So, it really feeds into priority number one. And yet if you put everybody in a box, equidistance, atomize, estranged they’re not going to know how to get along. That possibility will wane further. And I’m very concerned about the vast majority. So, it is it’s going to take more people. I’m mentoring as many young people as I can these days to become architect activists, because it turns out, just like the CNU, the architects are better than average activists.
Eve: [00:34:19] Yeah, I think that’s true. So what’s, final question, what’s next for you?
Charles: [00:34:25] Well, like I said, I’m getting on a plane and I’m going to Richmond. I’m working with the Chickahominy Indian Tribe, and I see that as the future. I mean, it kills me when I, when they first called me and said, you know, our old people are dying in nursing care and it’s as far away from our traditions as humanly possible. We have to figure out who we are and respond to that, not what the institutions are providing for us now. And so, this is going to be housing and a child care, nearby on the same property. Right? I mean, I’m going to have a super close. It’s going to be a village and I’m going to make it I’m going to make it reflect their needs, wants and desires as distinctly as possible. But I’m also going to challenge them a little bit to go back to their previous priorities so that we’re not hedging our bets. So, you know, I’m increasingly playing an activist role, but I only take the Chickahominy as far as they feel comfortable. But I’m taking the American population as far as they feel comfortable because I’m hellbent on getting these projects built, because I know it’s a better way to go. So there’ll be more activism in my future.
Eve: [00:35:40] I’m looking forward to it. I really enjoyed this conversation, and I can’t wait to visit one of your villages.
Charles: [00:35:46] Will you live in Pittsburgh, huh?
Eve: [00:35:49] I do.
Charles: [00:35:50] The closest one is Ithaca, New York. I don’t know. I don’t know where the closest one is to you.
Eve: [00:35:57] I’ll have to do a Google Search.
Charles: [00:35:59] But we need to get some more in PA, that’s for sure.
Eve: [00:36:01] We do, we do. Well, thank you so much.
Charles: [00:36:04] You’re welcome. Good. Thank you very much, Eve. Appreciate it.
Eve: [00:36:19] That was Charles Durrett. The historical idea of planned communal villages is not new. You have everything from worker housing, such as Pittsburgh’s Chatham Village, to the free form West Coast communes of the 1960s and 70s. But Charles has taken it a little further, adding in a dash of New Urbanism. Most interestingly, Charles describes himself as more of an anthropologist than an architect. Every design begins with a deep dive into the psyche of the 30 families that plan to live together. Only once he understands how they want to live their lives does he embark on the process of designing the physical place.
Eve: [00:37:10] You can find out more about this episode on the show notes page at EvePicker.com, or you can find other episodes you might have missed, or you can show your support at Patreon.com/rethinkrealestate, where you can learn about special opportunities for my friends and followers. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Images courtesy of Charles Durrett and The Cohousing Company