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Global people of the future will be built in the local houses of the past

We want to build a pilot housing project (SvartsaSkola) combining co-housing, renovation and coop to make way for our youngsters to relearn how to dialogue, cooperate and to reuse resources, in their daily lives, with their neighbors!

Svartsa Skola

What challenge does it solve, how does it work in practice, to whom is it for?

Where and how we live shapes us who we will become. We need to relearn how to live together with each other. Our society is segregating its citizens in small apartments, cages, trapped in four walls, listening only to a computer or TV, ignoring the only people who can help you immediately: your neighbor. We are loosing patience to listen and we discard people as easily as a broken phone. We want to bring back a fundamental principle of living which has been fading away: community living. We want to teach our youngsters that listening and understanding the points of views of others, diversity, is fundamental not only to solve local but specially global problems. To be good citizens, cooperative, understanding, it starts where you grow up. It starts by knowing your neighbor. We intend thus to make a pilot project promoting this in a modern way. This is to be done by means of co-housing, renovation and coop.

In CO-HOUSING, there is a group of apartments or houses which share large common areas for common usage. Everyone has its private space, own bathroom and kitchen but also large and very attractive spaces to share with the neighbors such as a large multi purpose room, workshops, sport zone, sauna, etc. In co-housing, the design of the house is done with the residents. And in this project in particular, the Svartsa Skola, there are no investors. From the very beginning of the process, the inhabitants will learn, together with architects as mediators, to solve their differences. While diversity of opinions and richness of dialogue is fundamental, it is not the whole solution. We need also to show that we live in an interdependent world, with a large cultural baggage. This defines who we are.

In a world endangered by extreme positions and an economy based on extraction (oil dependency) which is damaging our climate, we need to act conscious. A community will not survive by being isolated in their own bubble. We thus propose to RENOVATE. Svartsa Skola is a former school of 109 years old which has been left to sell by the city of Porvoo. Not only its history but its architecture brings relevant information of how to live and how to use local materials for living technical solutions. Learning these and learning too that we need to reinvent things while keeping in touch with our past. We need to show our kids that a circular economy, where we plan the whole life of products, is essential. Like people, we cannot simply discard information. We need to be far more careful with both.

Co-housing and renovation make a strong case, but it is not yet ready. We need to be conscious that along time, people who created the svartsa skola and other co-housing projects will die or move away. Also we need to understand that such projects, not being the standard way, need to be specially resilient against market pressures. To guarantee that, we need to engulf this project within a coop where residents do not own nor rent, but have shares.

What makes this solution innovative and unique?

interior design sketch by Pedro Aibéo

All three solutions, co-housing + renovation + coop, are not unique isolated, but they are innovative if combined together. There are several projects in Finland on co-housing, for example Maltatalo. But all of these are for new buildings. Renovation always brings a larger uncertainty of costs. This has been the main reason why co-housing has focused on new buildings and not on renovating old ones. We believe that with experienced architects and transparency, and plenty of dialogue with the local government, we can unite both, keep the budget realistic while respecting building permit laws.

Until now we have partnered with the city of porvoo, a local bank and others, into starting to make this project into reality. The project team is very diverse, Finns, Greeks, Portuguese, Pakistani, Uzbek and German. From social activists, architects and marketing. The background of the team, and their previous work will also make one understand the point of what makes this project innovative: the cooperative model.

There has also been many approaches in different countries and along time, to the meaning and scope of cooperatives. It is important to revisit its meaning, locally, for starters, in Finland, and expand it globally. All three, co-housing, renovation and coop united, will introduce a new approach for modern living, in pace with the urban density which we cannot escape. Awareness that comes too from communicating with our neighborhood in order to understand how cities work, thus to have a voice in our political matters (politics by definition are the matters of the city).

What kind of impact can such solution have, ie. how does it improve the society?

It is a pilot project on housing. There has been several solutions on co-housing, specially in Denmark where it reaches a large percentage of its residential projects. Also in renovation, where legislation, specially in Europe is getting more flexible to allow special solutions to make way for more economic renovations instead of the usual and dramatic facadism. Cooperatives have also been present since the 1900s in Finland. It was even the Finns who brought this model to the USA creating the first housing cooperatives in New York in the 1920s. Housing cooperatives have declined in the 70s or changed its format considerably after the WW2, specially in Finland.

All these strategies were solutions to improve probably the most important issue of our society: how to live together so everyone can thrive?

We tackle this directly. We do need to improve our society has we see the fall of our democratic models. One way to do so is via education, all of us, from early age, to be able to discuss problems with one's own community.

Ignoring a problem has been an ongoing trend of our society for far too long. Most of us, in the growing process of smart cities and CCTV cameras, rely to other the problem solving, from a hole in the street to violence, to the government or corporations. Many studies are showing that apathy towards other people's problems is growing as well as mental disorders (depression, suicides...). The age of loneliness, as so elegantly described by Monbiot in 2016, warns us that our current political and climate problems are a direct projection of the way we are living our everyday lives, in isolation towards our community. By dealing with the way we live, how we solve local problems and relearn to dialogue, we are improving democracy and dare we to say, impeding further damages to our climate crisis. Our solution will create diversity, and that is the best chance to adapt oneself to changes.

How to evaluate whether the pursued goal has been achieved?

If the house is co-designed successfully, renovated and built, this is already a victory and a proof that it is doable. After some years, we will be able to see how children changed or got used to the idea of pro-actively solving problems and of dialogue. Or how they changed in their simple attitude from competition to collaboration. This is not an Utopian outcome, there are many recorded studies on children whose parents migrated from competition based societies such as Germany, into more collaborative and horizontal ones such as in the Nordic countries, and registered an unusual increase of collaborative patterns among friends. These patterns were recorded in an average period of two years. In our co-housing project Svartsa Skola, we will be able to register similar patterns after few years too. How can such solution be scaled or diffused in the future?

The good news is that many people out there see co-housing, with its cross-generational, multicultural and social mix, as a vital first step to improve their own lives and society too. What we are proposing is to give a step further in this movement and add the details we think will make the difference. We believe that by making a real pilot project coming into fruition, we can enhance the already ongoing movement of co-housing. Obviously in using the triad of co-housing, renovation and coop, we will also naturally create internal discussion on the sources of energy and even of energy independence from the grid. This will naturally, for most of the cases, lead into opting for renewable energy sources, or simply a mix of these (a best approach). In this framework, the ongoing movement on energy source diversity will be strongly attached to the housing construction industry, thus prone to strong global expansion.

The current team:

This project has been ongoing since August of 2016, with the first negotiations with the city of Porvoo. It has been only at the painstaking personal investment of all of the team who believe in the importance of it. Our team members are very diverse:

Pedro Aibeo, portuguese, is the project coordinator and main architect. He has its own architectural practice in Helsinki. He has been designing Museums, houses, Campuses, etc, all over the world. He teaches "Architectural Democracy" at the UNAM (University of Mexico), at Aalto University and Wuhan University (China).

Antti Sarauvo and Natalie Stratakis are the partner architects. They run their own practice Visiomo Oy. They have been at the top of many projects in Finland throughout their career and also in Greece where Natalie is from.

Nurgul Abila is a young architect from Uzbekistan, finishing her masters in Helsinki.

Tuomo Pulkkinen is our youngest member, an architecture student at Aalto. Both of them have been a great help in putting the design ideas into real images.

On the marketing we have Linh Tran (Vietnam) and Ahn Dinh (Vietnam).

In webdeisgn we have Momal Mustaq from Pakistan. She is in Finland since 2 years, with an amazing track record on social activism.

In Graphic Design we have Lars Hogstrom, a young talented graphic designer student at Aalto.

Along this team of people, we are counting with the support, at personal level, of some people of the company FIRA Oy, represented mostly by Mikael Langstrom. Counselling us, is Marcelo Diez from Spain, an architect working in Finland for many years, and initiator of margariinitehdas, the first (sadly failed) attempt of co-housing + renovation project in Helsinki.

The OssusPankki of Porvoo, represented by Waljus Waltteri Ossus has been also supporting us along the process. The city of Porvoo, in special its urban planning team, has been a great support and in direct contact with us.

We are currently contacting construction and project management companies to partner us in this project.

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