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ACT Cohousing history

Urambi Village in Kambah and Wybalena Grove in Cook are similar cohousing developments from the 1970s. Urambi with 72 Townhouses was first, then Wybalena Grove with 100 townhouses.

The Register of Significant Twentieth Century Architecture tells the story of how Urambi was developed; “The formation of a group to develop a site at Urambi required several groups of people willing to embrace the concept of co-operative housing that was based on close proximity of the houses combined with car accommodation set well away from the dwellings, communal facilities and shared communal spaces. The Land Tenure laws needed to be varied to allow the development and the resulting sale of
individual dwellings through strata title all on a non-profit basis.
Dysart (the architect) recalls “Urambi, from the very beginning, had a strong leadership group including Jim Batty, John Mant, Alistair Christie, and they provided an articulate and united nucleus from which the membership expanded to 120. However membership reduced significantly when a 10% deposit was required to ensure financial commitment to the project. This was fortunate as we only had an effective planning capacity of 72”.

The cooperative also developed a strong philosophy of native planting and bush regeneration “even to the extent of a Western Australian wild flower precinct”.

The design brief was to “provide a sense of community by grouping dwelling units to encourage human interaction, maintain individual privacy and make communal aspects far more positive than current suburban and medium density solutions.”

Urambi Village, was designed with space to promote casual meetings. These spaces were created by restricting cars to five entry areas near the road, the establishment of common facilities, such as meeting rooms, a swimming pool and ball court, connected by paths running through a landscape of
predominantly native trees and shrubs.

There have been no other cohousing developments in the ACT since then. An earlier group, Canberra Cohousing was formed in 2000 and received an ACT Housing Grant in 2003 to help develop a proposal to incorporate public housing in cohousing developments. The group closed in 2005 when it was unable to secure a site.

In 2014 the Institute of Architects, in co-operation with the ACT Government, ran a competition for new and progressive housing designs in Canberra. The intention was that ideas generated through the competition might be used for the ACT Planning Authority to improve our planning regulations but this
has not occurred. However Alan Spira entered a cohousing design and we hope that it will become part of the inspiration for a future project.

Australian Cohousing


Looking more broadly around Australia there are a mix of urban cohousing development and rural ecovillages with strong cohousing developments.
The first Cohousing community built in Australia was Cascade Cohousing in Hobart which is a unit/strata titled development of 13 households. Hobart also has a social housing cohousing development of 12 households, the Cohousing Co-operative. The Pinakarri Community in Fremantle comprises 8 eight rental houses for low- income members and 4 four privately owned homes. In Victoria there is a cohousing based rental coop with 20 households at Murundaka in Heildeberg Melbourne and the Paddock at Castlemaine. In Adelaide there is Christies Walk with 27 dwellings on 2,000 square metres.

NSW has BEND in Bega with 21 building sites, Narara Ecovillage in the Central Coast which is still under development as well as many rural communal and alternative developments some dating to the 1970s
and more recent such as permaculture inspired Jarlanbah Community.

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