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Space planning influence on social interaction between residents in an urban Senior Cohousing community

Space planning influence on social interaction between residents in an urban Senior Cohousing community

Gabriela Fonseca Pereira

Design, Housing, and Merchandising

Senior Cohousing is a type of community developed for group living, providing a new concept of community; it is a place where the residents live as a community intentionally, engage with the cohousing management, and participate in social activities. Both the space planning and the activities residents participate in collectively are designed to achieve an active social life. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of how the space planning of a senior cohousing community impacts the social interactions and activities between the residents. Additionally, this study aimed to identify which features in the space planning positively or negatively influence the socialization between residents. Residents of a senior cohousing community in an urban area in the Midwest of the United States were invited to participate in this study. The criterion to participate was to be living in the community for at least six months. A total of 14 of the 20 residents participated in this study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant and questions related to space planning and social interactions were asked. The space planning features, which positively influenced the social interactions, were the front door and the large windows in the kitchen facing the courtyard. Having the front doors of the private units facing the courtyard, which is in the center of the community, directs people to walk in front of each other’s units before entering their own residences. Additionally, in some units the kitchen is also facing the courtyard, and there are large windows in those kitchens. Participants indicated the large windows facing the courtyard as being a great way to communicate with their neighbors as they passed by, because the residents indicated they spent a great deal of time in the kitchen while at home. On the other hand, space planning features which inhibited the social interactions between residents were the division of the community between two sides and the community being a two-story community, in which some residents have to go to the second-story to gain access to their home. The community is organized around a landscaped central courtyard. The common house is located in the middle of the community, separating the private units along its east and west sides. This division inhibits social interaction among sides because people tend to develop relationships with those living in closer proximity and have less of a relationship with people living on the opposite side of the common house. Moreover, the community is a two-story building. People who live upstairs were found to have less spontaneous social interactions than those living downstairs because people do not usually go upstairs unless they live there. This study sought to identify elements that contributed to the social interactions of older adults within senior cohousing communities and the importance of the space planning design and its role in stimulating interactions between neighbors in a community.