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Kraftwerk1 is a Zurich-based collective that pioneered affordable cooperative housing models. With its diverse and flexible housing types, participatory planning processes, and energy-efficient designs, Kraftwerk1 has proven that it’s possible to create high-quality affordable housing schemes in fringe areas of a city. Kraftwerk1’s primary innovation lies in project organization. They seek land in undesirable parts of a city and broker deals with owners desperate to offload their unused land. The communities finance the capital improvement by a graduated contribution scheme based on income. This allows the collective to admit those who financially might not otherwise be able to afford the rent. Even in so doing, Kraftwerk1 typically achieves rents at 20% below market.

Kraftwerk1 was born out of multiple housing crises which hit Zurich in the 1980’s and 90’s, when a lack of housing pushed prices up, and pushed people out. The collective was formed in 1993 by the three authors of a manifesto of the same name.  Architect Andreas Hofer, artist Martin Blum, and author P.M. based the Kraftwerk1 model on a more pragmatic vision of P.M.’s social utopian “bolo’bolo” (“tribe”) model.

Although Kraftwerk1 has chosen a different architect for each of its projects, a common theme in its design philosophy is an open and flexible architectural design strategy.  Kraftwerk1 Hardturm has units ranging from two to twelve rooms, to encourage a diversity of tenants and a creativity about how the space is used.  Kraftwerk1 buildings also provide a suite of communal amenities, often including a shop, a kindergarten, and a restaurant.

Kraftwerk1 is an illustration of how concept organization can make a project more than the sum of its parts.  A building’s design must exist in partnership with the design of the community that lives there.  Designers can do both when they recognize the interplay between building, occupant and community.