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Illustration of a living space made of wood. People are smiling and talking to each other.
Illustration: Helen & Hard

The Nordic Pavilion will be transformed into an experimental cohousing project for the International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale

With the exhibition What We Share. A model for cohousing, Norwegian architects Helen & Hard supported by a curatorial team from National Museum of Norway will present a framework for designing and building communities based on participation and sharing. The title of this year’s biennale is How will we live together?, a subject that encompasses ways in which architects can create new communities.

Selected by the Nordic Pavilion commissioners thanks to innovative work in the field of cohousing, Helen & Hard have developed the exhibition in collaboration with residents of the practice’s award-winning cohousing project Vindmøllebakken in Stavanger, Norway. At Vindmøllebakken the residents have relatively small but fully equipped apartments, several shared facilities and spaces, and a vibrant local democracy. At the Nordic Pavilion exhibition in Venice, Helen & Hard encourage the residents to develop a more radical version of communal housing: Which aspects of their private lives are they willing to move out of their apartments and share with other residents, and with the audience?

“Being both architects and inhabitants of a cohousing community has made us aware of the potential that this housing model can offer in terms of tackling some of the societal and environmental challenges we face today. In Venice we want to explore this potential and demonstrate how the interplay between inhabitants and agencies involved can create an adaptable architecture”, says partners and creative directors of Helen & Hard Siv HeleneStangeland and Reinhard Kropf.

“There is an urgent need in the housing sector to explore new models of communal living, and Helen & Hard’s way of working is innovative and highly relevant. In the past year,questions about our ways of living, and how they relate to loneliness, social encounters and community, have become even more acute”, says curator Martin Braathen of the National Museum of Norway.

A Nordic model

The Nordic cohousing model combines owner-occupancy and individual living units with shared facilities and communal participation. The model was developed in the 1970s and has since spread around the world.

The exhibition What we share builds on the Nordic cohousing model. It is not a utopian vision, but a real proposal for building apartments, communal spaces and semi-private sharing zones in commercial housing projects. The project is based on close dialogue between architects and residents and implements an innovative open-source solid timberconstruction system developed in cooperation with the Swiss engineer Herman Blumer.

Visitors to the Pavilion in Venice will be able to walk through and explore a cross-section of a prototype cohousing project that will include communal and private areas designed to feel like real living spaces. Initiating a conversation about the social and political aspects of co-living, the exhibition also presents a video by artist Anna Ihle, who is a resident of Vindmøllebakken.

A comprehensive digital presentation of the project will also be available to view online during the exhibition. The 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice will open to the public on 22 May 2021. The exhibition will end on 21 November 2021.