Building collective housing visions

By Amerissa Giannouli

I enjoy discussing politics with other people, especially when they are coming from different backgrounds and bring different stories with them. I believe that everything around us is political and housing might be the very first visible element of our political, cultural and socio-economic expression. I chose to invite people to imagine together housing alternatives that promote sustainability and social justice. Collectively, we were urged to think critically about the mainstream housing system that identifies dwellings purely as commodities, to challenge the housing culture and myths that aim for profit and promote individualism. 

In a two-day virtual participatory workshop we used the Futures Lab method to identify current trends, deconstruct and reconstruct new narratives for nature based and collective housing solutions. We were not many, maybe 10 in total, ranging from 18 to 70 years old. Some of us knew each other from before and some of us met for the first time. We came from different local realities and parts of Greece (Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Patra, Kalamata, Athens, Syros, Crete) having experienced different types of housing (urban apartment, single family home, eco-community, traditional eco-cabin, camping tent, squat, sailing boat, temporary dwellings after catastrophic events, snowholes).

First day of the workshop

  • Some of the people from the group were trying to create an eco-community called ANASA Eco community. As one of the members stated, “coordination, synchronization and common vision” are important elements that made it work so far. The group, after meeting each other online and spending 6 months discussing, sharing and connecting, defined their common vision and designed their eco community. They used nonviolent communication methods to deal with conflicts, dragon dreaming for project development and sociocracy for decision making. Sustainability, respect for the future generations, applying exchange practices without money and aiming for affordable housing are key principles of their envisioned eco community. They are currently looking for land to build their community. 
  • One of the participants also shared her incredible experience with Sea Clown Sailing Circus, the first international sailing circus on Greek seas that sails around spreading hope and happiness through art. They have been living as nomads on a sailing boat. She said that it was an amazing experience. People were giving life to the boat and she felt part of this creative community in this peculiar setting. 

Besides personal experiences on different types of housing, we talked about the main challenges of the mainstream housing sector in Greece, agreeing on the fact that we have become working slaves trying to earn enough money to pay bills, rents and debts. We focused on the need to redefine principles and social structures, and find alternatives that money has different meanings. We said that despite the type of housing we are currently living or aiming for in the future, we also want to be connected with other people, to act collectively but also keep a certain level of privacy.

  • One of the participants mentioned that our discussion reminded her of Christopher Alexander’s book, A Pattern Language. She shared with the group an insight from the book that describes how communities were organized in the past in the cities. If there were young children playing on the street, there was always somebody else looking after them. It was a community-family, an alternative to the typical nuclear family. But at the same time, in the house each member had to feel that they were able to have their own privacy to express themselves freely. 

We closed the first day by noting that building spaces for collective discussions, even virtual ones, are essential for community building and well-being. This is probably something that should be linked to housing planning, irrespective the type of the house or its location. 

Second day of the workshop

The second day was dedicated to transitions by defining what needs to change technologically, politically, institutionally and culturally to realize ideal housing systems. Participants had to complete a creative task before the meeting. They had to draw or write a few words about these ideal housing systems. Their visions included elements of light, nature, slowness, openness and spaces for community interaction. 

Artwork for the workshop from Annita Douka creator of MIND UX ARCHITECTURE

In order to define the required changes, participants were asked to imagine what it would be like to live in a post-climate change high-tech world where nature had been substituted by technological innovation. This exercise attempted to boost their imagination. A contradiction emerged when they had to define what kind of technology would work for that scenario. What kind of technology could be at the same convivial, inclusive and open in order to satisfy the fast pace of life? Is this even possible? The activity helped us touch upon issues related to renewable energy technologies, work relations, ethics and philosophy. We were looking for a political and cultural shift that promotes horizontal decision making processes, social justice and conviviality. It was the perfect moment to introduce Degrowth! 

For the last part of the workshop, we tried to define the conditions required to realize our ideal housing systems. It was a rather philosophical discussion focusing on the fact that it is important to look for people with similar values and principles to develop a community. Conflicts might emerge but there are tools and methods to deal with such conflicts. Some of them might involve structured processes (eg. housing assemblies), some others might involve different activities that the group could do together, such as cleaning, gardening, theatrical games, etc. The need for psychoanalysis was also mentioned which reminded us of Castoriadis and autonomy. In practical terms, in Greece there are many legal constraints and restrictions on properties that will have to change to accommodate real sustainable and inclusive changes in housing. However, no matter the housing form, the relationships we build with others interplay with the space and modify the place we live.

We finished our workshop by introducing the Housing for Degrowth, the Global Ecovillage Network and the Co-Hab Athens, a multidisciplinary group of people in Athens that promotes and advocates for cooperative and collective housing. 

The workshop was an invitation to speak about the things we usually keep to ourselves or we do not even consider, to meet new people with similar interests. It was a seed for personal and social transformation.

I am closing this post with a poem that one of the participants shared with us. 

“Επιμένω σ’ έναν άλλο κόσμο.

Τον έχω τόσο ονειρευτεί, 

τόσο πολύ έχω σεργιανήσει μέσα του

που πια

είναι αδύνατο να μην υπάρχει…”

Χ. Λάσκαρης ‘απόγευμα προς βράδυ’, Ποιήματα


“I insist on another world.

I have dreamed of it so much,

I’m so stuck in it

that now

it is impossible not to exist … “

Ch. Laskaris ‘afternoon to night’, Poems