Swiss cooperative housing: a critical overview


Lecturer(s) :

Davidovici Irina




This course provides a critical and historical examination of cooperative housing in Zurich and Geneva, since the late 19th century to today. Maintaining an architectural focus, it highlights connections between context, underlining ideologies, the living practices of residents, and the built forms.


This course is run as a series of lectures providing a critical history of the housing cooperatives in Zurich and Geneva. It examines the ideas, processes and actors that propelled their emergence and development. 

Lecture 1: Introduction: Housing as urban commons

Lecture 2: Cooperatives in context

Lecture 3: Zurich Cooperatives 1, 1890-1960: A political ecology

Lecture 4: Zurich Cooperatives 2, 1968-2000: New Radicals

Lecture 5: Zurich Cooperatives 3, 2000-2020: Institutionalisation of the margin

Lecture 6: Geneva Cooperatives: Overview and future prospects

Lecture 7: The Iconography of the Commons 1: Shared territories

Lecture 8: The Iconography of the Commons 2: New typologies

Lecture 9: Living the co-op: Practices of participation

Lecture 10: Good neighbours: Between autonomy and integration

Lecture 11: Between the state and the market? Economies of trust in cooperative living

Lecture 12: Written report / oral examination workshop 




Commons (urban)

Housing Cooperatives

Residential typologies

Citizen participation and urban activism


19th-21st century

Learning Prerequisites

Important concepts to start the course

Cooperation, Participation, Self-sufficiency (autonomy) 

Urban and Residential typologies (Garden City, perimeter block, Siedlung etc.)

Commons / urban commons

Grassroots activism / social movements





Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, the student must be able to:

Transversal skills

Teaching methods

The course approaches the history of communal living as an interdisciplinary field of knowledge that integrates architectural and urban design, typological innovation as well as social and cultural change. 

Teaching methodologies include: historical survey, architectural and urban analysis, comparison of case studies, architectural criticism, synthesis and interpretation.

The course will be delivered as lectures with slides, followed by Q&A session.

Expected student activities

Students are expected to attend all lectures.

When provided, course readings must be completed before the lecture, to assist comprehension and discussion. Students are encouraged to prepare questions and discuss them in class after the lecture.

Students will prepare a short essay /written report on a cooperative housing project (preferably built) in Switzerland or abroad. All case studies must be approved by lecturer in advance.

For the oral exam, the students will discuss their written report and answer general knowledge questions based on the material covered during lectures.


Assessment methods

memoire / oral:



Avermaete, Tom. `Constructing the Commons: Towards Another Architectural Theory of the City: Die Konstruktion von Gemeingütern ' Ausblick Auf Eine Andere Architekturtheorie Der Stadt'. ARCH+, vol. An Atlas of Commoning: Orte des Gemeinschaffens, no. 232, July 2018, pp. 32'43.

Balmer, Ivo, and Tobias Bernet. `Housing as a Common Resource? Decommodification and Self'Organization in Housing'Examples from Germany and Switzerland'. Urban Commons: Moving beyond State and Market, edited by Mary Dellenbaugh, Bauverlag'; Birkhäuser, 2015, pp. 178'95.

Banz, Esther, et al. Rundum ABZ': Allgemeine Baugenossenschaft Zürich 1916-2016. Allgemeine Baugenossenschaft Zürich, 2016.

Boudet, Dominique, editor. New Housing in Zurich Typologies for a Changing Society. Park Book, 2017.

Dellenbaugh, Mary, et al., editors. Urban Commons: Moving beyond State and Market. Bauverlag'; Birkhäuser, 2015.

Delz, Sascha, et al., editors. Housing the Co-Op. A Micro-Political Manifesto. Ruby Press, 2020.

Durban, Christoph, editor. Mehr Als Wohnen: Gemeinnütziger Wohnungsbau in Zürich, 1907-2007: Bauten Und Siedlungen. Stadt Zürich': Gta-Verlag, 2007.

Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. Paperback ed, Verso, 2013.

Hugentobler, Margrit, et al., editors. More than Housing: Cooperative Planning - a Case Study in Zürich. Birkhäuser, 2016.

Madden, David J., and Peter Marcuse. In Defense of Housing: The Politics of Crisis. Verso, 2016. Merrifield, Andy, et al. The Right to the City: A Verso Report. Verso, 2017.

Ostrom, Elinor. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Pearson, Lynn F. The Architectural and Social History of Cooperative Living. Macmillan, 1988.

RUBY PRESS, et al., editors. Together! The New Architecture of the Collective. Vitra Design Museum, 2017. Schmid, Susanne, et al. A History of Collective Living: Forms of Shared Housing. Birkhäuser, 2019.

Schmid, Susanne. A History of Collective Living: Forms of Shared Housing. Edited by Dietmar Eberle et al., Birkhäuser, 2019.

Sennett, Richard. Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-Operation. Penguin, 2013.

Stahel, Thomas, and Jonas Voegeli. Wo-Wo-Wonige: Stadt- und wohnpolitische Bewegungen in Zürich nach 1968. 1. Aufl, Paranoia City Verlag, 2006.

Stavrides, Stavros. Common Space: The City as Commons. Zed Books, 2016.

Tornow, Britta, and Wohnbund. Europa: gemeinsam wohnen': co-operative housing = Europe. Jovis, 2015.

In the programs

Reference week

Under construction
      Exercise, TP
      Project, other


  • Autumn semester
  • Winter sessions
  • Spring semester
  • Summer sessions
  • Lecture in French
  • Lecture in English
  • Lecture in German