Understanding the Participatory Design Process with Mary Kraus — Lessons from #CohoCon2019

The recent CohoCon (National Cohousing Conference) brought together cohousing residents, architects, builders, and consultants to talk about the present and future states of the industry. We were so inspired by all of the different people we met throughout the event, that we wanted to bring back some of their insights. Over the next few weeks, look out for videos from the conference both here and on our social media pages.

We interviewed Mary Kraus, architect and participatory design consultant, who has worked with cohousing groups across the country to facilitate inclusive, thoughtful, community-driven design of communities, led by the residents.

What is Participatory Design and What are the Benefits?

The following is a transcript of the video interview with Mary, lightly edited for clarity.

I've been working for about 30 years with cohousing communities using a participatory design process.

Building Social Communities and Physical Communities

I think the wealth of using participatory design is: it gets the future residents to work with each other, to work together in order to design their community. At the same time—I guess what I'm fond of saying is that—they are working on forming their social community, in the process of building their physical community.

And then they get to practice positive ways of listening to each other actively, and making difficult decisions together, but learning to do it in a way where they're honestly listening to each other. Honestly speaking with “I” statements, about “these are my fears and my hopes,” “this is what I want, but I can hear that this is what you want.”

So it's very much that relationship. And it's also working together to envision the community so they get invested in a different way in where they're going to live.

On Being a Cohousing Resident Herself

I live at Pioneer Valley Cohousing, which is the first community for which I was one of the architects. Our community really benefited from working together on the designs, having those conversations together.

And by the time we moved in, we'd already been working together, we already had been forming relationships together. And that has continued, and it's a great place to live.