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COHOUSING IN THE PANDEMIC: a proposal in a downtown neighborhood of Recife, Brazil - B.Arch final thesis
(Author: Beatriz Bueno / Advisor: Ana Rolim)

This project presents a proposal for cohousing aiming to deal with the problem of infection control in collective living. It seeks to create spaces that ensure social distancing with safe interaction while avoiding social isolation, a recurrent challenge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic seen in many traditional residential complexes.


The site is located in the downtown neighborhood of Boa Vista, in the city of Recife, NE Region of Brazil, which is considered by the Municipal Master Plan as a Moderate Built Environment Zone (Moderate ZAC). With rich typological diversity that combines the legacy of 19th century townhouses and modernist buildings, despite being served by extensive urban infrastructure, the neighbourhood presents low population density and a short supply of residential units, caused by the phenomenon of people leaving inner-city areas that increased in the last three decades of the 20th century.


The study focuses on the systemic notion of cluster, an approach based on its ability to adapt to different conditions, centered on growth and the possibility to uniquely place elements in urban contexts. Important references on the idea of cluster include the work of the British architects and theorists, Alison and Peter Smithson and the studies of Laura Mardini Davi and Josep Maria Montaner. Regarding cohousing, the works of Chris Scotthanson and Kelly Scotthanson, Emily Darling and Jessica Bittencourt are explored. As for the pandemic context and architecture as a means of controlling infections, the studies from the MASS Design Group and Flávio Bicalho are discussed.


The architectural parti reinterprets the striking architectural elements in the site by seeking to recover the aesthetics of modernist buildings in the surroundings. Back then, architecture used to employ protruding elements to protect façades from extreme sun exposure, a positive strategy to tackle the demands of tropical humid weather, which has been replaced with flat and monotonous solutions. Thus, the design seeks to recover the dynamic volumetric nature and strong expression of the structural elements of such legacy.

In order to achieve a total construction area closer to the maximum utilization coefficient allowed (value = 3.0), the flootprints were defined by sections of denser and more permeable layers. The latter would house accesses to the residential units, therefore operating as disinfection areas. The building envelope encompasses a series of terraces, balconies and green roofs.

The proposed modules value the spatiality of the layouts, creating routes with diverse visual experiences. Three unit types are proposed: type ‘A’ is located on the 2nd floor (with apt. access on the 3rd floor), with staggered vegetable gardens. Type ‘B’ is placed on the 4th floor, (access to apartments are on the 5th floor), marked with a chamfered top portion located above the vertical staircase module. Finally, type ‘C’ is a one-story unit.


In addition to housing units, a set of shared areas are spread throughout the building: shops, collective laundry, vegetable garden and reception desk (ground floor); collective spaces for residents, including games, dining, kitchen and storage (first floor); housing units (upper floors) and room for produce harvesting from vegetable gardens (5th floor); a large living area with two greenhouses and a green roof on the rooftop.



The structure was designed based on sustainable parameters, aiming at a clean and dry construction system with minimal assembly time. Due to its high resistance allowing for efficient  cantilevering and load support, cross laminated timber (CLT) was adopted.


Sustainable components include green roofs, which provide thermal and acoustic comfort, minimizing penetration of heat and noise, improving residents’ well-being. The use of vegetation reduces air pollution, upgrading air quality, a beneficial aspect to human health. Vegetable gardens are placed on the ground and 5th floors, and on the roof, stimulating the consumption of healthy pesticide-free food. Community gardens add value in promoting a sense of community, a strong characteristic of the cohousing style of living. Circular shafts house a treatment system that allows water reuse for residents’ consumption, irrigation of green areas as well as rainwater harvesting.


Overall view from the street

Diagram of research poles

Timeline - cohousing initiatives and pandemic episodes throughout history

Aspects of the cluster system compared to traditional housing

Site map

Boa Vista neighborhood, downtown Recife

Diagram of built and population density in the area of study

The overall study site with potential lots (indicated in white) to be occuppied by cohousing

Project guidelines

The overall program and volumetric configuration

Diagram of sustainability

Ground floor plan

Vegetable garden on the ground floor

View from street at ground level

Collective spaces on the 1st floor

Corridors as collective spaces

Residential floor type 1

View from balcony in residential unit

Residential floor type 2 (access to apartments)

Cross section BB

View from rooftop

José de Alencar Street Elevation

The proposed design is applied in other plots in the neighborhood, as per previous research

The proposed design is applied in other plots in the neighborhood, as per previous research

The proposed design is applied in other plots in the neighborhood, as per previous research

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