A Vision for Transformation

By Kurt Haapala and Octavio Gutierrez

Mahlum’s vision of empowering healthy communities through the built environment guides our understanding and celebration of the rich diversity of the human condition. We listen for stories from students, staff, administrators, and other project stakeholders that can influence the way we craft space to be welcoming and inclusionary, as well as socially and academically supportive. Patients, nurses, doctors, and medical staff remind us of the value of daylight, views, and access to nature in shaping positive health outcomes. Our clients fuel our passion for design. They challenge us to treat every project as an opportunity to shape a better world, where justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are core values.

As a firm dedicated to promoting a deep sense of community within our work, Mahlum was humbled by the vision for transformation brought to us by our client for the Cathedral Park Cohousing community, and are honored to be collaborating with Our Home Inclusive Community Collaborative (ICC) on this project.

When we first met Our Home ICC ‘Founding Neighbor,’ Alicia DeLashmutt, she shared with us her vision for a truly supportive community called Our Home, to be located in North Portland’s Cathedral Park neighborhood and offering studios, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units, with modern amenities and expansive views of Forest Park, the Willamette River, and the iconic St. John’s Bridge.

Alicia’s passion and commitment to this project was inspiring and radical. As the mother of a young adult who experiences disability, she shared the story of her own journey to find a community where she felt her family, and families like hers, could thrive. She recognized that there were barriers preventing families with unique needs from finding supportive homes. Alicia then said something that really struck a chord with us: “Society has systematically segregated people into living environments based on their differing abilities and identities. This segregation is a fundamentally flawed and tragic consequence of an inability to accommodate the needs of a diverse society – be it a physical, cognitive or emotional disability; cultural, racial or ethnic difference; or economically disadvantaged situations.”

Alicia believes the true strength of a community is the measure of its diversity.

Cathedral Park Cohousing will be utilizing the cohousing development model that originated in Denmark in the late 1960’s. Cohousing is an intentional community where shared common resources are balanced with individual privacy. Investing our deep passion and commitment towards equitable design solutions, Mahlum embraced the project mission and cohousing model to embed inclusionary design strategies that support the entire community.

This project will go beyond a typical cohousing community by prioritizing accommodation. Still incorporating traditional cohousing elements like the common house, bike storage, laundry, guest facilities, and open space, the design centers the needs of a broader cross-section of society by addressing aspects of Neurodiversity, DeafSpace, Universal Design, Blind and Low Vision, Staying-in-Place, and Trauma-informed Design:

Inclusionary design strategies are seamlessly woven within the principles of cohousing, enhancing the sense of an intentionally supportive community. The creation of a front porch for individual homes allows moments of community connectivity but also supports moments of rest for all ages. Clear lines of sight support safe navigation for deaf, hard of hearing, blind, and low vision community members. Clear programmatic zoning of spaces and identifiable spatial transitions aid those with neurodiversity differences to manage and control sensory levels. Windows at each individual kitchen provide views to the common open space, creating visual connectivity and a sense of comfort. Most importantly, these elements are built around shared indoor and outdoor community gathering spaces that will grow a strong and supportive community of neighbors.

We look forward to our journey with the community members of Cathedral Park Cohousing, and the realization of the vision of a truly empowered and inclusive community.

To learn more about this unique living experience, visit Cathedral Park Cohousing. You can also learn more on our website. Cathedral Park Cohousing is being developed in collaboration with Urban Development + Partners and Our Home, Inclusive Community Collaborative.