La Ciguë – self-managed cooperative student housing

Coulouvrenière, Switzerland Economic sustainability, Organizational structures, Target groups of housing


La Ciguë (Coopérative de logement pour personnes en formation) is a non-profit participatory and independent cooperation which offers cheap housing for people in training through different schemes. Since its creation, it works according to self-management principles. In a city where monthly rent can easily exceed 1.500 Euros and the overall living costs are among the highest in the world, affordable housing alternatives are crucial – including for student. Social cooperatives are becoming stronger in Geneva, and this student housing project at Place des Volontaires in Coulouvrenière is an example of it. The project was developed in a participatory process that involved a cooperative for student housing and future occupants themselves. The monthly rent is around 250 Swiss Francs (230 €). The idea is that when they move in, students buy one share of the cooperative for a price no greater than that of a rent deposit, and when they move out they sell it to the next occupant of the apartment. The project received several awards and distinctions, including Distinction Romande d’Architecture 2014, Arc-Award 2014, Die Besten 2011, Hase de bronze.


The Ciguë is a self-managed housing cooperative for people in training. This self-management means that it is a highly participative cooperative: the cooperators are involved into their housing as well as within the Ciguë’s functioning. This one is managed by the cooperators through their participation in the decision-making bodies that are the General Assembly and the Administration Council, and in the committees or working groups which give rhythm to the Ciguë’s life. The Working Team is the cooperative’s management organ. It has to insure all the tasks relating to the smooth running of the cooperation, in narrow connection with the elected Administration Council, according to the guidelines given by the General Assembly and in compliance with the aims and values defined by the Ciguë’s statutes and rules. Therefore, to work, the Ciguë needs thecooperators’s participation at every level of the cooperative.

The Ciguë consists of many different buildings and houses, distributed in the town of Geneva and in its canton (state). The number of people per flat can range from 2 to 15 roommates. Each housing has its own specificities and identity wealth, and as shared apartments, every student shares his/her housing, common chores, parties and bills, all in the desire to live together.


Built lengthwise on a very narrow parcel of land and singularly oriented northward, the Coulouvrenière project fits narrowly between the surrounding buildings. Nonetheless, it was possible to integrate the building into the neighbourhood, re-valuing an otherwise neglected piece of land. It houses 48 students and people in training in large flatshares that share a common room as well as a vast rooftop terrace.

The innovative particularities of this project are manifest in its energy production. The system installed consists of accumulating solar energy through two 10’000 liter water reserves. This seasonal accumulation not only provides the energy for hot water, but also for the buildings heating system. It has the potential to provide 100% of the building’s energy needs by way of solar power.

Why it works

An engagement to social housing

The Ciguë engagement towards social housing operates around three principal axes: the economy, participation, and ecology. In each of these three important dimensions of habitats, our cooperative seeks to implement practices promoting solidarity and responsibility for a contribution to improving the quality of housing for people in training in Geneva.

The economy

A non-profit seeking entity, the Ciguë invests its profits in the development of construction or renovation projects. The Ciguë thus seeks to build low-cost housing by working with the costs of construction, collective amenities (common kitchens and washrooms), the type of management (self-management by residents) and control over energy production and consumption. The construction of buildings is also a way of providing mandates and work to local companies.

The participation of residents

By definition, the cooperative is managed, controlled, and directed by its members: all housed members of the cooperative in addition to a some formerly housed individuals who continue to invest their time and energy into the cooperative. Members of the cooperative are engaged in the cooperative in two ways: in the management of the cooperative, and within their common apartments. Residents are the ones who decide on the cooperative’s policy orientations during General Assemblies, and participate in its daily activities through the various committees and ad-hoc working groups. Within apartments, each resident benefits from an individual room, and shares their kitchen, living rooms, and water rooms with their flatmates. The daily management and maintenance of apartments is the responsibility of members of the cooperative.


When a new resident enters the cooperative, they sign an ecological charter along with their lease. This charter specifies the cooperative’s engagement to constructing and utilizing buildings in an ecologically respectful manner. At the individual level, members of the cooperative commit to adopting behaviors in accordance with these goals: recycling waste, saving energy, using renewable or low-energy consuming forms of transportation, etc.,


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