Kalkbreite, Zurich


  • Developments like this are good at accommodating ‘unconventional’ households. This project has a range of traditional sized homes, but also several ‘clusters’ of mini-apartments with facilities for up to 50 residents
  • It is possible to generate income from parts of a larger scale development like this (for example some of the retail units, or high-end apartments) to cross-subsidise homes for people on lower incomes
  • Sites that look unpromising to conventional property developers can appeal to community-led organisations


This 97 home development in central Zurich was completed in mid 2014. Eighty per cent of the homes are available at well below local market rents, and eleven of the properties are reserved specifically as social rented housing. It was organised by a local community group that set up a housing co-operative to manage and procure the project. The group is now working on a second development that will deliver a further 70 homes.

The 0.6 hectare site is bounded on two sides by busy thoroughfares and on another by train tracks. For years it had been used as a tram depot, and had long been considered too noisy for housing.

In 2006 the local community came together to form an association (‘Verein Kalkbreite’), and it held a series of public workshops, to take a new look at the site. This was collaborative venture that took 18 months and it involved many partners including the City of Zurich, the local public transport corporation and the Karthago and Dreieck co-operative associations.

In 2007 Verein Kalkbreite set up a housing co-op –The Kalbriete co-op – to submit a proposal to the city, and the council supported the project. The submission proposed 5,000 sq m of commercial space and 7,400 sq m of residential space. The plan provided homes for 250 residents of diverse income, ethnicity, and age; and it included a new tram depot.

The 5,292 sq m of communal facilities that were proposed included a shared laundry, library, canteen, roof garden and terraces.

The commercial space included 816 sq m of retail, 489 sq m of restaurants/food outlets, 611 sq m of health facilities, 1,617 sq m of office accommodation, a 654 sq m cinema, a 312 sq m children’s nursery and a small guest house/hotel (258 sq m).


This 97 home development in central Zurich was completed in mid 2014. Eighty per cent of the homes are available at well below local market rents, and eleven of the properties are reserved specifically as social rented housing. It was organised by a local community group that set up a housing co-operative to manage and procure the project. The group is now working on a second development that will deliver a further 70 homes.


Scale: Large

Site: Urban

Affordability: Low Cost and Intermediate

Opportunity: Collective

Built Form: Apartments

Country: Switzerland

Key Statistics

Completed 2014

No. Units 97


The homes are very diverse and include some multiple household configurations. This means there are conventional apartments with two, three, four, or five bedrooms for traditional nuclear families; but also apartments with up to 17 bedrooms for extended households; and studios with bathrooms and small kitchenettes grouped into larger ‘clusters’ with shared common spaces and a communal kitchen. There is also an extra-large cluster of 20 mini-apartments for 50 residents who have collectively funded a staffed kitchen; and there are nine ‘jokers’ – small units (each of about 28 sq m) with private bathrooms but no kitchens – distributed throughout the project and available for temporary rental.

The co-operative committed to optimise the excellent on-site public transport connections and forego car parking entirely. Instead it has provided ground-floor storage for several hundred bicycles. It has also adhered to Switzerland’s eco standards for Passive House construction and limited the floor area per resident to 32 sq m, (this is much lower than the typical 45 sq m found in most Swiss housing).

The schedule of homes included: –

  • Nine ‘joker’ units (28 sq m)
  • 32 ‘one and a half’ roomed studio apartments (29-56 sq m)
  • 19 two and a half room apartments (50-103 sq m)
  • 13 four and a half roomed homes (95 – 133 sq m)
  • Six five roomed apartments (142 – 152 sq m)
  • Eight five and a half room households (123 – 127 sq m)
  • Four properties with seven to nine and a half rooms (142 – 215 sq m)
  • One 13 room cluster (222 sq m)
  • One 17 room cluster (412 sq m)
The Kalkbreite project in its setting


For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:

  • ‘self and custom built homes’ as properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
  • ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
  • ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.


To propel the project from concept to reality, the council granted the Kalkbreite cooperative a lease on the city-owned land until 2070 (which enabled the cooperative to qualify for private loans to cover the construction costs from a range of banks and financial institutions). The members of the co-op put up six per cent of the total cost.

The council also approved a grant of £2.2m for a feasibility study, to cover pre-development costs, and to run an architectural competition. The competition –   standard practice for public projects in Switzerland – was won by Müller Sigrist Architekten.

Construction of the £42m project began in early 2012 and was completed, on schedule, in mid 2014. This build cost works out at about £3,000 per sq m.

As part of the deal to secure the lease on the site from the council the co-op has agreed that the city can financially monitor its accounts. The rental income should cover the running and finance costs of the development, and the co-op aims to operate on a non-profit basis


Be prepared to consider leasing land

In this case the council offered a 55 year lease on the site; this then helped the co-operative raise the funds it needed to undertake the £42m scheme


Demand has been strong. By spring 2014, almost 900 people had paid the refundable membership fee of £650 to join the co-op — the first step in applying for residence. The residents were selected according to criteria stipulated in the co-op’s statutes to ensure  a wide ethnic, gender, age, and income mix.

A three-bedroom, 100 sq m home requires an equity deposit of £17,000 and monthly payments of £1,250 — below the market rate for similar housing in the city. The majority of the apartments are targeted to middle-income occupants with 20 per cent rented to high-income residents and 11 per cent reserved for low-income households. All are full members of the cooperative.

Rents (in 2015) were between £8.40 and £14.20 per sq m per month.


There is strong demand for innovative housing concepts

For every apartment that was created around nine people registered and paid a sizeable membership fee to qualify for one of the homes


The development is built on a triangular site. The ground floor is now a new 3,050 sq m tram interchange; around the tram interchage, and on the floor above, there is a mixture of commercial space – some of which has been sold, and some is rented. The proceeds from this have helped subsidise the cost of the homes.

The overall form of the Kalkbreite project
On the third level there is a ‘social exchange’ – an area set aside for a suite of meeting and training rooms, a crèche, reception space, communal canteen and a dining room.

Above this there are the four levels of apartments. The roof of the lower area forms a communal garden that the four levels of homes overlook.

The rooftop garden
The overall form of the Kalkbreite project viewed from the air


Challenging sites can be attractive to housing groups

This project provides four levels of innovative housing above a range of commercial and social spaces and a noisy transport interchange


  • Local community comes together and forms the Kalbreite Association

  • The organisation becomes a housing co-op, and secures the rights to lease the site until 2070

  • Public participation and collaboration process develops with the city council, the public transport organisation and two other housing associations

  • Architectural competition organised

  • Detailed design and planning permission granted

  • Homes occupied

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Further Reading

CS 21 – Vienna – available at a later stage
CS 23 – Hafenliebe – available at a later stage
CS 28 – Tubingen – available at a later stage
CS 33 – Vrije Geest, Amsterdam-  available at a later stage

Kleine Bergstrasse, Hamburg

Cohousing Vinderhoute and other Cohousing projects

Kalkbreite, Zurich

Group Projects in Strasbourg

Baugemeinschaft Hafenliebe, Hamburg

De Vrijegeest, Akersloot

Vrijburcht, Amsterdam


The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.

For further information, please visit:www.nacsba.org.uk or www.selfbuildportal.org.uk