First—a little background. The Sisters of the Order of St. Francis originally came from Amsterdam, and looked at convent sites in both Denver and San Francisco before deciding upon Colorado. With the land purchased in the late 1940s, the convent opened in 1956. As Powers said, the building was seemingly intended to last hundreds of years, with its thick masonry and terrazzo flooring. However, the building’s craftsmanship also featured 50 “cells” that housed the nuns, which provided room for not much more than a bed and a sink. While the interior was eventually gutted for the adaptive reuse project, the unusual floorplan—alongside a series of principles Urban Ventures and the Sisters agreed to during the sale and master plan process—played into the decision to develop a cohousing site.
For those not familiar with cohousing, it is both a tangible housing and cultural lifestyle decision for individuals that intentionally adopt a communal attitude toward living. The modern theory of cohousing began in Denmark in the 1960s, where residents felt that existing housing options did not meet their community needs. Today, these developments provide private homes clustered around common areas and outdoor shared space, such as kitchens, dining areas, living rooms, guest bedroom suites and gardens. At Aria Denver, there is 2,000 square feet of communal space, and the residential community is provided with a $100,000 budget to outfit the space as their own. Built with the intention of facilitating a close-knit community, members of a cohousing development are also tasked with making group decisions and rules for communal activities and shared spaces.
Sound niché? It is—but as it turns out, cohousing has quite a following, with more than enough people eager to move across the country to land a spot in one such community. Of the 28 units available at Aria Denver, only two remain available for purchase, with residents coming from Philadelphia, Iowa and Boston, just to name a few. As each new unit sold, prospective buyers met with current owners to deem they were comfortable with the concept they were buying into. And while cohousing can tend to attract a homogenous age group to a specific site, many desire to keep these developments intergenerational, and Aria Denver has done just that. To date, everyone from men to women, married to single, kids to no kids, retirement age to younger adult, is represented. As is also standard with Urban Ventures’ philosophy of economically-integrated communities—and in line with the aforementioned principles of the Sisters—eight of the 28 units were sold below market value as affordable housing.