Inside Copenhagen’s co-living ‘cactus’ experiment

Two towers, their spiky balconies piercing the skyline of the Danish capital, open to residents on 1 September in a test of the city’s appetite for co-living.

Designed by BIG Architects for investment manager Catella, Kaktus Towers is an instantly recognisable addition to Copenhagen. But more than that, it is among the first co-living schemes in the city to put the concept to the test. Combining small flats with large amenity spaces, Kaktus Towers was inspired by similar projects in the UK and Germany.

“We have tried to create what we call a co-living concept where tenants sleep in the apartment but live in the building,” says Martin Stenbjerg Jensen, part of Catella’s team working on Kaktus Towers.

Kaktus Towers at a glance

  • Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Developer: Catella
  • Architect: Bjarke Ingels Group
  • Use: Residential
  • Size: 495 one- and two-bed flats; 2,000 sq m (21,500 sq ft) of amenity space

As the building launches, PlaceTech caught up with Jensen and Katrine Anna Larsen, co-founder and COO of Hococo, the app that functions as the building’s digital backbone.

Rental Apartment 1 Room Desktop 10 Kaktus


1. Co-living is about employee retention

Targeting 25-35-year-olds, Jensen’s team spoke to several focus groups, including with HR directors in large corporations. “They saw they had difficulties keeping expats in Denmark if the expat did not feel they had a balanced social life besides the work,” says Jensen.

If people felt lonely away from their home or family, they were less likely to perform well at work and might even leave the Copenhagen prematurely.

The solution, Catella is betting, is to create living spaces that emphasise socialising. Individual apartments are small at 33 sq m (or 53 sq m in the case of the few two-beds), but the shared amenities – gyms, workspaces, cafes and kitchens – should give residents plenty of reason to spend time in the towers.

2. Having an app is not a perk – it’s a necessity

Creating a space to bring like-minded, similarly-aged people together was not enough. “One thing is the bricks and mortar,” Jensen says. Another is actually making that space a successful catalyst for social living. That, Catella believed, depends on adding a digital layer to the space.

The team chose Hococo, a startup that creates white label tenant apps, to be that digital layer. The app aims to offer every feature that both residents and building management teams will need from the moment people move in to when they move out.

These include:

  • Onboarding, including connecting residents with others based on shared interests
  • Room/amenity booking
  • Rent/deposit management
  • Community channels
  • Communication with facilities management
  • Frequently asked questions with how-to videos
  • Data on utility use

Jensen is clear: “People have to use the app for the co-living concept to be successful.” This isn’t about adding an app as a perk to entice new customers; it’s about offering a digital service that is integral to the service.

Kaktus Rental Apartment 1 Room Desktop 8

3. Get your app sorted early if you want people to use it

“It’s easier to onboard a newly built project,” says Larsen. “The building is born with a digital identity.”

User engagement, she says, tends to be lower – at least initially – if the building didn’t launch with an app. Existing residents aren’t used to the building’s new “digital identity” and it takes new tenants coming in and using the app from the get-go for engagement to grow.

That’s why, Jensen explains, Catella pushed to have the app ready for Kaktus Towers’ launch on 1 September. Tenants will be introduced to both physical and digital services

“If we don’t have a functional app, this will ruin a good starting point that you’ll be able to get with the tenants,” he says.

4. Get a tech adviser

Catella has been relatively hands-off in the implementation process, opting to use advisers to choose and work with the app provider. Among those advisers was Cobblestone, a Danish property management company which will also manage Kaktus Towers once it opens.

Because Catella will not manage the building itself, Jensen says it makes sense for those directly involved to coordinate with Hococo. There is a risk that if they had chosen an app themselves, the property manager would have asked: “Why did you choose this?”

Catella is not alone in using external advisers. A recent JLL report argued that the growing complexity of the industry – not just in tech, but also in services, sustainability and energy – is forcing real estate to outsource big decisions to other experts.

5. The Nordic app is launching in the UK

The opening of Kaktus Towers comes at a time of expansion for Hococo. Having launched in 2020, the Danish startup recently entered the UK market, looking to tap into both a growing build to rent sector and strong student markets across the country.

Although Larsen says Hococo is still a few months from announcing its first deals, she believes trends in the rental market put them in a favourable position.

“We are seeing this new generation of renters who want the same level of services and customer-centric experience as they get across other industries,” she says. “We want to meet the same expectations.”

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