The background to the creation of la Ciguë


Alternative movements in Geneva have been varied and linked to many social and cultural issues. From the late 60s onwards, these movements grew and became more pronounced, demanding cultural spaces, equality within society and affordable housing, among other demands. There was always a strong student presence in alternative movements, but at the same time they remained highly diversified and fluid.


These alternative and student protests were widely expressed in the squat movement of the 80s. A movement born of the risk of destruction of the Grottes and Îlot 13 neighborhoods. The city’s modernization plans called for these neighborhoods to be razed to the ground, which would have pushed the population living there – workers and small-scale merchants – to the margins of the city. This risk of displacement, a shortage of housing, real estate speculation and a desire to live differently were all factors that led to the occupation of these spaces to prevent their destruction and to fill a social need.


Squats gradually became places of experimentation and alternative living. The poor condition of many squatted premises allowed a great deal of freedom in terms of space planning and lifestyle. Squats were not only housing spaces, but also cultural, art, music, exchange and alternative living spaces in Geneva. The Geneva squat movement grew to become one of the largest in Europe in the 90s and early 2000s.


It was against this backdrop of a housing crisis, particularly for Geneva’s underprivileged student population, that CIGUË was created. Its origins can be traced back to the CUAE, the students’ union, which has always been highly committed to its various missions. This umbrella association of the University of Geneva mobilized to point the finger at the lack of affordable student accommodation in the City of Calvin. For three days and nights, a group of students will symbolically occupy the central auditorium of the Bastions university building, B106. As a Ciguë brochure explains: “The students have decided to react and try to contribute to the solution of the housing problem of people in training by creating a housing cooperative, which aims at both short-term or temporary solutions and more stable medium-term solutions.”


Magistrate Claude Haegi, a member of the liberal party, recognized the seriousness of the housing crisis and understood the alternative demands. Claude Haegi then proposed Contrats de Prêt à Usage (CPU) or contracts of trust as a solution. More precisely, this is a tripartite contract between a private owner, a user and an intermediary. The main clause of this contract is that the people housed must leave the accommodation as soon as a real project is validated for the building they occupy. Faced with numerous requests, he encouraged the interested parties who came to see him, including students from the future Ciguë, to set up an association to obtain a CPU.


Here’s how Haegi tells the story: “When some young people asked me what I could offer them, I suggested a space in the Blavignac Tower, near the Boulevard du Pont d’Arve. When they told me they were interested, that they were going to fit it out themselves, I handed them the keys. I wasn’t sure on what basis I was doing this, but I shook their hands and said: “See, it’s a contract of trust”. That’s how the name stuck. The contract of trust is a whole state of mind.”


At 24 rue de Montbrillant, La Ciguë signed a contract of trust in June 1986 to house around ten people. Around fifty other young people are housed in this district under the same loan-to-use system. “Like the rest of the neighborhood, the building at 24, rue de Montbrillant is over a hundred years old, and most of its apartments have been empty for several years. Before settling in, the residents (…) had to make a number of alterations. The apartments have no modern comforts: there is no central heating system, and no bathroom.”


Initially, CPUs were offered mainly by the City of Geneva, which owned a large proportion of Geneva’s real estate stock. But as demand grew, Haegi sought to involve the régies and private owners. It was this type of contract that enabled the cooperative to obtain its first units, and which is still in place for Ciguë’s satellites.

Alexandra Roger and Hamlin Jackson, cooperators. 


Evolution of la Ciguë

With its first contract of trust in Montbrillant, 18 students became the first housed cooperators of the young Ciguë. Its first roots, so to speak. But they were destined to take root on the ground. As early as October 1988, the cooperative’s General Meeting (AG) set out to establish a vision of stability, and not to be satisfied with housing of limited duration. It therefore decided “to take all necessary steps to build a building for people in training” (source: Ciguë brochure). A building dedicated to shared living, not a hostel with single rooms. It’s hard to find…

It took 10 years to see this one built, once again in Montbrillant. A building designed to encourage encounters, with its walk-through corridors and small suspended communal square. Made almost entirely of wood, it showcases the young cooperative’s ecological and convivial approach. Launched for 99 years, the Montbrillant building marks the beginning of La Ciguë as a « mixed » cooperative, both owner and tenant of temporary housing.

One thing led to another. From the initial fifty rooms, La Ciguë grew to a hundred in 1998 with the construction of its first building. From then on, growth was continuous, with a major acceleration in 2007, when the number of co-operators housed rose from 200 to 500 in 4 years. It has to be said that demand is strong for low-cost housing that is accessible to students. By targeting low-income earners, the cooperative fills a glaring gap in Geneva’s housing policy. It also has a progressive vocation: flexible administration and inclusion of residents in decision-making processes, an ecological charter for its members and its buildings, experimentation in terms of heating and energy self-production, priority given to the size of common spaces rather than rooms, presence of common rooms…

As it grows, the cooperative becomes better known among students and gains the trust of authorities and housing associations, which are more inclined to offer it fixed-term accommodation. Likewise, the increased number of stable rooms and the frequent rotation of rooms mean that the cooperative can more easily rehouse internally cooperative members whose temporary accommodation is coming to an end.

However, the rapid growth of the cooperative was not without changes in its management, nor without internal debate. In the early days, Ciguë had only one paid secretarial position. The management of the rooms and the search for new ones were the responsibility of a volunteer board. As the number of cooperative members grew, so did the administrative staff. Tasks, which had become too onerous for volunteers, became more professional. New positions were created and, over time, a real team was put in place. The cooperative currently employs 9 people, with no hierarchy and all paid at the same rate. Part-time work is encouraged, offering many students their first professional experience in a position of responsibility. Trust and solidarity are the watchwords.

That’s not to say that everything is rosy in Ciguë’s country. Getting members to participate in the cooperative project remains an ongoing challenge. Between professionalization and self-management, between efficiency and direct democracy, the tension is sometimes intense and expectations difficult to reconcile. Indeed, the dual decision-making structure of an Administration Council (CA) and a General Assembly (AG) is gradually showing its limits. By the mid-2000s, AGs were saturated with items, and debates were becoming bogged down, frustrating or irritating. Participants also found it increasingly difficult to take a stand on subjects such as accounts or legal issues, which had become complex and could not be dealt with properly in the space of an evening. The employees themselves are too often judge and jury, particularly when it comes to requests for job increases or setting rents.

La Ciguë tried to overcome these problems by setting up commissions, residents’ councils, house delegates… Eventually, the articles of la Ciguë had to be overhauled. Activated in 2011, its main reform will be to separate the employees (now known as the « work team ») from the Administration Council (CA) itself ; the latter bringing together elected cooperative members and cooperative employees. The Administration Council will be the forum for in-depth debate and decisions on the management of the cooperative, albeit still subject to a vote by the General Meeting.

Today, La Ciguë proliferates in the countryside as well as in the city, and continues to spread. Some former co-operators have set up their own co-operative to continue the adventure outside the student environment. Ithaque, Parallèle, Archipel : names that call for a journey. In the one that awaits them, their experience gleaned at La Ciguë – and its active help – is there to guide them.

Vincent Gerber, cooperator and former Head of Internal Relations & former Head of Rental Management



1985: The CUAE (University Conference of the Students Association) is in turmoil,
aiming to bring forward a student’s cooperative project for accommodation, that is in
the making since a long time.

18th of April 1986: Constitutive Assembly of the Ciguë (Student’s Geneva real estate
university cooperative). More than a dozen of university students join in.

12th of June 1986: A first agreement for loan use is signed with the City of Geneva:
8 apartments at 24 rue de Montbrillant are lent to the Ciguë. 18 cooperators are
accommodated there in August, until July 1987.

December 1986: In Bern, the Ciguë and the UNES (National Union of Students of
Switzerland), organize a conference about the student cooperative housings. After this
conference, a national fund for cooperative accommodation of young people in
training is created.

5th of Oct. 1988: The Ciguë takes part in the debates of the “General states against
the housing crises” and approves of the Charter 88, which is its outcome.

20th of June 1989: The Administrative Council of the City of Geneva grants the Ciguë
a surface right in Îlot 13.

November 1989: Symbolic Occupation in Uni Dufour within the national action for
housing organized by UNES.

23rd of May 1992: The Ciguë and the CUAE organize “The housing geneva assizes”.
Managers and political people are invited to talk about the housing shortage.

20th of April 1996: the Ciguë celebrates its 10 years in Bois-Gentil, a three villas
block (1987 – 2003).

January 1998: Opening of our first building 16-18, rue de Montbrillant.

June 2000: Membership to the Geneva Housing Cooperative’s Grouping. Founding

2001: The obtaining of the California building in Pâquis, 70 studios.

2nd of September 2002: After obtaining the right of surface transferred by the city,
the Ciguë obtains the restoration project of Clos voltaire.

2003: The obtaining of the Tortue from the University of Geneva in the Malagnou
street. The State of Geneva becomes its owner in 2013.

April 2003: Creation and first delegates board meeting.

June 2003: Prize-winner of the fellowship for the Geneva State’s Sustainable
Development for the project « coquelicot », carried by the Ciguë and the CODHA.

2004-2012: The obtaining of the Libellules by the Emile-Dupont Foundation, 50
accommodated cooperators.

2004: Ending of the Ouches construction in partnership with the Codha cooperative.
20 students move in 2 big duplex that comply with the ecological label Minergie.

2004: Creation of the ecological charter.

February 2008: Creation of the attribution committee.

2009: Ending of the renovation of Clos-Voltaire, it accommodates 25 people in
training and a multi-purpose space for the Délices neighborhood.

2009: Opening of the Pavillons with 40 rooms and a big common room. With this
building, the Ciguë builds the first Minergie P-Eco building of Switzerland.

2010: Creation of the mediation committee which is now the group Tout’Ouïe.

2011: Creation of an Administration Council open to volunteers.

2011: Opening of the Coulouvrenière, a surface right with the City which allows the
housing of 48 students.

2012: The cooperative obtains a surface right in the future Eco neighborhood of the
Vergers in Meyrin; and obtains 15 % of the rights for building in the Saules street in
association with the Evolution and Codha cooperatives.

2013: Ending of the constructions in Pont d’arve, in right of surface with the FPLC, 25
new rooms.

2014-2016: 20 apartments in the Chemin de la Montagne, 50 rented rooms. Private

February 2015: Opening of the renovation and the transformation of Chaponnière,
48 new rooms.

February 2018: The arrival of the new inhabitants in the Vergers building within the
eco neighborhood of Meyrin.