Resilience Across a Lifetime 1

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Friday, November 28th, 2014
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The buildings that we construct may be able to stand the test of time, but are they necessarily suitable for a lifetime?

I was raised in a house in South East England that is now about 410 years old.  It was built centuries before Captain Cook sailed to Australia or before the American War of Independence; before either of the World Wars, the Crimean War, or the Battle of Waterloo; before human beings had seen skyscrapers, railways or even iron bridges.

With a simple timber frame, plaster walls and a tiled roof, it has remained standing through frost, snow, storms and blizzards, despite blinding sun, heatwaves and water shortages. To me, this represents true resilience.

Robin Mellon at his 410 year old home in South East England

410 year old home in South East England

And yet, while my family home has stood the test of time, its narrow hallways and steep stairs, uneven floors and tiny bathroom now make it unliveable for my mother as she gets older. In this house, ‘ageing in place’ is not an option.

Robin Mellon's old home does not support 'ageing in place'

Robin Mellon’s old home does not support ‘ageing in place’

In Australia, the number of people aged 75 years and over is expected to increase by about four million between 2012 and 2060 — an increase roughly equivalent to the current population of Melbourne.

An even more startling illustration of the ageing population is the number of people who will survive past 100 years of age. The Productivity Commission’s An Ageing Australia: Preparing for the Future (November 2013) states that in 2012 there was roughly one person aged 100 years old or more to every 100 babies.

By 2060, there will be around 25 centenarians for every 100 babies, and with continued small increases in longevity, by 2100, there will be more people aged 100 or more years than babies born in that year.

So will the homes we are building now be suitable to house this growing group of centenarians?

The nature of our ageing population will also have many policy implications – from how governments manage age pensions and health budgets to how we plan, design and build our homes, our communities and our cities. As National Seniors Australia has observed, “the residential environment is closely linked to an older person’s capacity to remain independent, participate in community activities and feel secure and in control of their daily activities.”

Livable Housing Australia is driving a paradigm shift in the way the residential development industry designs and builds modern homes. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines support the design and construction of homes that can adapt as people age.  And in turn, the Green Star – Communities rating tool’s ‘Accessibility and Adaptability’ credit awards points based on the percentage of dwellings compliant with LHA’s Guidelines.

Other GBCA members are committed to creating residential communities that deliver sustainable solutions that save money and ensure good quality of life. I’ve been inspired by Whiddon Group’s clever idea to install trickling showerheads with aerators. The water-saving showerheads use just nine litres of water a minute, but the aerators create lots of air bubbles so residents feel they’re not missing out on a hot shower. The feeling of luxury is there, but it is balanced by efficiency – and retrofits of their properties provide a long-term solution rather than a short-term ‘fix’.

Stockland achieved the first Green Star rating for a retirement village last year, for Selandra Rise in Victoria, and has two more projects registered to achieve ratings. The Green Building Council of Australia worked with Stockland to assess the design, construction and ongoing sustainability of 202 homes, 12 apartments and the community centre, as well as the practical and effective use of open space and residents’ proximity to shops, medical facilities and public transport. Stockland has estimated that the sustainability features will save residents at Selandra Rise an average of $700 each year on their water and energy bills.

These savings are another measure of resilience, and one which will become increasingly important as energy bills rise and pensions remain static. Financial resilience is an essential part of the overall resilience conversation – our ability to withstand climate extremes is vital but must be considered around long-term economic and social planning.

While an ageing population presents challenges, it’s also a blessing. After all, it’s the result of people living longer. It’s up to us to ensure we create built environments that are resilient in retirement.

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  1. Robert Taylor

    This represents a holisitc view on the whole concept of resilience. Having the structure still standing after centuries is one thing, but designing it so that it is suitable for use across different stages of life is another altogether.