Seniors Driving Change in Architecture

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Thursday, March 13th, 2014
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By 2050, one-quarter of Australia’s population will be 65 or older. As they embrace their retirement years, seniors are facing, and creating, a different world than they grew up in, including in the built environment.

A new report, Innovative Housing Solutions for Older Australians Delphi Technique Summary looks into what senior citizens want for their homes and lifestyles as they age. The report is based on a survey undertaken by Aged and Community Services Australia.

Two prominent themes are apparent: people want to age in place as much as possible, and they do not want to move to a large, institutional-style retirement village. As the report asks, “Why do we need retirement villages? Would it not just make more sense to just have master planned communities that incorporated building design that supports our older people, but still integrates them into society?”

To enable people to age in place as much as possible, new homes and remodeling options will embrace flexibility and adaptability. Removing impediments like stairs, both within the home and outside, enables continued use of all spaces. Wider hallways and passages accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. Flexible spaces with movable or removable walls easily and cheaply accommodate a room’s new use. A small dining room may need to transform into a larger space to accommodate a friend or family member moving in. Spouses pass on, and space needs change again. If seniors are to age in place, homes will need to accommodate those events easily.

Integrating technology with design also offers great promise in maintaining seniors’ independence. Health monitoring equipment such as movement sensors can allow family, friends and health workers to keep tabs on daily activities without undue invasion of privacy, thereby lessening or delaying the need for a higher level of care. Email, Skype, and Facebook foster connections with friends and family when face-to-face contact isn’t possible and can help to minimize loneliness.

Rather than a large institutional style retirement community with senior living, assisted living, and continuing care, the report states that housing options for seniors “will be more integrated with the wider community — less aged persons’ ghettoes.”

Greater integration enables access to and delivery of needed services and amenities such as cafes, grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, transportation, shopping, parks, and entertainment. In fact, many people will not need a home environment specific to seniors if their housing offers security with access to everyday needs.

One survey respondent hopes for “community engagement programs that will make it easier for me to connect with other people of all ages in my apartment block and in the surrounding community, with accessible meeting rooms and community gardens.”

An example of this more integrated model is the Seniors Central Living development at Fairfield, NSW. The project is based on Apartments for Life, a Dutch model created by the Humanitas Foundation. Apartments for Life stresses helping seniors maintain as much independence as possible while remaining socially connected. The projects is integrated into the city center, and residents can stay in their apartment for life — true aging in place.

Design parameters address accessibility for individuals, while the inclusion of community spaces offers opportunities for connection among residents and the larger community. Meeting rooms on the first floor provide space for consulting or health professionals. A rooftop terrace provides space for socializing, and ground floor retail space helps to blend the development into the larger community.

People expect to remain a part of a community, active, connected, and social. Architects and builders are uniquely able to create places that people of all ages can love because they can create healthy spaces that foster connections.

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