Housing for an Ageing Population
With the UK in the midst of a housing crisis while the baby boomer generation enters retirement, housing for ageing populations is more important now than ever. Ellen Daniel explores the challenges and opportunities retirement property architecture presents
Images courtesy of Perkins+Will
According to the Office for National Statistics, one in four people in the UK will be over 65 by 2037, with “ongoing advances in technology, healthcare and lifestyles” meaning we are living longer than ever before.
Not only will this present new challenges for the health and social care sphere, it will also mean that providing housing for this growing group, which is both suitable for a range of needs while desirable place to live, presents a new opportunity for the world of planning and designing.
One organisation taking on this challenge is the Urban Land Institute. The organisation recently published its ‘Later Living: Housing with Care’ guide, setting out best practice for designing quality housing with care.
Through the report, the ULI is seeking to “promote the provision of housing with care accommodation through some myth busting and the promotion of good and innovative practice, which puts people and choice at the centre of delivery”.
Design innovation for retirement properties
The UK is currently facing a housing crisis, with 8.4 million people in England living in “unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable homes”, according to the National Housing Federation. Those over 65 live in a third of all dwellings, meaning better provision of housing for the over 65s could offer benefits across society.
However, housing for this group of people has often lacked design innovation, with buildings often ill-suited or aesthetically bland, leaving little motivation for individuals to relocate from their existing homes.
Combined with a shortage of retirement properties, with just 7,000 retirement homes built in the UK in 2017 according to Thisismoney, meaning there is great scope for investment and improvement in this area.
“ Our aspiration is to encourage conversations about what is needed, promote new and emerging models that will attract new entrants, funders and operators. ”
It is within this context that the ULI’s report aims to promote the building of homes that are “characterful and homely, with features required to deliver care being invisible or unobtrusive”.
Stephanie McMahon, head of research at BNP Paribas Real Estate UK writes:
“Our aspiration is to encourage conversations about what is needed, promote new and emerging models that will attract new entrants, funders and operators, and inform strategic planning across a diverse spectrum of stakeholders.”
“Balancing privacy and sociability”
Although designing accommodation for the over 65s may involve many of the same design principles that go into creating homes for any age group, there are a number of additional considerations that must be taken into account.
The ULI report states that skilful building design in this type of housing “must balance privacy and sociability, and enable independence without loneliness.”
According to research by Age UK, over one million older people say they always or often feel lonely, with the structures of buildings and streets, as well as the provision of local amenities, being factors that can contribute to isolation.
“ The careful planning of residences in order to encourage social interaction, while also allowing for privacy, is crucial to supporting the mental health of those who live there. ”
Therefore, the careful planning of residences in order to encourage social interaction, while also allowing for privacy, is crucial to supporting the mental health of those who live there.
The ULI suggests that the designing of communal spaces should “promote social encounters” and be easy to access. Making use of natural light, a mixture of open and more intimate spaces, and comfortable furnishings is one way to achieve this.
One such example of this is a housing development by Dominique Coulon & associés, located in Huningue in France. As well as showcasing modern, minimalist design, the architects behind the project have said that “everything is organised to foster relations among the residents”.
‘Housing for the elderly’, a retirement development in Huningue, France, designed by Dominique Coulon & associés. Image courtesy of Dominique Coulon & associés
Meeting the needs of residents
Ensuring that the space caters for varying levels of mobility is also key, with the additional space required for wheelchairs, the removal of tripping hazards and ensuring that outdoor and communal spaces are accessible to all being primary design considerations.
The ULI report also highlights that interiors must be adaptable so they are also suited to more active residents, taking into account the fact that their mobility may change over time. Therefore creating "interiors that are futureproofed to meet the needs of people as they get older" is extremely important.
However, spaces must also be “properly planned to be aesthetically coherent and practical”, with accessibility an integral part of good quality design.
“ As well as varying levels of mobility, design must account for residents with other conditions such as dementia that may make finding their way around a building challenging. ”
As well as varying levels of mobility, design must account for residents with other conditions such as dementia that may make finding their way around a building challenging. Different colour schemes for each floor or careful planning of the building's layout are some ways to achieve this.
An example of this is Colby Lodge in Walthamstow, designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards, which has accessible design at its heart thanks to "clear, uncomplicated layout, designed to take account of older people’s need for orientation cues and their reduced visual awareness".
Integrating care facilities into design not only helps individuals, but also the community as a whole. Research by the ExtraCare Charitable Trust suggests that those living in their properties with provided care save the NHS an average of £1,994 per resident.
Colby Lodge in Walthamstow, the UK, designed by Pollard Thomas Edwards has been praised for its elderly friendly yet visually strong design. Image courtesy of Pollard Thomas Edwards
Functionality and style
Looking to the future, it is likely that smart technology will continue to play an increasingly central role in home design, particularly for older occupants. The ULI predicts that "future passive monitoring is likely to encompass simple systems like detecting when the shower, kettle or cooker has been used to monitor the health and wellbeing of a resident", meaning that incorporating an even greater level of technology into planning will be a design challenge for architectural firms moving forward.
One firm breaking the mould for retirement living is ACDF Architecture. The Canadian firm has designed a 286-unit titled the Sélection Panorama in Sainte-Dorothée, Quebec, that is intended to be an “inspiring living environment for its residents” by combining “efficiency with flamboyance”.
While extra considerations must be taken into account when planning specialised properties, this does not mean high quality, stylish design needs to be compromised.