Home | Practical Living | Construction and Design | International friendly

International friendly

Global experts shed light on ways Australia can create age-friendly dwellings. 

Two international experts on age-friendly housing designs and cities have shared their knowledge at an Australian public lecture.

The event, hosted by Monash University’s faculty of design and architecture, featured presentations on international approaches to the design of housing and neighborhoods for older people by Arnoud Gelauff, director of Dutch architecture firm Arons en Gelauff, and Ruth Finkelstein, director of Age-friendly New York City.

The public lecture was part of the university’s Space of Ageing research initiative. Nigel Bertram, practice professor of architecture at Monash University, says the Space of Ageing program will seek to develop a series of research projects, “moving from the scale of the dwelling out to the scale of the street and beyond”, adding that the initiative will propose new ways of thinking about original and retrofitted dwellings and neighbourhoods.

“Already there are 3 million people over 65 living in our cities, and by 2030 this number will have doubled to 6 million,” Bertram says. “Around 90 per cent of people over 65 live in their homes in the community like everyone else, with only a small percentage of people living in age-specific accommodation, such as retirement villages.

“The current ageing population will continue to live in their communities for a range of reasons, including a desire to ‘age in place’, their lifestyle expectations, an insufficient amount of age-specific accommodation, as well as new technologies that enable healthcare to be delivered at home,” he says.

Bertram says that because the majority of people will live out most of their lives in cities, the urban environment needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of this cohort.

“So far, our city planners and developers are very slow to respond in providing alternative housing choices and age-friendly urban environments that address the needs of older Australians,” he says, adding that the project’s focus is on making improvements in these areas by looking at best practice from around the world.

Bertram says Dutch architectural firm Arons en Gelauff was looked at due to the way its designs integrated medical support.

“In the Netherlands, acclaimed designs for housing projects for seniors specifically embrace the idea that care becomes a supplement of the home, with care services being outsourced and delivered upon request,” he says.

Gelauff says the “notion of the home should always prevail over the notion of care.” He adds that care should not be neglected, but should still be hidden within the design. “Let the home be a home,” he says.

Bertram says the “practice is interested in producing high-quality housing that is flexible, an integral part of the community, as well as being desirable to live in.”

The concept, called “stealth care”, builds upon the fact that in the Netherlands, care is delivered to the doors of older people.

“It’s all about offering options while preserving autonomy instead of prescribing a nursing-home lifestyle,” Gelauff says, adding that spaces can be made with care in mind, without a resulting “bland, insititutional-style facility.”

Simple additions to the home can result in the observable care remaining discrete. “It starts with wheelchair accesibility, an extra socket and some extra space below the clothespegs in the cloakroom for the electric scooter, the possibility to wheel around a stretcher in the bathroom to help wash a handicapped person,” Gelauff explains.

He says a bathroom wall strong enough to mount a seat in the shower is also an important design point, along with direct connections between the master bedroom and living room so that the temporarily bedridden can still be engaged within the household, incorporating large sliding separation walls for this purpose.

Arons en Gelauff’s designs are supplemented by public spaces. The high-rise housing allows people to remain within cities and close to cultural and social facilities.

Gelauff suggests that homes could be created in a way that incentivises socialisation, where safety is integrated into the design materials and homes are created where senses can assist in identifying a location. “The options are myriad and should all be considered for the specific design task at hand,” he says. “Basically, designers can do so much better.”

De Plussenburgh, one of Arons en Gelauff’s designs, has some of the features of stealth care. The project’s design is intended to communicate that the apartment building is independent, but an inconspicuous elevator shaft connects the high-rise to the nursing home situated behind it, allowing access to medical aid, cooks and assistance.

Inside, concrete walls with bamboo reliefs are favoured to set the design apart from typical housing for older people. “In a way, they’re representative of our overall approach: trying to find solutions to problems by not just aesthetisising them, but by rethinking them from the ground up,” Gelauff says.

An upcoming project for the firm, Oosterhoogebrug, will feature 70 apartments that will be combined with a smaller nursing home consisting of 16 units. Shops, a small medical centre, a gym, a day-care centre and a cultural complex are all part of the plan, which sits in the Dutch city of Groningen. The aim is to create a new town centre for the area.

Age-friendly New York City’s Finkelstein spoke about what else can be done outside of the home to assist in the creation of supportive environments, including focusing on transport, social relations and recreations.

“Age-friendly New York City challenges all sectors of the city to rethink ageing and to consider how best to serve and benefit from this growing population. It promotes healthy, active and engaged older people by placing an age-friendly lens over all aspects of city life,” Bertram says.

As part of the Age-friendly NYC program, 10 innovative senior centres were created from existing senior facilities, featuring new wellness, cultural and arts programs and additional access to healthcare services and technological opportunities.

The introduction of the program also included the development of the Safe Streets for Seniors, which implemented safety improvements in areas where there were higher rates of senior fatalities and injuries. This included extending paedestrian walking times at crosswalks, adding countdown clocks, narrowing roadways and altering curbs and sidewalks. The initiative has helped decrease senior paedestrian fatalities citywide.

Age-friendly New York City recently won a Summa Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Innovation Award for its efforts.

Do you have an idea for a story?
Email [email protected]

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the top stories in our weekly newsletter Sign up now