INsite asks GEOFF PENROSE of Lifemark and BRETT RIDLEY of Dalman Architecture about what the future aged care facilities and retirement villages will look like.

INSite: What do you perceive to be the current and future trends when it comes to designing for the aged care and retirement village sectors? 

Geoff Penrose, Lifemark: The baby boomer generation creates unprecedented opportunities and challenges for the retirement sector. The next 30 years will see more development than ever before and a number of new entrants will come to the market in response to the increased demand. Whilst location is an important factor, an increasing sophistication in terms of amenities, service design, and physical design is expected.

The villages will need to operate on a social scale providing a sense of community, whilst attending to the increased medical and technological needs. The Lifemark standards identify minimum expectations in terms of how a person will be able to freely move within their unit villages; those who do not respond to these design imperatives run the risk of doing expensive rebuilds as this generation continues to expand with social media and obtains feedback and expectations of how best practice villages operate and are designed.

Brett Ridley, Dalman: From our experience, current trends suggest that operators are looking to provide hospital-type care facilities as part of a retirement village. This requires significant design and functional knowledge to ensure the facility meets both the operator’s and regulatory requirements. The architect has to have an understanding of each stakeholder’s needs and then has to interpret these into a design solution. The decision by an operator to provide such care within an existing village involves sensitive, knowledgeable and practical design skills.

Master planning is an essential part of designing a village. This is true for both new facilities and re-working an existing complex.

Provision for dementia care is an expanding need and requires specialist design awareness to be successful.

Residents are often more mobile, active, and aware of their personal needs, and therefore, have a ‘voice’ on their expectations of a village. This then is reflected in design briefs.

[In terms of future trends] baby boomers are generally very mobile. They have car(s), are technically savvy, independent but socially active, educated (tertiary or technically), well-travelled and physically active. This places a new focus on what a village can and will provide, such as a swimming pool, computer room, bars, ‘storage’ needs and car parking.

Many people of this generation are used to design considerations across many cultural activities like music, arts, and architecture.

Many are professionally or technically trained and have careers with significant durations. Although independent, involvement with their children and grandchildren can involve a large part of their lifestyle.

It must be a thin line between creating something modern and cutting edge while still retaining elements to which older people will relate. Do you find this to be a balancing act?

Geoff: The new developments will continue to reflect modern design and contemporary living, however the challenge is for those villages that require refurbishment to determine the speed and level of refurbishment that reflects the needs of current clients and the needs of new clients who will be entering the facility.

Safety is also a critical aspect of design and well thought out safety features will help everyone enjoy the premise as much as possible, regardless of style.

Brett: Modern design has a variety of interpretations and therefore expectations. Comfortable, warm, pleasant, safe, functional, stimulating, affordable and sustainable are characteristics of good design for any age, and no less for the aged.

‘Cutting edge’ is not necessarily an appropriate or useful design description. It may be suitable in terms of health care awareness and technical provisions, but it may be inappropriate when considering the design of a care facility or apartments for the elderly.

The elderly can and do appreciate pleasant and well designed spaces. It is important that designers involved in facilities for the elderly regard the requirements and responses of the elderly as significant, while at that same time seeking to design relevant and modern environments.

The balancing act is often in regard to client design outcome expectations and the build cost budget.

How important is it to incorporate ‘sustainability’ into a design?

Geoff: Sustainability is a fundamental element to a successful operation. The construction and maintenance schedules should reflect environmental best practice, however the sustainability of people is also important.

Villages and care facilities need to ensure that the current and future needs of their clients are taken into account. This may be as simple as making sure a walking frame can be located by the bed or that the power point plugs are at least 300mm off the ground for easy access, or it can relate to ensuring that all pathways are able to be accessed by a motorised scooter and that the gradient is not too high. Developing these aspects at the design stage ensures that as clients age, the surrounding can accommodate their changing needs.

Brett: Architects by best practice should seek to design critical sustainability outcomes into a project. The selection of building materials and their durability, minimising maintenance issues, and incorporating the best practice for energy conservation, use and cost are all necessary for excellent design results.

Therefore, to achieve these outcomes, the effort placed on close collaboration between all stakeholders is essential.

It is essential to maintain a ‘long view’ of the design and resultant building to ensure the best is achieved for the cost expended.

What are your thoughts on ‘future-proofing’ for designs aimed at older people? 

Geoff: Universal design is about including everyone and not excluding people through faulty design practices. Future-proofed designs should work for everyone, not just older people. We sometimes forget that a village is a place for visitors as well as residents and that visitors also have needs. The parent with the stroller or the person on crutches from an accidental injury also appreciates the 1 in 20 slope gradients and level entry thresholds into the units.

Brett: Facilities for the elderly that provide excellent living environments also need to be flexible enough to adjust to the aging processes and changing needs of the residents.

The matter of ongoing care while not having to relocate from their home becomes a matter of emotional and mental security for residents. Incorporating flexible and appropriate living conditions into a design is a challenge worth the effort and outcomes.

With an increase in the number of elderly persons, combined with an increase in life expectancy, seeking to future-proof designs is not a matter to overlook if we are going to provide a high level of care and satisfying living environments.

What are the limitations? And how do you tend to get around these without overly compromising the design?

Geoff: Cost is always a factor in any development and when we look at a transport analogy we can see the similarities. How many times do we see a road developed with only one lane, only to be redeveloped 10 years later to two lanes? The need was there after three years, however it was easier to defer the cost and suffer the inconvenience. Some villages will be built to meet future needs (by supporting Lifemark certification, for instance) and others will just wait and defer this until it is absolutely necessary. Hopefully the residents will reinforce which is more desirable through their selection and choice in villages and facilities.

Brett: All building projects face similar fundamental matters that must be addressed by stakeholders, such as building and servicing costs, time and resources.

It is essential to establish the project purpose and parameters; what the concise budget is, based on the clear business model expectations, and therefore what the design brief is, so that all design consultants and stakeholders journey with the same goal in mind.

The questions that more often arise are: “what can be compromised, by how much, and what must not be compromised?” If the compromise is regarding safety and care, this should not even be entertained. However, if there is a decision to be made over equal or similar material selections then compromise may not be so difficult.

To what extent do architects learn from each other, both in New Zealand and internationally, with reference to projects in the aged care/retirement village sectors specifically? Is it generally collaborative or competitive?

Geoff: Villages have different care, community, and service features that flow over into design decisions. The architectural community is collaborative. However, the retirement sector is naturally competitive because of the growth and opportunities that it faces. Hopefully, this competition will increase the levels of facility and service delivery and the resident will be the recipient of the increased higher standards that anticipate and deliver on their current and future needs.

Brett: It would be exciting and beneficial to develop our knowledge, share our experiences and foster professional design development within the aged care sector.

This could result in established industry standards and guidelines that will enhance aged care projects.

Geoff Penrose is General Manager of Lifemark and Brett Ridley is Director of Dalman Architecture.


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