Attachment by design

A row of villa units with palm trees around.Attachment to home is a complex concept. For older people it is often interpreted as a place holding memories and providing security and peace of mind. Consequently, attachment to home is usually cited as the reason older people are not keen to move. However, it could be because there aren’t any better places to move to, and that includes retirement villages. The design of the dwelling might be more important than the “resort-style” features in the glossy sales brochures. And that comes down to the details of the design.

Residents in a retirement village were the subject of a recent study to find out what would help them become more attached to the place they might move to or live in. That is, what design features would make them feel happy. Functionality of the space turned out to be key – not the latest fashions. This excerpt from the abstract shows that:

“…having an open/semi-open layout of internal space, large windows and plenty of sunlight, accessible large closet and storage space, shared/public green space and accessible and age-friendly design of entry, bathroom and kitchen area are features most participants found to be important in raising their sense of attachment to where they live”.

While this study was not on a broad scale, it does indicate that these features, which would be attractive to any age, aren’t just needed in retirement villages. If we had mainstream homes with these features then perhaps more older people would “rightsize” to a new home.

The title of the thesis from New Zealand is, The Role of Architectural Design in Enhancing Place Attachment for Older Adults in Retirement Communities, by Masoumeh Shiran.


Homes of 2030

A woman stands holding a sheet of paper with her statement of what Home 2030 should be. A whiteboard with lots of post it notes is behind her.The Design Council in the UK ran a workshop to ask participants to think about the future and their homes. They presented a series of scenarios based on experts ideas about our living arrangements. There was a call for human contact, and for the public and private outdoor spaces and gardens by the homes. The group also wanted to see whole neighbourhoods that were “self-sufficient, sustainable and communal”. Homes would be “safe, comfortable and warm, for all the family from the cradle to the grave”. 

It is good to see that the concept of home does not end at the property boundary, but merges into the neighbourhood. It’s not clear who the participants were, how they were recruited, or what groups were represented. This is an ongoing project and it will be interesting to see if inclusive design gets a mention or whether getting older is outside the participants’ frame of reference. The title of the article is Our Home of 2030


Are we achieving inclusive design?

Front cover of inclusive designer book. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) asked Julie Fleck to write a book about inclusive design, which was published recently. Fleck was asked by Tourism for All whether she thought we are doing a good job with inclusive design. She said the UK has made huge progress since the 1980s when access became a town planning matter. Improved building regulation, including housing, have had a significant impact on the accessibility of the built environment.

The book also provided an opportunity for Fleck to look at what still needs to be done. She discusses the need to challenge perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. These are the factors that exclude and discriminate – often unintentionally. The book also looks at the London “Square Mile” and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has case studies and lots of pictures. The title of the book is, Are you an inclusive designer?  

Overview: Despite improvements in the last 20 years we still have a long way to go before all of our buildings, places and spaces are easy and comfortable for all of us to use. This book puts forward a powerful case for a totally new attitude towards inclusivity and accessibility. Exploring both the social and the business cases for striving for better, this book will empower architects to have more enlightened discussions with their clients about why we should be striving for better than the bare minimum, and challenging the notion that inclusive design should be thought of reductively as simply a list of “special features” to be added to a final design, or that inclusivity is only about wheelchair access. The ultimate aim of this book will be to help make inclusive design business as usual rather than something that is added on to address legislation at the end of the development process. Accessible and engaging, this book will be an invaluable resource for students as well as practicing architects, richly illustrated with case studies showing both good and bad examples of inclusive design, and celebrating inclusion. Rather than a dry manual, this book combines a powerful, thought-provoking polemic arguing for a step change in attitude, a guide for practitioners on how to have constructive conversations with clients around ID, and a learning resource for students and architects on how to adopt inclusive design and inclusive environment approaches in their work Offers an engaging challenge to widespread assumptions around what constitutes good, accessible design Provides practical advice, illustrated with case studies, for inclusive design principles The book will also act as a guide for practitioners on how to have more enlightened discussions with their clients around inclusivity

Housing: What next for an ageing Australia?

a blue glowing house icon is held in the handsIf you ask an older person if their home will suit them in their later years, they are likely to say yes. But how will they know and will they find out when it’s too late? That is the key issue when policy makers talk about ageing in place. Are we actually prepared for it? And not only are they people’s homes, they are potentially the workplaces for care service staff. 

The intersection of home design and support services is one of the factors looked at by Matthew Hutchinson from QUT. His thesis looks at a myriad of housing types including collective living and mutual support, which on the face of it, looks like group home living. Building design is mentioned in passing. The thesis proposes several ways of re-thinking the types of dwelling and dwelling arrangements that might better suit older people to age in place and receive care at home.

This is a very academic text with lots of diagrams and flow charts. Suitable for architects who are interested in housing typology and policy makers interested in ageing in place strategies. The title of the thesis is, Housing for an ageing Australia: What next?  

Abstract: Within the policy context of ageing-in-place aspirations, this thesis examines the potential nature of housing for Australia’s ageing population. By conceptualising housing and support together as an ecology and using grounded theory methodology to involve relevant stakeholders the thesis reveals both the desire and need for new urban and suburban based housing typologies arranged around collective living and mutual support. It further proposes a performance brief comprising desirable housing design principles. The thesis makes a contribution theoretically to the fields of architecture and critical gerontology.


Downsizing: Is anyone interested?

A For Sale sign with a red roof over the lettering.Downsizing is not happening even if policy makers think it’s a good idea for older generations. This is the bottom line of the latest brief from AHURI. So, what is downsizing? First, this concept is mostly about home owners not renters. There is financial downsizing to release equity by buying a cheaper home. But only 20 per cent of owner-occupiers aged 55 to 64 years in 2001 moved to another home of lesser value by 2016 (this age cohort was the most likely to have ‘financially downsized’ during this 15 year period).

Physical downsizing is often seen as reducing the number of bedrooms, but this is a crude measure. This is because the number of bedrooms isn’t the issue. The size of all the rooms could be smaller, but it’s the size of the yard and maintenance that really matters to older people. Fewer than 15 per cent of older home-owners moved to another home with fewer bedrooms between 2001 and 2016. This latest research serves to confirm the key study by Bruce Judd and team where they found all bedrooms were in use. Also, older people spend more time at home, so it’s their space for recreation and activities

The title of the brief is, Understanding downsizing: What are the different types of downsizing and how common is it? There are references to other related AHURI research in this brief.

Editor’s comment: Government and the property industry might be keen to see older home owners move. However, the evidence is showing that the property industry might have to re-think their strategy of trying to entice people into their retirement villages by continuing to design and build homes so that people can’t age in place.  


Ageing in the right place

Front cover showing the four steps.Advocates are calling for all new homes to include universal design features, but what about current homes? Even if occupants decide to renovate and include such features, how will they know what might be needed? The My Home My Choices tool can help.

The tool has four steps: individual wants and issues; opportunities for improvement in the home and lifestyle: different options for maximising the use and value of the home; and other choices such as moving, sharing, home modifications and home support. This well researched tool is easily adapted from this New Zealand model. 

Another research group has developed a prototype web application to use at home when needed, over time and at the user’s own pace. It consists of three modules Think, Learn and Act to facilitate awareness, offer information and knowledge and enable the user to decide and act on issues relating to housing. Topics are: preferences, the home, the neighbourhood, health status, social network and support, financial situation, the future, options for help and support and housing options.

A poor fit between the home and what older people need can lead to unnecessary care needs, loneliness, worse quality of life, increased caregiver time and early institutionalisation. 


Good Design: How do you measure it?

Logo of the Urban Design Conference.Good design means different things to different people, so how can you measure or evaluate it? As Trivess Moore says, “Poor design – an absence of ‘good’ design – locks in owners, the local community and cities to substandard urban environments, often for considerable time periods.” Moore believes that arguments for the value of good design are too easily dismissed because we lack a rigorous evidence base. Maybe this is one of the reasons the principles of universal design and notions of public good are ignored. An interesting argument in this paper to which the principles of universal design could be added. While written in 2014, it has relevance to the upcoming RIS on Accessible Housing.

The paper was published in 7th International Urban Design Conference 2014 and is titled, Valuing form and function: Perspectives from practitioners about the costs and benefits of good apartment design. It’s on page 73.

Abstract: Methods for placing values on good design are under-researched in Australia. Without a rigorous evidence base, costs are anticipated and benefits unrecognised. This paper presents an overview of the current state of the value of good design research for the built environment, and reports upon a series of interviews with experienced building industry stakeholders in Australia and the UK. The research finds that while the benefits of good design are recognised by building practitioners, these are not being consistently translated into exchange value and are therefore not being picked up in mainstreaming best practice. In order to raise the quality of design there is a need to develop ways to measure and articulate these benefits to housing producers and consumers.

Better home design reduces care hours

A bathroom has been stripped out and a few builders tools lay about on the floor. The bath is laying on its side.Home modifications can reduce the number of informal care hours people need by 47% and paid hours by 17%.  So why don’t we design homes for longevity in the first place? These findings are from a study by Phillippa Carnemolla, and there is more to this story. People felt more independent and enjoyed improved quality of life. This had a positive impact on their general health as well. There is more to discover in this paper and it supports the need for all new homes to have basic access features included. 

The title of the paper is, How Home Modifications Impact Ageing Well at Home: Supporting a Lasting Housing Legacy. It was published in Proceedings of the 5th International Conference for Universal Design in Fukushima & Tokyo 2014. Hence the reference in the Abstract to the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games. Here is her Three Minute Thesis video giving the bottom line.

Abstract: A lasting legacy of all Olympic and Commonwealth games is their athletes villages. This paper discusses the potential for home modifications to support the process of ageing well that builds on this housing legacy and as such points to the benefits to be gained from both wider uptake of universal design in housing plus attention to special adaptations as needed. In the context of Australia’s ageing population, ageing well can encompass a number of different housing and care models, however common to all of these is a drive to maintain quality of life levels. There is evidence to suggest that home modifications impact recipients in a number of overlapping ways, by increasing independence within the home, increasing social participation and enabling people to remain in their own homes for longer as they age. This paper refers to completed stage one findings (Levels 1, 2 and 3) of an ongoing research project investigating the value of home modifications. It uses a mixed method approach and thematic analysis of survey responses from home modification recipients (n=157). This research design enables the measurement of the impact of home modifications to housing and resulting changes to care giving needs. The survey results reveal a decrease in reported care hours needed following home modifications, a trend which is further supported by the thematic analysis. In conclusion, the research contributes to developing evidence that home modifications can have a measurable impact on the care needs of recipients and support the changing social needs of ageing populations in ageing well.

Dr Phillippa Carnemolla is a board member of CUDA. 


Older Australians: no plans to move

We expect to grow old, but because we don’t aspire to grow old, we rarely plan for it. “I’ll worry about it when the time comes” is a usual response. A new report from AHURI looks at the housing situation for older Australians and some previous research is confirmed.

Most respondents felt their current home would suit them as they grow older. Eliminating steps is obvious, but what about other features? Generally, older people would like to own a detached dwelling (69%) with three bedrooms (50%). Those in the 75+ group think that a two bedroom apartment is a good idea, probably because they can eliminate steps. Most importantly, they don’t want to be in the private rental market.

Older Australians are not planning ahead. If they are, they lack information on how to go about it, what to look for, and what their options are other than age-segregated housing. A significant proportion of respondents hadn’t thought about planning ahead for their living arrangements. 

Plenty of material in this report for anyone interested in housing and older people. Title of the report is, Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap. You can download the Executive Summary and the Full Report separately. 

Editors’s comment:  Although home owners said their homes would support them in later life, this might not be an objective view. With a desire to stay put, can we rely on their self-assessment when they have so much emotional and financial investment in their current home?To be sure that homes will suit people throughout their life, every home needs to be designed for the life course. We need all new homes to be fit for that purpose


Ageing in Place: Not there yet

A suburban house in UK showing before and after the ramp. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.

Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?  

The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.