Dwelling in the Golden Years

Experiments in senior living

Illustration Evgenia Barinova

“My sense was that housing and urbanism for the ‘Young-Old’ was not really being discussed. I became interested in how emphasis had shifted from care and rest to entertainment and leisure, and how these senior communities were self-segregating on an urban scale” Deane Simpson

Emergence of the ‘Young-Old’. Image: ‘After Peter Laslett, A Fresh Map of Life, 1989.’ From Young-Old.
Guedes Cruz Architects’ Alcabideche Social Complex in Lisbon, Portugal. © Ricardo Oliveira Alves.
Ground floor plan of Housing for Elderly Residents, Hampstead, showing social spaces. Image © Sergison Bates.

“We designed a plan that incorporates a series of areas that allow differentiated access, with interlocking rooms and long diagonal views across them. This creates a landscape of spaces one can move through in more than one way, so that the needs of individual residents can best be met.” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.

Portuguese practice Aires Mateus Arquitectos have taken the senior high-rise typology into a rural context for their ‘Residências assistidas em Alcácer do Sal’ (Houses for elderly people in Alcácer do Sal) project, also in Portugal. Speaking to Dezeen, they describe the scheme as a “micro-society”, “between a hotel and a hospital”. They suggest an aim of the project was to address the limited mobility of the building’s residents by forming a patchwork of gently sloping walkways which meander across the site. While the architectural intervention is striking and sculptural due to the way it slices into the topography, it is unclear what access the elderly residents have to medical facilities or social spaces to promote their health and well-being in the long term.

Residências assistidas em Alcácer do Sal. Image © Aires Mateus Arquitectos.

“[Aging in place] is not a perfect solution as it still poses challenges — on both the housing and neighborhood scale. Immobile seniors who have aged in place in low-density car-based housing areas can be vulnerable to social isolation, and can be beyond walking distance to local amenities or a supermarket.” Deane Simpson

Social Housing in Barking by Patel Taylor. Image © Peter Cook.

A main characteristic of a co-living approach is to form independent but connected living arrangement to ensure sufficient degrees of privacy, while benefiting from shared social spaces.”

Senior living dream 4: Co-living
Loneliness and the rising cost of care are some of the most challenging aspects faced by both ‘Young-Old’ and ‘Old-Old’ age groups. Based on a traditional Japanese concept first trialed in Tokyo, some architects are experimenting with combining seniors with other demographic groups with free time but minimal disposable income to create skill-sharing communities. Examples include this nursing home in the Netherlands which is also a student dorm and the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle.

Lennar’s ‘Next Gen Home’ incorporates a separate apartment within the main footprint of the house. Image © Lennar.

“It is only recently that some of these retirement villages have given in to pressure to provide assisted care facilities, it’s not part of their branding as lifestyle products. They do not have cemeteries, sometimes they remove the deceased during the night, reflecting taboos about death and illness amongst this age group.” Deane Simpson

Sun City Arizona retirement community. Image © Deane Simpson from Young-Old.

“Outcomes of different surveys also emphasize what can be problematic about the current living conditions for those who are ageing in place.” Deane Simpson

Costa Del Sol, the Retirement Capital of Europe. Image © Deane Simpson

“Architects need to go back to experimenting with housing in the way they did in the ’60s and ’70s. More experimental housing typologies should also be tested to respond to other demographic trends, such as the growing number of single households in western cities” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.

Huis Ten Bosch, Japan. Image © Deane Simpson from Young-Old.

The ritual of aging is that of continual reinvention, not of tradition, and the senior housing industry is deeply vested in understanding and responding to evolving market desire.” American Architectural Foundation

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Hannah Wood

Architect and researcher based in Tanzania, East Africa. Follow for discussions on how global developments are shaping the built environment👇