Apartments for All

Increasing Independence of our Aging Population

Eimear Ennis from NODA is looking at the housing crisis and how we need to look at changing the way we live particularly as we get to the golden years whereby downsizing may be necessary.

The Irish Times had an interesting article about this time last year, 2019, about the aging demographic of the Irish population. It was written by Jack Horgan Jones and Martin Wall and titled “The old Country: Getting Ready for an aging Ireland”. The facts they produced were quite startling. They verify that our now balanced population pyramid (between those over 80 and the younger generations) will begin to change as we become more top heavy. By 2051 there will be between “496,600 and 691,800 more older people than younger people. So how are we going to cater for them?

Traditionally in Ireland we are full of nostalgia for our homes where memories have been made and it is typical to see the older generation still living in larger homes with 4-5 bedrooms until their final days. We see that they remain at home until drastic action needs to be taken. Maybe they need medical assistance and they can no longer fend for themselves and then the only option is to go to a nursing home and then this move can be quite traumatic for all.

The last census in 2016 by the CSO, www.cso.ie, confirm that there were 637,567 of our population that are over 65, this was an increase of 19%. The figures from this census states that of this number that 78% of over 85 year olds were still living in private households. Over the next 30 years this number will continue to increase and with our housing shortage we need to start acting on how we can let this demographic maintain their independence, and remain in the community in their own home for longer whilst remaining safe.

Image courtesy of Pexels hands

Image by Pexels

Image courtesy of Pexels Elderly

Image by Pexels

Nobody wants to be a burden on society, and no one wants to end up in a nursing home, particularly in light of the current COVID situation where the vulnerable in our community have been victim to this virus. As I have personally seen with my husband’s grandfather who died last year aged 94, it is hard to tell someone they need to “give up their independence”, to become institutionalised and be sent to a soulless clinical nursing home particularly if their mind is still “young” as there are no other options.

But what is being elderly? Technically you can say on retirement at 65, although most people would say at about 70. You can still be very active at 70 and so we are not suggesting that they are sent away, but we need to look at creating affordable alternatives that are attractive financially and tick all the requirements in terms of location, safety and additional amenities.

  • Parking

  • Green Areas

  • Accommodation for family visiting

  • Access to private outdoor space

  • Storage

In terms of Master Planning, location is vital, these premises need to belong in the heart of the community so that they are close to facilities and that ground floor spaces can be connected to the community by the addition of cafes, library spaces, walks around communal gardens. It is important that each resident keeps their independence for as long as they possibly can. Ideally they should be near Primary Care Centres, and possibly that an outreach system could be devised so the more vulnerable do not have to wait in bug ridden waiting rooms.

There are many different forms of ‘homes’ for the elderly that can value the importance an aged person has in keeping control on their lives. Traditionally there is Assisted Living and Nursing Homes.

The main difference is that in assisted living you can still live in an apartment with access to services such as meals, care if you are not mobile etc whereas the nursing home is when more medical intervention is required. Apartment living has long been noted as a good option in that everything is on the one level. This has long been in the European psyche and one which is quite alien to the Baby Boomers in Ireland.

However, as we increasingly see each generation is staying active much longer and so we need to look at newer concepts to us. Research studies have claimed that longevity of life and good health are related to our contact with people. Loneliness is one of the biggest contributors to impairing the health of the elderly. What we need to create are spaces that allow for social mingling and to be part of a community. Co-Living and Co-Housing are typologies that explore this principle.

The Scandinavians have taken all these issues on board when designing for the elderly. Vandkunsten an architectural company in Denmark seems to have the right ethos, their belief is that “good architecture has the capacity to make society more liveable”. I would totally agree. We need to be engaging in a better social dynamic which allows for the elderly community to still be present in our lives and not moved to the outskirts of town.

One Bedroom Apartment

One Bedroom Apartment 60m2

The Danish have embraced different typologies and even have family dwellings shared with co ‘living for seniors aged 55+. This is not a new idea; in fact, it is one that begun in the early 1970’s.

I can see its merits. From the ages of 60 – 80 if we are lucky enough to still be active and healthy it is not necessarily healthcare assistance that we are looking for, but community and social contact.

 With Co Living the intent is rooms with their own ensuites that share all other facilities kitchens, laundries etc. Not unlike the Co living we are producing with SQRE for the Generation Z’s. I would stress that these suites need to be bigger and the One Bed Apartment example is approx. 60m2.  This type still allows for a modest living space so that the occupier can still have a place to relax in their own private “ home”. We have allowed for a small cooking zone whereby you can make tea, heat up food, have breakfast. It is a small space but the link to more social spaces would mean they are gaining a lot more.

With these Co Living Spaces it is important that there is a spare apartment for family to stay if they wish, however all the apartments we have designed allow for the living area to be closed off and a pull down sofa bed in it, not unlike a Junior suite in the Hospitality market.

Apartments for the Elderly Photograph by

Apartments for the Elderly

Photograph by Seier + Seier

Co Living Apartment.jpg

Co-Living Apartment 50m2

Proximity to Community Resources noda sketch

Proximity to Community Resources

For Co Living It is important that choice is maintained, where there are 50-60 units there is the choice to socialise, the choice to participate, the choice to retreat to the privacy for your own dwelling.

Co-housing as an alternative I feel would be preferable. In this type the occupant has their own apartment but there are shared facilities such as larger lounges, laundries and garden spaces.

 In both cases private areas need to connect to areas where chance meetings can take place. For example, narrow corridors should be eliminated so wider “streets” that can provide casual meetings. By allowing a front door and seating area and possibly connection to the floors below this all takes away from long corridors. Not unlike Co Living and PRS what we are selling is a ”Lifestyle”, one which the current 20-40 year olds are well versed in and recognise that the amenities are what makes the scheme.

The importance with all these types is that they work as you transition from greater to less mobility. All the spaces are designed with level access, turning circles are throughout and not just at the end of the rooms. There is space to dock a mobility scooter. Ensuites can be retro fitted with seats and handrails. What works for the elderly is no different to a couple with a young family. There needs to be space for storage and space that a buggy can be parked.

I was reading an article in the Architects Journal that Sarah Wigglesworth did as part of the University of Sheffield’s DWELL research (Designing for Wellbeing in Environment for Later Life). https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/buildings/age-friendly-housing-how-good-design-can-improve-later-life/10021394.article Their approach is that apartments should be designed for all, there should be no difference in a family apartment than that for an elderly person downsizing, but that means that we will need to review the sizes of these apartments. There is no reason why in apartment developments that there can’t be a blocks designated to the 55-80 year olds.

We need to consider how we can future proof the space for the elderly:

  • rooms that can accommodate a hospital bed and a single bed for instance so you can still share a space with your partner if you want. With the ceiling strengthened for hoists.

  • Allowing walls to be construction so that handrails and lifting chairs can be added if required.

  • Having flexibility to screen off spaces as an extra room if guests come to stay.

  • Maintaining level access for entrances and within ensuites.

  • Storage facilities within the unit

  • Options on 1,2 and 3 bedroom apartments

Talking to a local care worker where her client’s abilities and their ages vary she agrees that it helps to have a same level premises as this allows the person to be independent for a lot longer. The issue is that a lot of these developer apartments do not consider the extra space required to keep them in their homes, such as hoists and larger ensuites. She feels that the community based living would be very beneficial as there would be constant people in the area rather than being alone and as she says “people very much like their own home comforts” and to leave this would reduce their independence.

Homes for the elderly do not need to be beige and bland, they still need to feel like a home. What we need to understand is that there needs to be the ability to adapt to cater for the less abled as we move into later years.  Communal spaces need to be considered and feel inviting and warm. At NODA we feel that this typology is a cross between Housing, Hospitality and Healthcare and one which we feel that developers should get involved in now to relieve the issues we are experiencing with lack of housing as the future is catering for this demographic.

The Social Corridor Concept

The Social Corridor Concept

Three Bedroom Apartment with capability

Two Bedroom Apartment with capability to alter with our increasingly mobility needs

noda architects 2020

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