Part of the Innovators and Disrupters series, Final Homes was an interactive discussion with Anne Feikje Weidema, director of the Research Focus Group on Housing for the Elderly at PLP Architecture, on her research on elderly housing in the Netherlands. At the heart of her discussion is the belief that “environments in which we reside and live have an enormous impact on how we experience our lives”. Anne argues that elderly homes today are not cut out for the next generation of elderly, who are, although aging, also fitter, have longer life expectancy and have their own personal set of requirements. The architecture is ‘dead’ and hospitalised, it are places we cannot or do not want to identify with. It is isolated from society and dissatisfying, and it is dull to the senses, focusing on disabilities rather than abilities. Anne wants to give the elderly more autonomy in their own place and integrate these homes into society and the environment.
“What we need is to cure with care”, using architecture to inspire through more iconic and inviting design, a mixed use typology, buildings that engage with the senses, especially since cognitive abilities decline when we grow older. Architecture should be evolving, enduring, and sustainable. Care architecture should also be inclusive, focusing on the needs and wishes of the users, residents and their family. Architecture made for everyone with an inter-generational approach that embraces society and cultural values. There are multiple examples of inter-generational housing where buildings combine, for example, student housing with elderly housing to encourage interaction and exchange.
Finally, architecture must be healing, mentally and physically, and empowering. It should be caring; moving from functionality to humanity so that people can move from illness to wellness. “Why can’t the last stage be beautiful?” For example, the Paimio Sanitarium for people with tuberculosis focuses its design on natural sunlight exposure as a cure to TB. Fujimoto’s centre for mentally disturbed children, which uses materials with light and soft colours to yield a positive effect on wellbeing. Anne also mentions PLP projects that link design, technology, comfort, well being and society, such as The Edge in Amsterdam, in which users can “speak” to the building to adjust lighting and temperature, and Sky Central, in which numerous small meeting areas create a ‘social hub’ for employees to relax and discuss plans; a building that also stimulates physical activity.
If we want to rethink the living spaces of the elderly and design this concept, Anne urges, the most important thing is that we share and discuss knowledge and ideas, especially with the next generation, across different disciplines and backgrounds to come up with new ways to improve the living conditions of the elderly.
Others in the room argue that the key problem is funding. Less engagement means less money, which implies lower quality. With children, for example, parents are heavily invested in decisions, leading to better design; how do we make facility managers care about psychological effects of design in homes? Clearly, the private sector has not been active in this respect. But this point takes on a more optimistic future: the participants agree that the face of elderly people is changing and that the market will have to cater to these new preferences.
With better design, relevant policy, and healthy funding, elderly care homes stop becoming care homes entirely; a care home becomes “an experience, a sensory, interactive space and a future destination where everyone is welcome”.
Words by Pao Maneepairoj