The following article is a contribution by Mark Trotter, Director at Fulton Trotter Architects.
With Australia’s largest and most influential age group, set to start leaving the paid workforce over the next 20 years, there will be unprecedented pressure on aged care facilities. As we begin to consider the needs of 5.6 million baby boomers, we must ask the question: how design can improve social and mental wellbeing?
Whilst human beings of every age need to belong, there is a growing body of research around the positive effects of social interaction in the elderly. According to the University of Rochester, staying socially active and maintaining interpersonal relationships can help maintain good physical and emotional health and cognitive function. However, as we age, friends and family move, drift apart, or pass away and our social interactions decline. The need to build a community for the elderly is ever more important.
Facility design can help reduce resident isolation and stimulate a sense of community by creating recreational spaces and encouraging social interaction between residents. This construction of community is not a new design concept; however, the buck has always stopped here.
But what if we can successfully integrate aged care facilities within the broader community?
We need to design safe and secure aged care residencies, as we would any other multi-residential precinct in the heart of the city, by creating usable public space and incorporating cafés, shops, function centres, art galleries, cinemas, restaurants, chapels, offices, playgrounds and gardens. By creating this “town centre”, we are encouraging the wider community to engage with residents. Where a site can accommodate integrated low-care forms of senior living, the commercial and cultural impacts are even greater. This is something we have successfully implemented at Parkview, and have continued to implement further with the near-complete John Wesley Gardens, and Dove Tree, which has just commenced construction.
Bringing community and commerce to the aged care site is an exciting way to layer private, secure aged care facilities with more engaging public activities.
In traditional Aboriginal culture, elders are respected for the value of their cultural knowledge, leadership abilities and for making decisions on behalf of the community. They are pivotal to their community.
Unfortunately, few people – particularly younger generations – don’t seem to fully appreciate the wealth of knowledge and experience that is harboured within most aged care facilities.
The aged have much to offer, and much to receive, from the younger generations. And vice-versa. Dare we ask then, why haven’t we combined aged care and senior living with education sites?
Having been involved in both aged care and education design, I have witnessed an increasingly desperate need for inner-city land to accommodate affordable aged housing options; while schools hold substantial land for low-intensity developments, are crying out for capital to build first-class education facilities. Imagine the opportunities for the aged to use first-class music, sport and arts teaching facilities during out-of-school hours. Surely it’s a win-win.