Designing Intimate & Home-Like Spaces For Retirement Living


ThomsonAdsett's Sydney Studio Leader Rob Puflett talks about the importance of designing intimate and home-like spaces for retirement living.
He also discusses the need for supporting institutional infrastructure and understanding the health-care model aged care is often based on.
ThomsonAdsett is ranked the world's second largest architecture firm in the global seniors living sector of Building Design's World Architecture 100 list.

Evolving as a global community within a technological age has ensured that we are, on average, an ageing society. As life expectancy grows, so do the varying social challenges that comes with it. Never before have we put the extensive research, attention and care into how we design for the elderly in aged care facilities like we do now.

It's not just the health sector that is having to adapt to this societal shift – it's also the architects and fellow social problem solvers who play a strong part in creating a better way of life for a much longer period of time.

ThomsonAdsett is amongst the various architects in Australia who are working within this. Whilst we usually only gauge the beauty in architecture based on the final result of a structure, in this instance, it's the strategies Sydney Studio Leader Rob Puflett implements throughout the design process which are particularly striking. Strategies that have derived from years of care, consideration, study and application.

"We have a very strong connection to the fact that buildings are stagnant in the built environment and are projectors of meaning to the general public. Through built structure, we can convey the value systems of an organization," Rob says. In this instance, those value systems are based around nurture and care.

Before a single preliminary pen stroke hits paper, the focus is on determining what the built environment can do for the elderly in aged care facilities. Many of who, are in these institutions because they need a level of constant care and attention that most of us are lucky not to need.

St Paul's Residential Aged Care, Brisbane.[/caption]Just as other facets of design are gravitating towards a greater appreciation of health and wellness, so is aged care. “Aged care is moving into a more personalised health space – smaller care units and smaller nursing models,” Rob says.

"We're designing spaces now which are far more intimate, as well as more changeable and dynamic. Whether it be in the education or aged care sectors, we are designing spaces which are moving away from being 'institutional'."ThomsonAdsett has been able to experiment on exactly how to achieve this, through certain design features. For example, suppressing industrial elements of the architecture such as fire indicator panels and hydrants to make the facility feel more like a familiar domestic space. "It’s still an institutional setting so our challenge comes in supporting the infrastructure required, yet doing it in a way that creates a home-like-environment," Rob says.

Giving people the feeling of being comfortable within a home-like-space is heavily linked to improving the mental and physical health of the elderly. And it's this notion which sets early precedent for ThomsonAdsett's design process.

“Research shows that the more people are connected to their community network, the better they are doing as they age. When people have access to their local doctor and families, they benefit much more from that greater quality of life, especially in their last 25 years of life. The fewer moves, the fewer interruptions, the better your network is at supporting you,” Rob says. So with this in mind, architects need to design spaces which support a model of care that is more intimate and mimics a close knit community.

Streeton Park Retirement Village, Victoria.[/caption]This is one of the biggest aspects of the task, successfully understanding how the care model will work within the walls that are to be designed. For as nice as the architecture can be, it's pointless if it doesn't marry in with the function of caring and improving one’s condition. And researching care models plays a prominent part in ThomsonAdsett's design philosophy.

"Where the rubber hits the road is where the built environment connects with, and impacts on, people's lives. There is a real hand in glove relationship between the care services and the spaces they are delivered through," Rob says.

Having spent 18 months studying a degree on post-modern design philosophies, and then many additional years as an architecture academic, it's no surprise the tact Rob takes in designing aged care facilities. Yet it's this level of detail which is highly necessary. Aged care like any other sector within the health industry comes with its fair share of complexities. Yet if we consider the client and keep them at the forefront of our intentions, the architecture can improve quality of life, as opposed to just 'facilitating' the elderly.

Streeton Park Retirement Village, Victoria.[/caption] 

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