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From 8 to 80: designing adaptive spaces for an ageing population

Important challenges are facing our society as the population globally ages thanks to higher life expectancy, better housing and living conditions and improved healthcare. For individuals this is of course…

Housing needs to be adaptive over our lifetimes. sean dreilinger

Important challenges are facing our society as the population globally ages thanks to higher life expectancy, better housing and living conditions and improved healthcare.

For individuals this is of course good news, but for communities it will place pressure on services to support the ageing population as it becomes more dependant.

Architects and urban designers like me need to take responsibility and consider designing cities, neighbourhoods, places and spaces that can adapt to these changing needs. Cities need to be inclusive, accommodating people with disabilities but also limited mobility.

Ageing at home

Communities need to be designed to be interdependent – to provide environments that encourage people to support one another as our life circumstances change.

Housing needs to be adaptive over our lifetimes. This means we need to design spaces that could house a society with changing needs from “8-80” – housing and cities should accommodate changing generational needs and lifestyles, from a child to a couple, to elderly people possibly living on their own or needing support or care.

There are many examples internationally of the 8-80 concept, in Toronto, Canada 8-80 cities are supporting sustainable neighbourhoods.

In the UK, the Barker Review of Land Use Planning, commissioned by the government in 2005, consulted widely across the construction industry and professional bodies to consider how housing supply should meet demand.

From the Barker Review came initiatives to create “age responsive housing” and ideas of “lifetime homes”, houses that are designed so they can change as the housing needs change, with movable partitions and easily accessible bathrooms.

This means people can “age in place” and stay in their own homes as they get older, rather than move to a new adapted home. According to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last year, ageing at home is something that older Australians prefer.

The Commons, Brunswick. Lorraine Farrelly

‘The Commons’ in Brunswick

Adaptive housing is also an important part of the sustainability agenda. Sustainability involves sustaining the community, not just preserving energy and recycling materials. A sustainable community can continue, evolve, and develop over time.

The Commons, a residential complex in Melbourne, is an interesting example of this and was open to the public to explore on Sunday as part of Open House Melbourne. The Commons is a small project, completed last year, along the railway line next to Anstey station on Florence Street, Brunswick. Designed with no parking, residents all have bicycles. The project is located along a purpose designed cycle route into the city.

From a design perspective, the architects Breathe Architecture have designed simple spaces, with a utilitarian approach, an industrial aesthetic and honest practical materials – concrete countertops and floors.

The Commons, Brunswick. Lorraine Farrelly

More interesting, however, is the approach to community. There are spaces that encourage people to meet through everyday activities. The ground floor has a shared cycle store and cafe where residents meet on the way in and out – but the rooftop is where the real community space exists. With fantastic views to Melbourne in the south, there is a rooftop garden in which residents each have a “grow box” to grow and share vegetables.

A laundry space is where everyone meets over everyday tasks and a rooftop drying space takes advantage of the natural windy spot. This project also has a carefully considered approach to energy use with photovoltaic (PV) panels to generate electricity.

The approach to building a community where residents across all generations are building a community gives a great deal of optimism for the future of inter-generational living in the middle of the city.

As our population changes and the needs of our society shift, we all need to take part in the discussion about creating a more supportive community.

The city offers support systems such as social services and healthcare, but as communities we also need to adapt our buildings to encourage new social attitudes.

And we all need to engage and participate to create these adaptive environments.


Professor Lorraine Farrelly is giving a public lecture at 6pm tonight, Tuesday July 29, on Designing for the Third Age in the Percy Baxter Lecture Theatre at Deakin’s Geelong Campus.