Are new homes failing the elderly?

Some new homes being provided for older people are failing to take account of their residents’ potential needs, according to a research initiative. Architect Sarah Wigglesworth of Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, who is leading the research, told the audience at the May Design Series conference in London last week of one new home scheme it reviewed. “We found important deficiencies, like daylight levels that weren’t good and so made it difficult to read a book, small kitchens and a step linking indoors to outdoors so that people couldn’t gain access via a wheelchair. We don’t think it’s acceptable,” Wigglesworth said.

The Designing for Wellbeing in Environments for Later Life (DWELL) initiative is an architectural design research project at the University of Sheffield that focuses on the design of homes and neighbourhoods to facilitate mobility and wellbeing. The researchers are working with local people to co-design exemplary proposals for housing, streets and open spaces. Sheffield council is aiming to be a World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised age-friendly city.

The three-year project will result in design guidance, taking on board such challenges as:

  • Corridors and thresholds: Wigglesworth said: “You often find a double loaded corridor in an apartment building. They can be dark, hot and difficult to find your home in. We’re looking at ways of single loading corridors so that people can meet their neighbours on their threshold, or have some plants there. We’re trying to make the spatial and economic case for that.”
  • Optimum home size: The researchers have found that the elderly tend to resize rather than downsize when they buy a home, and that the bungalow remains the housetype of choice.
  • Storage: An older person’s home may have to accommodate a lifetime’s cherished possessions. Another key challenge is the provision of parking space and a charging point for the now commonplace electric mobility vehicle. “We’re looking at ways to accommodate these into threshold areas,” said Wigglesworth.

Such initiatives are welcome, added fellow speaker Jeremy Porteus, director of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network. “There is a need for greater information for planners,” he said.

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