Aging Concepts in Design

Courtland Newcombe and Ilnam Park present their Intergenerational Community project.

Studio explores the concept of designing for an aging population

Posted by Institute for Public Health May 4, 2014

This story was originally published by the Institute for Public Health. To view a photo album from spring 2014 studio presentations, click here.

By 2017, for the first time in human history, the number of adults over age 65 will outnumber children under the age of 5. As our demographics shift, designs for our homes, workspaces, communities, and more will need to evolve.

This spring, the Sam Fox School offered a new studio for advanced graduate students titled "The Radical University: Designs for Aging and a University Intergenerational Living Community" to explore the concept of designing for an aging population. The studio was led by professor of architecture Peter MacKeith along with Gyo Obata, BArch45, founder of the global architectural firm HOK, with support from the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at the Institute for Public Health.

According to Obata, "The idea of elderly adults all living in senior housing facilities is no longer viable. An intergenerational community is where older adults want to live—they want a vibrant, stimulating place."

Throughout the semester students were immersed in the concepts of designing for an aging population. They attended a number of lectures and seminars to investigate a broad range of disciplines, including joining key discussions in the Brown School's Theories and Issues in Aging class, taught by Nancy Morrow-Howell, Betty Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Social Policy and director of the Friedman Center. Students also attended field trips to local senior and student housing to observe real-world experience with the issues associated with designing for users across the age spectrum.

Projects included "A Homeplace," the design of a one-room dwelling for an older adult with a personal connection to the student. The students considered individual preferences and challenges, especially as that person gets older; and they designed spaces to meet current and future physical, social, and emotional needs.

The students then brought this individual perspective to bear on a community scale through the studio's culminating project, "A University Intergenerational Community" sited on Washington University's South Campus (formerly the Christian Brothers College High School). The students paired up to present concepts that included mixed-use housing for students and older adults, public and retail spaces, academic departments such as the University's Lifelong Learning Institute, gardens, recreational areas, and more. Through the semester students consulted with current Lifelong Learning Institute participants, and also learned more about the community and urban design issues at play with a studio visit from associate professor John Hoal, chair of the Master of Urban Design program and Institute for Public Health scholar.

Students will submit their final projects to ReGeneration: An Intergenerational Living Competition. In addition, selected materials from the studio will be on display during the poster session at the Friedman Center's "Developing the Workforce for an Aging America" event on May 8, 2014.