The University of Queensland partnered with DMA Engineers to organise a charrette in Brisbane to reimagine residential aged care design in a post-pandemic period.

Now in its second year, the Longevity by Design charrette brought together a diverse group of designers, innovators, planners and progressive providers who were set the challenge to design aged care that felt like home and better met the needs of people in a future pandemic. The charrette included three industry partners – Fresh Hope Care, Southern Cross Care Queensland and St Vincent’s Care Services, and more than 80 participants.

The charrette was a great opportunity to get together with a diverse industry group to look at ways we can rethink how we design and plan for our ageing population, observed DMA Engineers managing director, Russell Lamb.

“Over the past 18 months, many Australians have experienced how it feels to be ‘locked-down' and isolated in a pandemic.

“For many people in our society these have been unpleasant experiences, yet this can be a daily reality for people who live in aged care, whether there is a pandemic or not.

“The pandemic has highlighted some of the issues around isolation and loneliness in care and the vulnerability of the industry to events like the COVID 19 pandemic.”

According to Lamb, the industry needed to find ways to keep aged care facilities and retirement villages open to the broader community so that residents didn’t become totally isolated from the rest of society again.

“There is an opportunity to integrate aged care more with the rest of the community and, by doing so, create more opportunities for people to live a fuller life, connected with their friends and families.

“Allowing people to feel at home in an aged care facility is a very tough nut to crack. We all come from different and diverse backgrounds where we all want to maintain our identity and the more we can transfer that identity to our new community, the easier that transition will be.”

The University of Queensland’s director of the Healthy Ageing Initiative, Professor Laurie Buys said the Longevity by Design charrette is important because the future is ours.

“Creating change and having impact over time can’t be done by any one organisation or an individual, so we have to bring together really interesting partnerships and collaborations that can bring about that change,” Professor Buys said.

“This year was an opportunity to come together and work with people from different disciplines, but most importantly with industry who are thinking differently, to challenge the way we see, design, and create change,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for aged care design is how we think. There are many fundamental structures that need to be changed, but really what’s holding us back is our imagination and our willingness to challenge the assumptions and create a different future.”

Teams worked on one of three real-world residential aged care facilities provided by the three industry partners, where they were challenged to create visionary, innovative and highly connected designs to reimagine aged care homes that would feel like home in 2031.

Director of Subtropical Cities and facilitator of the Longevity by Design charrette, Dr Rosemary Kennedy, said it’s important for positive models of aged care living to be more visible to the wider community.

“We all want a positive future for ourselves and our families, rich with connectedness and familiarity, so it’s important to open up new concepts of aged care that people can embrace, particularly at their end stage of life.

“Many of the ideas proposed by the teams shared a common thread of physical and social connectedness and co-located multi-generational living. They also focused on people’s capability, rather than inability. These themes are all key to promoting purpose and meaning.”

The participants showed a preference for small house models rather than the institutional framework seen in Australia.

“Our teams created liveable neighbourhoods for all ages, with productive market gardens to keep connection to the farm, a training and learning precinct, business opportunities, connected tourism, and more,” Dr Kennedy said.

“The teams visualised spaces designed to enable older people to continue to be creative and productive, integrating cultural creativity, ongoing learning and enabling multi-generational living to keep them connected to friends and family.

“Rather than being set apart from the community, the teams developed concepts of ‘ageless’, five-minute communities where at the home level, support is readily available, and amenities are all within a five-minute walk from where you live.

“Connectedness and purpose as we age might sound obvious and what we all might want, but the Longevity by Design teams showed us what our future could look like if we keep striving for it.”

Longevity by Design was a joint initiative of The University of Queensland‘s Healthy Ageing Initiative and DMA Engineers, with support from major sponsor Paynters and event partners Fresh Hope Care, Southern Cross Care Queensland and St Vincent’s Care Services.