By Charles Michelson, AIA, ACHA, LEED AP
As the children of the greatest generation reach retirement age, there has been a significant shift in the age of our country’s demographics. There is extensive discussion about designing environments for an aging population. However, I believe it is probably an unfortunate undertaking to try to compartmentalize and humanize any population group to rationalize a design solution that addresses their specific needs. Truthfully, their needs are global needs for all ages and hold true for an aging population, millennial population, or Gen X or Z.
All designs need to create stimulating spaces that promote physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, and encourage social and technological interaction. Buildings will continue to accommodate changing needs and healthcare’s ever-changing capacity to heal at an expedited pace.
Operational efficiency and economical quality design solutions are universal requirements. Our designs will continue to move in a responsible social direction to improve compatibility among generations. It is the intergenerational support structure that addresses many of the needs of the elderly.
Whatever spaces we design – from restaurants, apartment buildings, to homes and assisted living facilities – intergenerational interaction will be the norm. Our architectural designs will force social generational interaction by creating spaces to engage and empower each other through any variety of collaborative project components.
Flexibility in design will be key, since change is constant, and the ability to reconfigure easily for different activities will represent the most successful projects. Technological changes are becoming more user-friendly every day and will bond generations and services together. Telemedicine advancement is just one more example of technology enhancing interactivity and services between people of all ages.
As architects, we design spaces for people. Away from generic design, we create buildings that represent best practices along a mix of cultural and individual preferences. We also incorporate elements that engage the senses – such as music, lighting, textured surfaces, and even fragrances from plants or other natural elements.
Another global design consideration for all ages is respect – respect for individuality, cultures, religions, and preferences. Looking at an assisted living facility designed 20 years ago, versus the ALFs we’re designing today, we are adapting spaces and rooms in the facility to have a variety of colors and experiences that coincide with the needs and character of the occupants. Our design responsibilities include understanding the human condition.
It’s no more difficult a concept to understand than a group of people ordering different meals from a restaurant.
Charles Michelson is President of Saltz Michelson Architects. For more information, visit www.saltzmichelson.com.