21st Century Retirement Living: The Future is Multigenerational

21 June 2019

As the UK’s older population expands, a variety of housing needs come to the fore. Here, following the recent ‘21st Century Retirement Living – is Manchester ready?’ event, held by NatWest and sponsored by JLL, Pozzoni's Nigel Saunders outlines the practice's ideas, and scopes out plans for the future of truly multigenerational living.

Housing requires an offering of types, tenures and locations, at a range of price points and also it is important to note that the ageing population is not a homogenous group, it has a variety of bespoke needs and aspirations. The UK is significantly behind other developed western societies, such as the USA, Australia and the Netherlands in providing sufficient quantities of appropriately designed and tenured housing for its older populations.

There is now a huge opportunity to explore these needs and develop new building typologies that respond in a variety of ways.

We’re experiencing a rise in urbanism that coincides with our rising ageing populations. A ‘Silver Wave’ as it’s becoming known, for which we need new, non-institutional solutions for housing in our towns and cities.

People’s views on formal ‘retirement’ are changing, with many choosing to stay economically active for longer, whilst enjoying the city and all it has to offer.

Within our design working group at Pozzoni, we have been considering the opportunity for a new type of city living. One that brings together a range of age groups and uses, all of which are mutually supportive in delivering social benefits. Our thoughts hinge on a reflection of our multicultural society, with older people at its core.

There are many benefits to urban living for our seniors; retention of independence, access to amenities, enjoying the invigoration of urban settings and access to public transport, amongst other things.

So how can we envisage an environment in which the overall wellbeing of, and opportunities for, older people are enhanced; an environment which re-addresses the current silos of housing, social care and health?

We believe that the key to future solutions will be taking a multigenerational approach in our town and city centres.

To develop our thoughts, we have proposed a concept using a theoretical city centre location in Manchester. A rectangular plot set against a backdrop of four street typologies; a public space, a high street, canal side and a residential setting. The plot is fragmented into three distinct, but linked, urban blocks, massed to respond to each street typology. Within this arrangement is a mix of residents, with each retaining its distinct identity, whilst also feeling part of a wider community.

Building one is a mixed use, seniors-led, residential development, building two is a town house-led development and building three is a co-housing-led development. Each have different active ground floor uses.

The proposal is focussed around the creation of a layered community in the cityscape. At the centre of the scheme is a hub for social wellbeing and economic interaction with access to shared facilities, a market space, events space and amenity. It’s a porous public domain.

Layer One: Each street is invigorated through the provision of local support services and amenities that respond to the spectrum of residents’ and city dwellers’ needs, young and old. A nursery/primary school is placed so as to enable practical and visual interaction with older residents, generating mutual benefits for young and old. The school hall is positioned for wider usage from other groups; seniors, minority groups, faith groups, rather than becoming a redundant asset after hours. Likewise, the placement of the external sports areas at roof level with wider access and visibility.

Lifelong learning is enabled between the generations via a community library. New skills can be gained, and this could become a multigenerational knowledge transfer hub, with the young assisting the older and vice versa.

The concept also includes a combined public services facility for health and wellbeing, comprising health, leisure and social care, that serves residents and non-residents alike. The wet and dry facilities would benefit the school children, older residents, as well as others, creating complimentary dynamic, management efficiencies and effective use of valuable assets.

Layer Two: A care home concept where households of care bedrooms wrap around the active, landscaped courtyard with access to views and elevated walking routes. There are town houses for families with flexibility to share with grandparents, providing the opportunity for seniors to live alongside and support their offspring’s young families. Co-living creates communities within the community, providing flexible accommodation that would allow smaller groups of seniors to live as a community with shared living spaces, but the privacy of their own studios. A business hub for all ages provides small business incubator spaces that enable the continuation of work for our older population in a dynamic environment that enables co-working across the generations.

Layer Three: Extra care housing; apartment living for seniors, with care support provided from the care home beneath, possibly operated by a housing association. Above this rises a taller element that provides general needs housing in the form of flexible and adaptable apartments and studios for all ages, with home sharing opportunities.

The proposal is crowned by semi-external amenity space with views across the cityscape. And below, potential for car parking and residents’ self-storage. External spaces, roofscapes, a community park and allotments allow for amenity, walkability, accessibility and safety.

The key ingredients of our thoughts are flexible housing formats, complimentary interaction between uses and community. Community within the development, whilst also reaching beyond into the wider city scape. This is by no means a final solution.

We are now developing these ideas further, in liaison with others in the hope that from this work emerges further debate around how our ageing population can become a more integral, essential and highly valued ingredient in our town and city communities, in environments where families, young couples and older people can co-exist and thrive.