A Design for Life: New guide on building homes and communities fit for an ageing society

2 March 2022

‘Design for Life’ informs GMCA’s housing framework for the next three years

An ageing society requires new ways of thinking when it comes to designing homes and communities, claims a new guide for architects, planners and developers that is being rolled out across Greater Manchester.

A Design For Life: Urban practices for an age-friendly city calls for urban design professionals to reject stereotypes about older people, in particular the idea that ageing is a ‘problem’ that needs fixing. The guide instead argues that professionals must embrace the diverse and changing aspirations of our older population, acknowledging the different ideas that older people have about what a good later life means for them.

A Design for Life has been developed by Dr Mark Hammond, Senior Lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture (MSA) at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Nigel Saunders, Director of Pozzoni Architecture, with contributions from practitioners and academics from across Greater Manchester.

A Design for Life presents the ideas and work to date of the GM Ageing Hub’s Housing, Planning and Ageing group at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), a group which Dr Hammond helped to establish during his two-year secondment with GMCA.

The guide has been developed alongside GMCA’s Framework for Creating Age-Friendly Homes in Greater Manchester which sets out the ambitions to deliver quality and equality for older people in relation to the homes they live in, recognising the need for leadership and new ways of thinking about older people in urban environments.

For architects, developers, and planners, an ageing population requires new ways of thinking and practicing and by working together they can develop practices, policies, and designs that value older people.

A Design for Life recommends that older people should be valued as diverse citizens, with different needs, tastes, and aspirations. It calls for urban design professionals to work directly with older people to better understand how homes and communities can address the specific lifestyles they want to have, or the challenges they face.

It highlights best practice examples of new housing from around the world, and different approaches to improving the lives of older people who have no intention of moving. The guide argues that older people should have a good range of options available to them, regardless of their income, tenure, or location.

Dr Mark Hammond, Senior Lecturer at Manchester School of Architecture at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Architects have a key part to play in shaping cities that respond to our ageing society. While we should obviously work to make sure buildings are physically accessible, our aspiration should be supporting older people in finding joy, fulfilment, kinship and opportunity within their homes and communities, recognising that for each person this is often very different.

“Our response - A Design for Life – calls on architects and other urban development professionals to be proactive in creating an urban environment in which the diverse aspirations of older people are fully addressed. To do this, we call on designers to collaborate with older people to challenge the stereotypes that still underpin the design of our cities, and in doing so unlock the creative potential that older people have to offer.”

Nigel Saunders, Director at Pozzoni Architecture and co-author said: "The overarching ambition for A Design for Life was to produce a publication which promotes new ways of thinking and practicing in our urban developments. Importantly, it also questions whether there is more we can all achieve in creating age friendly living environments with people in later life recognised as an integral, essential and highly valued ingredient in our town and city neighbourhoods.

"The guide showcases a wide range of exemplar case studies from across the globe, together with Pozzoni's intergenerational living concept; a thriving community, integrating all the vital amenities, facilities and services to support each stage of life equally using a citizenship approach to design. From Village 135 in Wythenshawe to Maartenshof De Rokade in the Netherlands, each later living example focuses on the tangible benefits and achievements in supporting older people to live their best possible life."

Karen Mitchell, Chair of the Greater Manchester Housing, Planning and Ageing group and Chief Executive of Southway Housing Trust said: “This is a great piece of work that the Housing, Planning and Ageing group initiated and delivered, with Manchester Metropolitan and other partners. It will clearly support the delivery of our plans as set out in the “Framework for Creating Age-Friendly Homes in Greater Manchester” to increase the supply of homes for people in mid to later life and our vision of greater choice. I would recommend the publication for people across all housing sectors and related professions as a way to spark new ideas and innovation and to learn from good practice.”

Design for Life Agency

MSA experts have also formed The Design for Life Agency, an interdisciplinary design-research consultancy, working collaboratively to create age inclusive cities, neighbourhoods, and homes, led by Stefan White, Professor of Architecture.

Over the last 15 years, the Design for Life team have developed innovative cross-sector projects to make cities and neighbourhoods more inclusive. Working with multiple excluded communities, they have developed approaches to deliver age-friendly city policy on the ground which are recognised as exemplary by the World Health Organisation.

This work has supported the GMCA Ageing-in-place strategy and has produced several innovative prototypes including co-produced local planning and community empowerment, age-inclusive masterplanning and housing design, age-inclusive community technology, and age-inclusive housing policy and evidence.

The Design for Life guide sets out key principles of the agency’s approach which has developed through collaboration between MSA and partners including the GMCA Ageing Hub, The Design Council, The Centre for Ageing Better, Pozzoni Architecture, the GM housing providers group, and communities across Greater Manchester.

The overarching ambition for A Design for Life was to produce a publication which promotes new ways of thinking and practicing in our urban developments.

Nigel Saunders - Pozzoni