‘Will Covid-19 (coronavirus) speed a move to intergenerational living?’ Nigel Saunders comments in the RIBA Journal

7 May 2020

Director, Nigel Saunders talks to Josephine Smit about the future, and benefits, of intergenerational projects for the latest edition of the RIBA Journal.

“The shift to urban centres is overdue”, says Nigel Saunders, of Pozzoni Architecture, a practice well versed in design for later living. “Cities have become quite demographically imbalanced, and there is a need to rebalance and provide more solutions for older people,” he says.

That is generating a different type of architectural response and product, like the practice’s design for a site between a canal and a busy street in central Chester. The six-storey scheme, which is under construction for operator Belong, has a 72 bed care home at lower levels with 23 apartments for the over 55s above. At ground level, a community hub with a bistro, gym, hair salon and therapy room will offer services to residents and the broader community.

Such community hubs are increasingly popular, a factor that prompted Pozzoni to take the idea further. It established a working group 18 months ago with CEOs from client groups spanning education, health, social care and property consultancy to explore urban mixed use with a later living focus. They are working through the diverse practicalities of different uses, from safety and safeguarding priorities through to ensuring each use has its own identity.

The architect is now developing a brief and concept design based on a notional site to illustrate how ideas might work in practice for a building or series of blocks. The notional site faces four different environments: public space, retail street, residential and canalside areas. “We’ve given ourselves these four different conditions so that we can explore how the different uses might respond and get the right uses for the right location,” explains Saunders.

This exercise is firmly rooted in reality, with the concept expected to illustrate both commercial and social benefits. “The anchor to this is how the hub offers opportunities for interaction,” says Saunders. “We see the concept as a catalyst for changing the way cities provide for the aging population.” A care home in an urban setting can serve both its own building and provide a base for domiciliary care for the wider community, he points out. And a school provides for interaction of young and old, and encourages families to remain in cities. As Saunders says, “In this way, the scheme becomes an asset for the wider location of the city”.

Ideas like these are already capturing the interest of clients. “It is enabling us to take ourselves out of the conventional project brief. Clients are asking: how much of this could we do here?” says Saunders. “Our next step is to find a real site to work on.” The work’s influence is extending beyond a single site. Pozzoni is a member of the housing and planning working group for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Ageing Hub, Greater Manchester being the UK’s first age-friendly city region, according to the World Health Organization. The hub is looking at strategic responses and, Saunders hints, “The city region could lead the way in doing something highly ambitious.”

Read the full RIBA Journal article here.