9-11 May 2023
ICC Sydney


Life and longevity in the 21st century is better than ever before. And according to the ABS, the long-life trend is set to continue with a quarter of the population soon to be over 65 years of Age in Australia. But we’re at a critical time for design thinking through the problems we’re facing with an unprecedented expanding ageing population. Instead of celebrating our longevity, many of our elders are suffering chronic loneliness, social isolation, intragenerational segregation.

Article by Annie Reid

Sarah Naarden, the founder of Hughaus and former interiors associate at Bates Smart says we need to put ourselves in the picture: “Rather than considering the elderly as far from our concern at the moment, we need to ask how we would like to live as we age?”

Naarden established the Hughaus model through a program at the University of Melbourne, comprising a well-considered prefabricated granny flat designed to accommodate a rent-for-care model. It also proposes to pilot services like a Swedish-inspired intergenerational meals on wheels, with food grown in a veggie patch.

“This breaks down the segregation of student, elderly and families who are often segregated and benefits the community with affordable housing with affordable care,” she says.

Around the world, there’s a growing appetite for the power of social sustainability via flexible buildings and urban infrastructure that adapt over a lifetime. In New York, Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) have evolved, where apartment buildings have supported people for 50 years of their life and adapted to their needs over time. In Holland, a program by Humanitas enables ageing residents to live independently in apartments amongst families and students who receive discounted rent for volunteering time with their elderly neighbours; the inspiration for Naarden’s Hughaus model.

In Australia, projects are flourishing. LandCorp and The University of Western Australia’s Baugrappen at WGV is gaining traction, while Nightingale Housing by The Commons focuses on future-oriented models using architecture and urban planning to improve our cities and communities.

In Carlton, Rathdowne Place by Australian Unity is the first vertical medium density seniors living development in Australia, combining inner-city living, designer accommodation, quality care and wellbeing services. Initiatives such as co-locating the wellbeing centre and day centre work to de-institutionalise housing care for senior Australians and change views about what aged care is.

And in another emerging Melbourne initiative, Base Commons is taking intergenerational living to the next level with the goal to create the first Australian model for co-living. Design-led and community-first, the concept is for engaged members of the community to build an organic space from the ground up. Residents will cross a range of demographics with an intergenerational focus, and share living space with others with the goal to create meaningful connections and drive social impact. The model will include communal and private spaces to work, an ‘exchange’ open to the public to encourage co-working, events and workshops.

“It is exciting to be part of property industry with opportunities to address challenges like loneliness through design interventions,” Naarden says.

About the Author: Annie Reid

Annie Reid is a qualified journalist, professional copywriter and published author with a passion for everything bricks and mortar. For many years, she’s written thousand of stories for newspapers, magazines and clients around the world. Somewhere between the heady buzz of headlines and deadlines, she discovered a niche for creating tailor made content for the property, real estate, architecture and design industries. Annie holds a Bachelor of Arts and is currently studying a Masters in Publishing and Communications, both from the University of Melbourne.

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