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Stop Designing 8-Track Residences

Architect George Berry of Berry Architecture in Red Deer Alberta, gave a thought-provoking and at times controversial presentation about retirement residence design at the BCSLA conference.

According to Berry, we are basically designing the same retirement residences we designed 30 years ago; we are just putting different paint on them. Berry used the old music technology term ‘eight-track’ to describe what he sees as today’s antiquated building design and stressed the fact that we need to change how we design before we even break ground.

He also stirred some controversy by suggesting that there should be no locking exterior doors on retirement complexes. Some attendees pointed out that many seniors don’t feel safe in their own homes and that when they move to a residence they want locking doors. Berry suggested that options like security monitoring would work just as well.

Here’s what Berry suggests we keep in mind when designing new communities:

  • needs of multicultural populations
  • motorcycle parking
  • wired buildings (the entire building, not just data/computer centres within it)
  • on-site services such as banks, coffee shops, delis and other stores
  • fitness studios and spas on the main floor, not in the basement
  • attractively designed doctors, dentists and chiropractor offices on site
  • outdoor swings
  • fishing ponds
  • planting boxes
  • wide stair treads
  • residential railings
  • paint – use lots of colour but be careful of yellow. (Our eye pigments lose colour as we age. Having things start to look yellow can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s)
  • Natural lighting is very important and it saves money because windows can be a huge heat gain or loss
  • No locking doors into the complex. They are uninviting and a lock does not equate with security
  • A variety of suites designed for different incomes

Older adults want:

  • to give input – ask them!
  • to live in respect, pride, safety and honour (we need to reflect the style of the home they moved from in our designs)
  • to be treated like people
  • to walk, to get out, to be active

George BerryBerry’s insights:

  • Respect 80 year olds lifestyles and the lifestyles of the 65 year olds
  • Don’t talk to the residents who are there now; they think they know what they want but you told them what they want
  • People resist going into a retirement residence because we tell them how they can live there
  • We say, ‘Here’s your walker, let’s have your brain cells’ : we don’t want residents to think independently
  • We control residents’movements because it’s safer for them. Is it? Or is it just easier for us?

Parting thoughts:

  • Demand change; stop designing for eight-tracks!
  • Think of environmental design
  • Look at your landscaping – reduce the amount of grass and plant on the areas you need
  • Use natural fertilizers; design so that Mother Nature can assist
  • Control the size; big is not better
  • Think about how you live
  • Research the residents’ IT interests
  • Don’t ask the current 80 year olds; look at what’s happening with the 65 – 70 year olds in your local and demographic area
  • Plan residents’ needs based on what they want, don’t tell them what they want
  • Read “Naturescape Alberta” by Myrna Pearman
  • “The wise and moral man shines like a fire on a hilltop, making money like the bee who does not hurt the flower,” Pali Canon (500 BC)

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