A conversation with Woods Bagot Health & Science Sector Leader, Vic Benakovic and Health & Science Sector Specialist, Nikki Beckman discussing the design shift in Aged Care planning to a more holistic Multigenerational Living model.
The growth of Malaysia’s ageing population has spurred an increasing urgency to address the needs and challenges of the aged care industry. With one of the most apparent challenges facing the aged care industry being the lack of aged friendly infrastructure, it is obvious that Malaysia is in need for an aged-friendly environment upgrade. We have yet to see designs in shopping centres, parks, walking paths, buildings and houses being developed in a manner that are friendly to people of all types of circumstance and not just to those in normal physical/mental condition.
Creating an aged-friendly environment is parallel to creating a happy ageing lifestyle for not only the elderly, but also ourselves and future generations to come. While Malaysia is named one of the top 10 places for retirement in early 2016 by International Living, citing our healthcare industry as being medically on par with developed countries while being more affordable, there is still a much needed improvement for both our infrastructure to be aged-friendly supportive and to instil a positive outlook towards ageing.
Enter Woods Bagot. Since being established in 1869, Woods Bagot is a global architectural and consulting practice with almost 150 years of experience specialising in design and planning for a wide variety of sectors from aviation and transport to education, sport, lifestyle and workplace environments to science & health. Having been awarded the International Practice of the Year by Architects Journal and the International Architecture of the Year by the Australian Institute of Architects, they were named the world’s 6th largest architecture firm in Building Design magazine’s World Architecture 100 list.
By tapping into their vast experience in architecture, Aged Care Group together with Woods Bagot intends to address the lack of an aged friendly infrastructure in Malaysia and innovate the perception of ageing. The Woods Bagot innovative approach to addressing both present and future needs of our Multigenerational Communities is led by Vic Benakovic (Health & Science Sector Leader) and Nikki Beckman (Health & Science Sector Specialist). “The negative perception of ageing, both in the quality of life and quality of facilities has been ignored for far too long,” says Vic Benakovic. In design and planning, Vic stated that Woods Bagot strove to ensure all their designs were developed for ‘multi-generational living’. The end result being developed facilities that are enticing and suitable for occupation for residents of all ages and needs.
Behind the Design
As a business, the core of Woods Bagot’s approach to design is the focus on the element of ‘human-centeredness’ as each assignment undertaken is planned, designed and developed in a manner that is marked with humanistic values. To create designs devoted to human welfare in mind, Beckman explains Woods Bagot uses their unique process called ‘Super Space’, which combines computational analysis and design that predicts human behaviour and maps social & physical trends within organisations and cities. By using ‘Super Space’, Woods Bagot is able to understand and unlock the possibilities of planning with an understanding on how occupants use space and available amenities within that space.
The essence of good design and planning is in the designs’ ability to have understood the ‘needs’ of the occupants and is able to cater to their ‘wants’ while evaluating and adopting emerging trends. “In planning multi-generational environments, this process (Super Space) will assist in creating human-centred environments as the data taken into consideration has to do with how individuals prefer to occupy space as well as acknowledging ‘habits’ and ‘comfort’ zones” said Beckman.
Creating an age-friendly environment requires time with careful thought and considerations for living not only in the present, but also well into the future and not simply a patch work of fixing-as-it-comes approach. In order to have a multi-generational infrastructure compatible with all ages, it is not just merely installing wheelchair-and-walker-friendly walk-ways, it requires 3 practical aspects that are critically important in design consideration to balance a more residential like appearance while mitigating risk of injury. The 3 aspects being:
- circulation paths
- intuitive navigation
- and greater accessibility.
Benakovic stated that facilities have to capture an overall ‘wellness’ approach to create desirable environments incorporating key considerations such as noise control, air quality, thermal comfort, privacy, autonomy, natural light, views & connection with nature, colour texture that are family friendly, safe and secure.
‘Want’ or ‘Need’?
Thus far, the negative perception associated with senior living has in large to do with the traditional pathway senior citizens have taken to move into an aged care facility and the availability of quality and supportive facilities. Currently with the lack of enforcement in ensuring the operation of care centres adhere to required standards, the quality of nursing homes naturally varies, giving rise to less than ideal experiences that increase negativity towards senior living.
Furthermore, the decision to move from the home has often occurred only when remaining at home with immediate family or living independently has become difficult and unsafe. Entering a new home environment under such a stressful state then, produces greater resistance to the move and towards the facility’s offerings. Additionally, moving much later in life limits the option of participating in the available activities of the facilities. The outcome often leads to a ‘negative’ ageing experience for both the individual and their families, giving rise to feelings of being alienated, loneliness and depression.
In addressing this issue, Beckman states that the multi-generational living model has the ability to counter this perception, transforming it into a positive ageing experience both for the individual, their families, and the industry whole. “The new model promotes and entices the individual to take up residency much earlier in life than is needed, reducing the emphasis on critical care“ said Beckman. By creating a shift from ‘needing’ to move to ‘choosing’ to move, the model assists in creating happier residents with a greater will to live, improved quality of life and with the appropriate support to live longer.
Physical Form of the Infrastructure
As people have a tendency towards having a preference for the familiar, Benakovic stated that the physical form of the infrastructure itself should respond to the cultural and social characteristics of its location, occupants, climatic conditions and incorporate the local forms and materials which are familiar to the occupants.
When developing the facilities, the interiors should generate a calming and comfortable effect and scaled appropriately to create interactive and private zones. At the same time, the building’s surrounding grounds should be safe and accessible for all ages. Additionally, the most important influencing factor is to consider how its form will ultimately affect the occupants both from a physical and psychological response.
When creating a design to be strong and lasting, it is important to have an understanding and appreciation of the local lifestyles & history and to avoid making the mistakes of ‘importing’ the ‘latest & greatest’ from other countries without understanding why they have been successful or considering how they will fit into the local requirement.
“Functional planning should be pragmatic, intuitive and based on best practice, but these fundamentals need to be tailored to suit each specific project undertaken. This ensures the best thinking and approach is balanced against cultural, contextual, financial, and operational requirements to achieve the most comprehensive and relevant design solution” said Benakovic.
Additionally, a multi-generational living infrastructure should be designed in an appropriately environmental friendly manner. The conservation and re-use of energy, water and other natural resources should be part of the initial designing stages and implemented where appropriate. This in turn has the beneficial outcome of providing a sustainable cycle which provides occupants with opportunities for empowerment, engagement and ownership of their new home. It also provides a rewarding social activity for the residents by having them become actively involved in the conservation process.
Laying Down Foundations
Malaysia is fast becoming an ageing population facing a myriad of social, cultural, demographic, financial shifts, along with changing lifestyles. Therefore, it is of primary importance that multi-generational living facilities need to be adaptable – not only in their delivery of care and provision of support in terms of both mental and emotional aspects – but also within the provision of amenities, engagement with community and lifestyle led offerings.
According to Benakovic, the most successful model is one that understands its’ occupants ‘needs and wants’ from a holistic approach and is flexible enough to recognise the subtle differences that all individuals have. Ultimately, it all comes back to offering a choice of activities and choice in support. This is crucial in allowing residents to retain a high level of independence in making decisions and having choices not only where they want to live but also how they want to live.