By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
In 1960 nine percent of the U.S. population was over 65 years old, but by 2030 older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population, and by 2060 it will be 24 percent.
On average, life expectancy has increased from 47 in 1900, to 68 in 1950, to 77 in 2000. This life expectancy varies by genetic make-up, as well as geographic location; Summit County, Colorado averages 87, while in McDowell County, West Virginia it’s 70.
Architects and designers are working to best achieve form and function for everyone, regardless of age or ability. The passage and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 (ADA) and the adaptation of the theory of Universal Design are two examples of how. Architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers, led by Ronald Mace at North Carolina State University, developed Universal Design in 1997 as the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used by people to the greatest extent possible, regardless of their age, size, or ability.
With nearly 1.4 million adults age 60 and older living in New York City, a number projected to increase by 40 percent (to almost 2 million) by 2040, the need for age-friendly residential buildings has never been greater. Architects and the building community play an important role in ensuring that the city remains a safe place to grow old.
In collaboration with the NYC Department for the Aging, the AIANY Design for Aging Committee released the Aging in Place Guide for Building Owners in 2016. A 21-member advisory panel of city agencies, design professionals, nonprofit organizations, community partners, and businesses assisted with the creation of the guide. It offers a wide range of recommendations for renovations and improvements that protect the safety of older tenants and improve the quality of life for all residents. Using the guide, building owners can help residents remain in their homes as they age—safely, comfortably, and independently.
The Aging in Place Guide for Building Owners is available online at https://www.aiany.org/membership/advocacy/filter/aging-in-place-guidelines.
A New York Times July 20, 2022 article, “Square Feet” by Linda Baker, explores “expanding options for senior housing.” In it, statistics are presented that show only 11 percent of the population over 75 years old living in senior housing, and that percent was reduced during the pandemic. One of the proprietors of senior housing facilities said, “Coronavirus revealed a pandemic of loneliness and isolation. Aging in place harms society by presenting the choice to live with others as a failure.” Yet, nearly 90 percent of the population would rather continue living in their own family home. And one of the reasons given is that their family, friends, or daily acquaintances are there for socializing.
Ways Architects Can Become Age-Friendly
Older adults want and should be able to live actively and independently for as long as possible. Age-friendly design takes into account their physical changes that occur over time, reducing physical and psychological barriers and the potential for injury. It enables older adults to maintain and maximize their physical capabilities and continue to live independently. Some examples are:
- Design building floor plans that are clearly understood and easily negotiable. Access to spaces must be clear and intuitive. Avoid complicated circulation patterns and provide wayfinding markers (forms, color, texture, light, sound, landmarks, etc.) with obviously-located adequately-lit directories and wayfinding signs. To accommodate a wide range of abilities, literacy, and language skills, use a multiplicity of modes to provide essential information (pictorial, verbal, tactile).
- Design for the scale of a range of individuals and how they experience an environment: eye level, pace of walking, views, clarity of information, flexibility of use, etc.
- Emphasize qualitative aspects of design: comfortable eye-level stimulation with esthetic variety that is not overwhelming or confusing (contrast in color and shapes, elements with varying textures to respond to sight and touch, ample amount of ambient light, non-glare finishes), control of ambient noise.
Future articles will address individual features of the guide booklet.
Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice, LEED-AP “green” certified, serving on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee (participating solely in a personal, not an official, capacity). He is also co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, a member of AIANY Historic Buildings and Housing Committees, and is a journalist specializing in architecture subjects.