New London Architecture

Later living projects embrace more public interfaces

Friday 28 May 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Burgess Park © WGP Architects

A new generation of care homes and later living accommodation that allows more of an interface with the communities in which they sit - for their mutual benefit – is set to help town centres fight back after the ravages of COVID.

So said all the key contributors to Later Living: homes that care, a webinar exploring this vital area last week that began with Waind Gohill + Potter’s James Potter showing the practice’s work in Burgess Park, Camberwell.

Potter’s scheme features 98 bedrooms and onsite facilities to cater for elderly residents of varying needs, including dementia care. But some of its key elements include a highly visible opening up of the ground floor with a reception, café and lobby that allow more interaction with the community, as well as private dining spaces, a lounge bar and roof terrace garden. ‘Care homes don’t tend to announce themselves in the street’, Potter said. ‘However, we felt there was a real benefit to building legibility’.

Providing good spaces for visitors to wait and be comfortable in is also key, said Potter, now that on-site PCR testing is required, and will be for some time. ‘The closer integration of care homes into town centres more visibly is to be encouraged’, he added.

PRP’s Jenny Buterchi agreed, talking through some of the principles the practice has employed in designing Station Road, West Byfleet. ‘I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for our sector in this reimagining of what these important hubs can make to our communities’, she said. The scheme, heading for site at the end of this year, includes 200 retirement living apartments above retail and common facilities that are all open to the public, creating a ‘destination’, and a vibrant community, with a public square designed as a ‘sticky street’ at its heart. ‘It is mutually beneficial to both the high street and to the older person that lives there, and I think it is a key thing we’re going to see in the years to come’.

John McAslan and Partners’ Paul East pointed out that there was a major undersupply in care homes, with something like 1% of beds being built compared to a 9% increase in over-85 year olds population. The practice is working with Legal and General on how technology can improve people in care homes and their staff, on international models and – shortly - an ideas competition into the area with the RIBA, as well as with NHS Lothian in south Edinburgh, all part of a multi-faceted approach to the issue. 

Care homes must be made more affordable, said East, specifically on build costs, running costs, and consequently impacting on how cost-effective they can be for residents. Some of this will come through work the practice is conducting with Legal and General on a ‘kit of parts’ idea - a modular approach to care homes. 

‘At the moment there's a stigma attached around care homes where it's a place where you go to die, it’s your end of life’, said East. ‘However, we still want to make it an enjoyable place, not just an end of life, hospice type environment.’

Care homes also have a stigma of being in the leafy suburbs, out of sight and out of mind, East added. ‘We want to try and bring these back into built environments where they feel like part of the community. That’s a really important point to drive home. It should be just a natural progression to people’s living experience so they shouldn’t have to move out of the community they have grown up in’.

Other speakers included Lauren Harwood of Knight Frank, who said that last year there was a record £1.3billion invested into the seniors housing market, albeit excluding care homes. This is a trend she expected to continue, along with more schemes in urban locations, wanting to be close to the high street and live independent lives. The other key trend, said Harwood, was towards a ‘race to scale’ with some projects in excess of 150 units and one, in Watford, again helping both the operator in costs but also providing more of a sense of community. 

Finally, Dr Adam Park of BDP spoke about research at the University of Sheffield and within the practice that confirmed the ‘positive’ move of later living homes from ‘the fringes’ to the high street, particularly in bringing facilities to the ground floor and activating streets and squares ‘where older people can be seen and be out and about’. ‘Their being part of multigenerational high streets and urban centres is fantastic to see’, he said. Making ageing, older people, and even dementia more of a part of everyday life will be really important’, Dr Park added, along with design principles such as outdoor space, daylight levels, and good ventilation. The research showed that the big ‘crunch point’, however, over the next 10-30 years will be single person households and very old age, so 85 and 90 plus, Dr Park said. ‘That type of household is set to double….we’re going to have to revisit how care homes and supported assisted living is provided’.

Watch the webinar here
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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly


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