News feeds  RSS

A home for life: Designing living spaces for the elderly and vulnerable


30 June 2011

Press office contact:

Mina Vadon
T: +44 (0)207 307 3761
E: mina.vadon@riba.org

RIBA publishes new guidance on designing for independence and dignity

With life expectancy rising, people will spend longer periods of their life in their own home and therefore need the best design and technology solutions that help them maintain their independence, lifestyle and dignity.

Home alterations such as widening doorways and providing sufficient space to manouvre a wheelchair or zimmer frame are standard, but what does the future of designing for the elderly and vulnerable hold? And how should the individual needs of a client be assessed?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the BRE today (30 June 2011) launched guidance for architects and other built environment professionals involved in the design and adaptation of residences that meet the needs of the elderly and the chronically ill, to enable them to live active, independent and dignified lives.

The RIBA/BRE report, 'A Guide for Assisted Living', demonstrates how intuitive design and assistive technology can improve the quality of life, wellbeing and autonomy of individuals, and be delivered in effective, scalable and affordable ways.

The guide details key design requirements such as:

  • Facilitating access and entry to the home through the provision of distinctive visual landmarks in external spaces, such as trees, coloured or scented plants, and the use of contrasting materials and colours on the entrance door.
  • Facilitating access and entry to the home through the provision of distinctive visual landmarks in external spaces, such as trees, coloured or scented plants, and the use of contrasting materials and colours on the entrance door.
  • Ironmongery that is comfortable and effortless in operation, particularly door handles and locks which should also be consistent throughout the property.
  • Smooth, even and non-slip surfaces throughout the home.
  • Adequate space for efficient circulation routes.
  • Easily accessible plug sockets and light switches, particularly those that are located at the top and bottom of stairs.

New and future technologies are highlighted, including the use of flooring sensors that raise an alarm when movement is not detected or if a person has fallen, and intelligent toilets that can analyse waste materials and send data reports directly to an individual's doctor.

The document also sets out a briefing process for the designer to accrue the client's specific needs, for example if a person spends a considerable amount of time in their bed, the following aspects could be considered:

  •  Can the occupant see who is at the front door when the bell rings?
  •  Is it possible to turn on a pivot screen television whilst lying in bed?
  •  Can a laptop be used in bed comfortably?
  •  Can the person open and close the windows?
  •  Is it possible to eat comfortably in bed?
  •  Can the lighting be adapted to the occupant’s reading habits?  

Speaking today, RIBA President Ruth Reed said:

'Good design has a vital role to play in helping elderly and vulnerable people live dignified and independent lives, and supporting the capacity and effectiveness of professional care providers to meet the needs of those they are looking after. The UK's population is ageing rapidly; one third of Britons are expected to reach age 60 or over in twenty years’ time and this will demand a new way of delivering care efficiently. If people are to be supported to remain in their homes for as long as possible, then adapting the physical environment and the way in which it is designed to meet the needs of people with different levels of mobility and capability throughout their life is essential.' 

Paul Warner, Research Director of the Urban Regeneration Group at 3D Reid, said:

'It is important for the elderly to be connected with the outside world. As technology merges the virtual world with the real world ways of encouraging older people to softly engage with this world should be encouraged. Better specified homes will give older people more dignity and allow them to help themselves whilst being surrounded by a safer environment.' 

Joe Oldman, housing policy officer at Age UK said:

'This report shows that meeting the needs of people in later life is not just about new building homes, but also about successfully adapting and upgrading existing homes. Age UK would like to see firm action from Government to embed these standards in building regulations and local guidance to ensure they are delivered consistently countrywide.

Greater recognition and understanding of the importance of home design and accessible environments could play an essential role in reducing the costs and demands made on health and social care services in the future as the ageing population rises.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information please contact Mina Vadon in the RIBA Press Office on +44 (0)20 7307 3761 or email mina.vadon@riba.org.

2. RIBA/BRE Guide for Assisted Living  


Top of page