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Building in Quality of Life: Retirement-Living

Dr Sam Clark, Newcastle University

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2019
Category Building in Quality (Annual Theme)

Resident focus group within a shared lounge ©Sam Clark

The underlying research context is the major societal challenge of housing a ‘super-aged’ UK population and meeting the needs and aspirations of ‘active third-agers’. The research project foregrounds designerly modes of inquiry, resulting in design-relevant feedback for those involved in the production of retirement-living environments. Aspects of the research were commissioned by an industry sponsor, as part of a bespoke studentship arrangement, involving a close, yet critical collaboration in the spirit of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. A significant part of the contracted research comprised post-occupancy evaluation, which was paralleled by a commercial ‘product review’ programme. The research involved short residencies at retirement developments; staying overnight in the guest suite and engaging in the social life of the shared lounge. Formal research methods included participant observation, interviews, photographic surveys and behavioural mapping, as well as practice-led design.

This paper explores characterisations of the resident owner who has bought into a retirement development; each attempt to distil a diverse group of people into a single identity that is easily imaged and used as a touchstone by developers and designers. The research reflects the positions of multiple residents met in the field, with respondents contributing to an understanding of variable definitions of ‘home’ and motives for moving, as well as providing candid feedback on the retirement-living lifestyle in which they are invested. Design analysis and proposition are used to further capture and test research findings, shining a light on a product that is said to assure a quality of life and sustained independence for older people. The research examines the design quality of shared lounges at the centre of retirement developments, as well as the interiors of private apartments, namely kitchens and bath/shower-rooms. Several potential design revisions are identified, and new design patterns explored, including some that were adopted within recent buildings.

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