'Ageing-friendly design' is the next frontier in urban design

'Ageing-friendly design' is the next frontier in urban design
'Ageing-friendly design' is the next frontier in urban design

Cognitive impairment and ageing are two important aspects that need to be kept in mind while incorporating design elements, and is a challenge for architects and urban designers, according to a leading Brisbane architect.

Marchese Partners Brisbane principal Frank Ehrenberg—who has studied at one of the world’s leading authorities on ageing and dementia, the University of Stirling — said the shift in mindset toward new design features becoming commonplace was something that could not be ignored.

“As a population we are living longer and we know many of us will face some form of cognitive impairment as we age,” Ehrenberg said.

“We know multiple colours in floor tiles can appear to someone with cognitive impairment to be a hole in the floor, so design is ensuring floors are uniform and easier to navigate."

He added that legibility was very important as rooms that are easy to navigate can help people locate things like bathrooms quickly. Same while designing outdoor spaces such as gardens residents can go for a walk and easily find their way back to their starting point.

“Even the treatment of light and sound is critical. During waking hours lights need to be bright enough to account for declining eyesight, but at night it is important to eliminate as much light as possible to ensure restful sleep." 

It is important to keep sounds such as alarms and buzzers to a minimum, as they can be confusing to people with cognitive impairment, he added.

Ehrenberg said the attitude toward ageing friendly design was similar to that of disability design 40 years ago and it was time all new projects were designed and constructed with these features. 

“A few decades ago we started becoming aware we had to design spaces that considered people with mobility impairment and now every new building has equitable access incorporated into the design,”  Ehrenberg said.

“In the same way that we now include ramps and lifts as a matter of course for people with mobility difficulties, we need to design spaces that consider cognitive difficulties as well.”

Ehrenberg said the real challenge for architects and designers was to integrate these principles into new buildings without drawing attention to them.

“No one wants to think about their mind not functioning as well as it used to, just as no one wants to think about the possibility that one day they may not be as mobile,” he said. 

“Designing with ageing in mind means people can live independently for longer. It means couples can stay together longer, even if one of them begins to experience some cognitive decline.

“The result is a seniors living environment that ensures operations are efficient and functional and the innovative aesthetics are obvious and at the forefront."

Ehrenburg emphasised that Marchese focuses on creating friendly public spaces and meeting places that engender a village atmosphere.

“To provide the individual choices residents desire we provide understated luxury across the spectrum of sun-drenched living spaces from apartments and independent living units through to warm and welcoming aged and health care models,” he said.

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