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Panel Discussion - 'Designing for an ageing population'

I recently moderated a panel discussing 'designing for an ageing population' at the ArchiBuild Expo.

Gosh is it topical with nearly one third of our population nearing retirement age. In 2030 all baby boomers will have reached the age of 65.


Why was I asked to moderate when luxury properties, boutique commercial projects and superyachts are our speciality? Retirement villages are what Shaun (my business partner) and I grew up designing, developing and owning/managing. For 15 years retirement villages and shopping centres were my world. To say I’m passionate about them is an understatement and we do still work in this area.

In this post, I will report on our panel discussions. I will also write a series of posts to come addressing interior design in retirement living developments. Keep an eye out for those.


As with everything in life, not all retirement villages and aged care facilities are created equal and this is what I wanted to get into with our panel.


The panel was composed of architect Emily Gilfillan of Billard Leece Partnership, Margaret Bridge of Bridge Advisory Group and architect Lorraine Calder of Lorraine Calder Architects – a wealth of knowledge and ideas.


I introduced the top explaining the difference between retirement living and aged care. We see it very simply as one being a want and the other being a need.

Retirement living residents tend to make the move at a younger age (70ish) in order to downsize, free up some capital, tick off some bucket list items and enjoy the social life in a community of like-minded people. Facilities are often incredible and extensive, homes modern and travel high on the list.


Aged care is a need triggered as an incoming resident or their family feel that they can no longer remain independently in their own home. Assistance is required on a daily basis for healthy ageing. Aged care is more heavily regulated and as the name suggests, designed around different levels of care. The facilities are designed with operational functionality and efficiency for staff and adaptability in mind to suit all levels of care. They have health care onsite including nurses, enrolled nurses and carers.


Top take-a-ways from the discussion were:

Reforms as a result of the Royal Commission and Covid are positive:

o Dignity in ageing is the focus.

o The star rating for aged care offers a lot more transparency for incoming residents and as a result, accountability for care providers. The operation of an aged care facility now requires more oversight and rightly so.

o Health/pandemic conscious design taking into account natural light, indoor-outdoor connections, air quality, ability for isolation and delivery areas are now mainstream considerations.

Ideas for updating dated developments:

o Usual refurbishment items such as maximising space, new bathrooms and kitchens, maximising natural light.

o Use of the newest items of the market such as elegant grab rails, antimicrobial finishes, cycadean rhythm lighting and technology including apps for monitoring, security and falls.

o Integrate where possible the latest research in design for dementia including:

§ Colour contrast for items such as handles and toilets

§ Don’t use dark colours or contrasting dark and light – dark can look like holes

§ Colour blocking for less confusion and way finding

§ No floor level transitions

§ Clear view lines where possible


Urban design considerations include the usual sense of place and also the integration of services for the external community as well as residents where possible. This has the potential to increase the quality/scope of the offering to residents. Examples could be health facilities, coffee shops (when the location lends itself to such). If the retirement village is located on a golf course for example, it could include some guest accommodation.


Retirement living and aged care facilities are such a big topic but it is also an interesting topic, full of opportunities for continual improvement. I hope our panel discussions piqued the interest of those new to designing for an ageing population. For those that are experienced, I hope we touched on some thought provoking content, something that may have sparked the imagination and desire for a continued push towards leading design in this field.

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