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M|O Perspectives

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Design trends for an aging population

Feb 14, 2018

Our population is aging: According to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the number of people 60 and over made up just 17 percent of the North American population in 2006. That number will nearly double to 27 percent by 2050. While this trend is a positive result of technological and medical advancements, it is also big challenge.

Elderly people bring experience, wisdom, culture, family support, and many other aspects to society, however aging brings physical and social requirements. To help communities thrive, built environment (cities and developments) professionals will be called on more than ever to support older residents’ well-being and productivity.

Seniors want to maintain autonomy, independence and freedoms as long as possible, which means most people prefer to “age in place” rather than moving into a specialized care facility. Older people are also using new technology, such as ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, internet-of-things, smart homes/cities and voice recognition, at a higher rate. And they achieve more psychological and health benefits when they feel integrated into society and have a connection to the outdoors.

That means the AEC community must rethink how it designs, builds and retrofits for seniors. For example, Swedish architect Susanne Clase said in an article in the Guardian that she now “reverses” public and private spaces in her dwelling design for aging residents. “The bedroom and bathroom are by the front door so the carer can access them. The living room and kitchen are at the back and are the resident’s private space.”

Here are some other things worth considering on your next project aimed at incorporating the needs of aging residents.

Accessibility: Adhering to current disabled accessibility standards and universal design principles will prove a good investment to help people age in place. Consider entrances without steps; wider doors and hallways; non-slip floors; countertops with varying or adjustable heights; larger bathrooms and kitchens; switches and other controls within easy reach of operation; and good lighting.

Street spaces: Consider incorporating accessible car sharing pick-up/drop off areas; smart-sensor technology for intersection traffic controls; local transportation partnerships to provide stop or shuttle services; shaded resting or gathering areas and climate controls such as wind barriers and heated paving; and public restrooms (paid service/maintained privately).

Smart homes: According to personal preferences, add sensors that can track behavior patterns such as eating, sleeping, breathing and heart rates, and alert caregivers or physicians. There are also automatic controls for lighting, temperature, music, TV, etc., plus smart keys to activate security within properties. Additionally, Alexa, Google Voice and Siri are just some of the voice-recognition applications now capable of operating things like doors, windows and fireplaces.

Wayfinding: Leverage thoughtful technology such as smartphone apps for audible/visual turn-by-turn indoor and outdoor navigation. Increase the number of elevators and distribute them throughout the building to reduce travel distance between elevators. Likewise, consider traffic-flow design for low-speed vehicles (golf carts or mobility devices).

Common spaces: Build public areas for regular social/educational events like gardening, dancing and cooking, as well as service-specific options like onsite health clinics, childcare, grocery, restaurants, therapeutic rooms and beauty salons.

Marx|Okubo assists owners, developers and investors in real estate by evaluating plans, budgets, schedules and other aspects of developments before construction starts to ensure that the final products is as efficient and buildable as possible. For more information about our preconstruction services contact

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Marx|Okubo is a national architecture/engineering/construction consulting firm that works with real estate owners, investors and lenders—at every point of the property lifecycle—to evaluate their building projects, solve complex challenges and implement tailored solutions. We help clients understand their projects’ complexities, so they can make more informed decisions and, ultimately, mitigate their risk.