Hames Sharley’s national practice is structured as a series of portfolios; these specialist areas of knowledge are championed by Portfolio Leaders, assisted by our most experienced and skilled Thought Leaders. The various groups collaborate to develop their relevant knowledge areas, and there is no better example of this cross-pollination of skills than the aged-care sector.
Two of the practice’s core portfolios are Health and Residential, and the successful design of aged-care facilities straddles both, with numerous other portfolios also feeding into the mix.
The methods Hames Sharley implements when working on aged-care projects parallel those required for numerous other end-user sectors, including people with disabilities, sufferers of early-onset dementia and other groups with assisted-living requirements.
Creating a safe and secure environment should always be the main priority of a designer. Especially in aged care environments when falls become a catalyst for severe immobility and complication. However, this should be achieved in a way that seems unobtrusive to residents, and maintains a sense of homeliness rather than the characteristics of an institution.
Regardless of whether the project requires interior design, architecture, landscape design or wider urban design and master planning, the residents of aged-care facilities must be offered familiarity. Allowing people to have individual spaces that reflect their own personalities and stories creates a home as opposed to places to live.
The mix of personalised private space and communal areas must be carefully considered. Communal spaces often include shared gardens, where residents can gather to spend time together. It has been widely reported that as many as 40 per cent of residents in Australian aged-care facilities don’t receive any visitors, so maximising opportunities for them to build relationships with fellow residents is essential to the design process.
Allow People’s Stories to Continue
Remaining active and stimulated has been empirically proven to improve mental health and extend life expectancy. The designer’s brief must always allow residents the opportunity to partake in a number of different activities that may require a diverse range of spaces and places, both internal and external.
Group size is an important factor when designing for the elderly, especially those who suffer from conditions such as dementia. More people often means more visual and audio ‘noise’, which can be detrimental to the wellbeing of residents.
Offer External Visual Stimulation
Providing visual stimuli for the elderly or disabled is a vital aspect of the design process. If impressive vistas and views of the surrounding area aren’t possible, the landscape designer should consider orientation of gardens and trees to maximise views from the interior.
Create Clear Lines of Sight
An important factor in creating a safe environment is to balance a resident’s need for privacy with his or her own personal safety. It is also crucial to allow people with dementia clear lines of sight that reduce claustrophobia. Examples of this could include communal areas with open doors that offer views into hallways and other rooms.
It is common for designers to heavily layer interiors with colour and tactility. This may work for some, but is often inappropriate for many elderly people, in particular residents who suffer from dementia and who may be distressed and confused when faced with overly vibrant spaces.
Create Inviting Environments That Promote Community
Environments should be arranged in a manner that encourages people to connect with one another. Compositions of chairs and sofas around a televisions and tables should be considered not just to maximise visibility but also for the creation of a community atmosphere of chat and discussion.
Allow Privacy and Intimacy
Spaces should allow residents to have both social interaction and privacy, whether inside the buildings or in surrounding gardens. Places that are suited for two or three residents to have more intimate conversations should also be provided for.
Provide Directional Cues
At Hames Sharley, we have provided wayfinding and signage solutions for projects across each of our portfolios, and each different scenario requires a different approach. When designing for the elderly or those with special needs, it is important to create subtle, visual cues through variances in colour and form that remind residents about directions within a building. These understated cues then minimise the requirement for actual directional signage that may retract from a feeling of homeliness.
Offer Personalised Spaces
Hames Sharley values the needs of the end-user as the primary driver in all projects, carefully managing stakeholder engagement. In the case of aged-care facilities, these stakeholders include not just the residents but also the staff and visitors. Therefore, while it may be difficult to poll the opinions of future residents and their families, the design phase should always take into account the views of the people who will work there.
Be Agile and Adaptive for Inter-generational Change
As time passes, members of staff and residents move on, so a degree of agility within the designs should be incorporated, to allow for evolving wants and needs, in additional to government funding and compliance changes