How to make inclusive design beautiful?
The function of a product, space or environment is of extreme importance, if it does not function well, it has failed its primary purpose - no matter how good it looks. Equally to enhance functionality at the cost of aesthetic is to present a design of reduced value. In the context of designing for people at a later stage of life, who may live day-to-day with some age-related physical, cognitive and/or sensory limitations, you frequently find a focus on function, which leads to ‘assistive’ designs, lacking any aesthetic finesse.
Sacrificing either function or finesse goes against the very essence of inclusive design. The housing market is filled with designs for later life living that look austere and feel utilitarian. Indeed, too often the aesthetic appeal of a product designed to be accessible is forgotten, leading to a stigmatised perception of what design for the older market can look like.
Platinum Standard is a research project exploring the junction where access and aesthetics meet, moving us towards best practice in home design for later life. Current regulations, which cover everything from the environment to daily and social activities, health and personal care are criticised as encouraging the notion of a ‘national minimum standard’ immediately setting the design ambition towards a minimum level, rather than the best. In response to this, the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design are looking to set a Platinum Standard in this area, so that care homes do not just meet minimum requirements, but aspire to create the best environment for later lifers.
Auriens, co-founded by property developers Johnny Sandelson and Karen Mulville, is a business that aims to provide the highest quality experience and care for ‘perenniels’ (more specifically, those aged 60+ years) who want to enjoy later life luxury in a high-end setting. Auriens Chelsea, which is scheduled to open in 2019, seeks to combine a ‘members club’ aesthetic and service with excellent 24-hour healthcare. Working in partnership with Draycott Nursing, a leading private nursing and home care agency, Auriens believes that getting older does not mean one cannot live a full and uncompromising life – even if one requires a level of personal care.
Research Associate Jordan Jon Hodgson has been engaging at all levels with the complex design Auriens is undertaking in order to produce a platinum standard for inclusive design in later life homes. His role has involved developing design provocations and solutions, he has also been able to offer inclusive design feedback on different elements at Auriens Chelsea (looking at vision loss, arthritis, hospital environments and dementia). Since working on this project, Jordan has been able to gather valuable insights into what people want later on in life; for instance, ‘to retire’ seems to infer that people like to move to the countryside for a quieter life, yet as Jordan has found through his research for Platinum Standard, there are three key things that perennials look for in later life: family, friends and facilities.
By introducing a Platinum Standard for care home design based on research inspired by Auriens’ aspirations for exceptional service and care within a beautiful and luxurious environment, the project will be able to offer Auriens suggestions of how to adapt the document to fit the specific needs of the residents (or members) of Auriens Chelsea. Further, this standard will set out best practice rather than ‘minimum requirements’, the values of which will be transferrable, whether used in high-end luxury buildings or more affordable care homes. Getting older does not mean one should have to compromise. Indeed, beautiful spaces, objects and products have been found to be psychologically beneficial; removing the aesthetic stigma attached to ageing, removes people’s negative feelings, leaving them free to enjoy living life.