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Designing, Developing and Sustaining Later Lifestyles
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Many developed nations face the challenge of accommodating a growing, ageing population and creating appropriate forms of housing suitable for older people.

Written by an architect, this practice-led ethnography of retirement housing offers new perspectives on environmental gerontology. Through stories and visual vignettes, it presents a range of stakeholders involved in the design, construction, management and habitation of third-age housing in the UK, to highlight the importance of design decisions for the everyday lives of older people.

Drawing on unique and interdisciplinary research methods, its fresh approach shows researchers how well-designed retirement housing can enable older people to successfully age in place for longer, and challenges designers, developers and providers to evolve their design practices and products.

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Chapter 1 contextualises the actors storied within this volume, specifically baby boomer characters ‘Matthew’ and ‘Eileen’ storied within Chapter 3, and ‘Rose’ the ‘vulnerable friend’ storied within Chapter 4. Taking a popular perspective, these characters occupy a common phase of life – retirement – albeit separated by over two decades, with Matthew and Eileen being recent retirees, and Rose a generation ahead. They are also considered outwith the target market for the villa product presented within Chapter 5; Matthew and Eileen being ‘too young’ or ‘not ready’, and Rose being ‘too dependent’ or ‘too late’ for a retirement apartment. This chapter uses gerontological literature to locate these ‘known’ individuals within a theoretical population or spectrum of older persons. It explores key terms used to describe life course stages, such as ‘third age’ (Matthew/Eileen) and ‘fourth age’ (Rose), and associated degrees of independence and how these translate to housing needs. Thus this chapter offers readers a theoretical primer and backdrop for the cast of actors storied in this book.

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Chapter 2 explores the evolution of specialist accommodation for older people, reaching as far back as medieval monastic orders and an extra-claustral building called the ‘farmery’ that housed clergymen deemed no longer fit for work. The chapter traces the emergence of a class of non-working elders as a growing population segment – known as the ‘deserving poor’ – and explores common living arrangements for those unable to work in later life. It considers progressive social provisions made within 19th-century workhouses, public assistance institutions and infirmaries in Britain, as well as parliamentary discourse that considered the need for ‘cottage homes’ to accommodate former staff members of country estates. The chapter also explores how different sovereign nations sought to accommodate former soldiers within veteran hospitals, such as Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, and how these represent an extreme form of communal living and social investment in a particular group of older people. More generally, the chapter examines almshousing as a distinct and lasting building type that has continued to evolve; its characteristics have been translated into contemporary specialist housing, including early models of what we now recognise as ‘sheltered housing’.

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Chapter 3 contains the first research story, which reflects on the situated experiences, attitudes and opinions of a ‘baby boomer’ couple, the ‘Cees’, who are recent retirees or ‘third agers’ that split their time between Northern Ireland and England. This is a narrative account inviting readers to observe family members or close relations as emerging experts in preparing for and practising ageing in place. It draws upon a deep and part situated relationship with the informants while focusing on two research-framed events: a semi-structured interview conducted inside the informants’ English home, and a guided tour/walking interview inside a retirement housing development close to their home. The story recounts two recent property purchases and reflects on the motives for moving and respective meanings of home, as well as the couple’s preparedness for retirement living over the longer term. The Cees do not envisage moving for at least another ten years, and the idea of moving into retirement housing has not featured in their thinking, yet. In these terms the chapter explores a specific retirement lifestyle that temporarily disregards the idea of the ‘last’ home while attending to practical thoughts around future-proofing.

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Chapter 4 contains a research story that portrays the changing state of home for an older person. It presents a narrative account of the author’s experience befriending ‘Rose’ and witnessing her relationship with home in the fourth age of life. Rose is representative of the fastest growing section of the UK population – the so-called ‘old-old’ or those aged 85 years and older. Rose had limited financial means and was dependent upon care workers and family members for her everyday needs. Diminished mobility led her to experiencing degradations of dignity/privacy while at home, including losing control over who had access to (and what actions were performed within) her home. Her story offers insights into multivariate meanings of home – as an apparatus and companion, for instance – and everyday behavioural observations of ageing in place, drawing specific attention to material details within micro environments. Rose’s story presents some common challenges familiar to a lot of older people, including experiences of environmental press and feeling less at home, but also a keen resistance to moving into another place – especially a nursing home. This chapter expresses sympathy for a vulnerable friend, while developing design empathy for all those that find themselves disabled or disadvantaged by their home.

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Chapter 5 provides an overview of one property developer’s retirement-living product – the retirement villa – developed by ‘Pink & Knight’ for the UK independent-living homeowner market. The chapter explains the villa concept and its evolution from sheltered housing schemes developed in the late 20th century. The chapter thus contextualises the villa within a spectrum of accommodation types inhabited by older people. It includes discussion of contemporary models, such as Extra Care, which operate on a ‘village’ scale, rather than a single building block and deliberately blur the lines between specialist housing and care institution. Here there is fertile ground for further innovation, but also potential confusion around product identities and how they are understood by consumers, estate agents and the wider public, as well as local authority planning departments.

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Chapter 6 asks readers to consider the position of a property developer within the UK volume housebuilding sector. It contains a tripartite story that portrays a company director based on documentary analysis and real events, including everyday interactions and observations from industry. Part A examines common perceptions of property developers within popular culture and the architectural profession especially. Part B presents ‘George’, a composite character based on members of a fictional board of directors at development company ‘Pink & Knight’. The story then shifts from a narration of George, as character, to George as narrator. Part C presents George’s thinking around a staff symposium called ‘Back-To-Basics’, which is used by the author to roll-call Pink & Knight directors, as well as unpack everyday operational challenges and business decisions, including investment in product review and exploring design ‘tweaks’. The story extends empathy towards an actor rarely captured by research and invites readers to look beyond popular stereotypes that cast developers as villains. Here the developer is presented as a built environment professional and visionary change-maker; one committed to developing a ‘needs oriented’ retirement-living product, while keeping a close eye on build cost, profit margins and sustaining livelihoods.

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Chapter 7 examines the lived experiences of retirement housing residents, specifically mid-market consumers – those that have moved from owning familial homes to a retirement apartment. It presents narrative accounts of three part-fictional characters – Patrick, Gladys and Paula – that both affirm and contest assumed consumer profiles, while casting doubt on aspects of a property developer’s image of its customer. The research story reflects the positions of homeowners met in the field through a series of research residencies, which involved the researcher staying overnight and engaging in social events within shared lounges at a sample of retirement villas developed by Pink & Knight. Thus groups of resident owners contributed to an understanding of home identities and motives for moving, as well as candid feedback on the retirement-living lifestyle and product in which they are invested. Contextual interviews – conducted with informants inside their homes, walking and talking through their interiors – revealed tacit knowledge, including an array of domestic ‘niggles’ and ‘snags’ associated with their new home. Here residents expressed a deep appreciation for the social architecture, over and above the physical environment.

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Chapter 8 reflects on the position of wardens and scheme managers – specifically villa managers – as personnel responsible for providing a concierge service to residents, and a facilities management service to property developers. The chapter provides background information on this group of workers and an exploration of the villa manager’s job description, including their role in the promotion and maintenance of the social architecture of the villa. Here the story proper takes the form of a ‘day in the life’ of Lindsey in her workplace, providing an account of the social world she helps to support and sustain. The story reflects upon the villa manager’s shifting position, necessitated by engagement with an array of stakeholders, ranging from employers to customers and visiting others. The story highlights the concerns of the villa manager, including ‘grey’ areas between customer expectations and customer care. It also portrays something of the challenges presented by an ageing cohort of residents with collective ambitions to reshape the villa environment – the shared lounge especially – and the villa manager’s potential to contribute towards design review of this setting. Thus this chapter shines a light on personnel that are expert in the maintenance of retirement living; an expertise that appears largely untapped.

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Chapter 9 provides an overview of two instrumental built environment professionals within the retirement housing sector – architects and town planners – and their respective vocations, training and ethics, with reference to professional codes of conduct, governing bodies and authorities. The chapter explores some of the underlying values and motives of these professionals, specifically their commitment to work that has social purpose and serving the public interest, as well as clients and stakeholders. It also offers a reminder that housing has a role to play beyond simply providing shelter to individuals. Good housing has the potential to positively impact wider societal issues – such as social care – and to reach into the wider public realm, for instance, helping to shape and sustain communities as well as add value and character to the built environment of towns and cities.

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