HAPPI ten years on

For a few years now, HAPPI has been shorthand for high quality older people’s housing across and beyond the Third Age sector.

HAPPI reports 2 to 5 have covered vital aspects of the need for change, but the brief and vision of HAPPI 1 are the touchstones. Not more than a working week passes without HAPPI being cited, either in a bid, a client brief or planning discussion. While this reflects the committed work of the panel, chaired by Lord Best, the exemplary clarity of Matthew Barac and Julia Park’s writing and Rejash Bhela’s distinctive graphic design, the foundation of HAPPI 1’s success was the brief, which set the positive tone and marked a sea change in practice and aspiration.

HAPPI’s immediate precursor was the WHO Age Friendly Cities report of 1997. Its themes of universal access and refusal to equate the 3rd Age of life with inactive retirement turned out to be the thread joining the best practice examples that most impressed the panel. Many panel members had signed up out of a sense of duty, and were delighted to find the combination of lively older people and aspirational buildings they visited uplifting as well as thought-provoking.

Some moments from the research and project tours stand out clearly in the memory. The immaculately dressed Elizabeth from the Swiss Solinsieme cohousing development recalling how the neighbours were initially convinced they were to be inundated by hippies growing their own smoking materials. The manager of Postiljonen – a Swedish hospice – briskly making it clear that residents move in knowing it will be their last home, and describing the breadth of their attitudes to this reality.

In retrospect HAPPI crystallised and possibly catalysed a change that was starting to take place, but is still far from complete: old age has positives for many people, as well as eventually needing support from family and friends as well as professionals. It is no longer a case of wondering where to put ‘the old people’, but rather ‘where would I like to live as I get older?’ In the Third Age of our lives many of us – most of us, if the design of new enabling homes and neighbourhoods is right – will live longer by continuing to socialise, spend, volunteer and learn according to our individual aspirations, supported by better opportunities and mutual support.

“Good architecture is crucial to the perception and experience of old age"

The biggest lesson for me wasn’t apparent at the time we started work on HAPPI 1, though perhaps it should have been.  Good architecture is crucial both to the perception and experience of old age. The role of ‘kerb appeal’ in raising aspirations was set out in the brief, but lessons about layout and design that produce the positive effects described in the report have taken time to learn. Simple, intelligible layouts with good daylighting and beautiful, high quality, low maintenance landscaping are demanding to achieve within viability constraints, but the annual HAPPI award winners (as featured on the Housing LIN’s website) and other great projects show it can be done. Are staff more important than buildings? Yes, but good buildings help attract and retain staff as well as residents. Good housing for the 3rd Age of life must be as affordable as local comparators, but more desirable, accessible and sustainable. There are (still too slowly) increasing numbers of people around the country, in public and private sectors, living in a last home that is also their best home. 

To view all the HAPPI reports, visit the Housing LIN’s dedicated ‘design hub’  And to also read the reflections of Lord Best, Julia Park and Matthew Barac in this series about ten years of HAPPI, visit the Housing LIN’s blogs page.


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