The Importance of Post-Occupancy Evaluation in Specialist Living Design

It has been nearly a year since life as we knew it turned upside down; a rollercoaster of tiers and lockdowns, never-ending Zoom calls and the ‘new normal’. For most, spending the majority of time within the same four walls has been a huge shock, but life in lockdown has finally given us a glimpse into the everyday experiences of, and issues faced by, many older adults and vulnerable people.

Things will gradually get back to ‘normal’ for most, but those unable to get out and about will continue to spend long periods of time at home.

I wrote an article (opens new window) back in December to coincide with the HAPPI Awareness Week on this subject. I feel strongly that our lockdown experiences can, and should, inform senior living designs for the better and help build upon the concept of ‘homes for life’.

By now, we all have a better understanding of what works well in the home, and what doesn’t. The physical characteristics of our immediate environment, flexibility of space, access to nature and connectivity to community are important to everyone’s health, wellbeing, comfort and independence.

However, making sense of our own experiences isn’t enough. Good quality senior living design requires a deeper level of thinking. For example, we know the general health benefits of natural light in the home, but it’s easy to overlook how vital it is to a person with declining eyesight.

Our design approaches must focus on the people who will live in the homes we design and build, as even the smallest design changes could have a huge impact on their quality of life.

At Stride Treglown we’re proud of our Inhabitant series: a collection of interviews with the people that use our projects every day. In December last year, we caught up with residents of the scheme we designed at Bournville Gardens scheme (opens new window) in Birmingham, run by ExtraCare Charitable Trust.

We felt it was necessary to understand how the building worked for them throughout lockdown, good and bad. The need for flexibility of both internal space and amenity space, and the significance of support networks created by casual social interactions were common themes raised, and something we now know to prioritise in future designs.

Our conversations give us insight into how the specialist living sector (opens new window) will need to adapt and evolve after such a tumultuous time. It’s apparent that the sector faces fresh challenges: attracting and retaining residents and staff, addressing infection control and longer-term health security, and ultimately, ensuring developments are quality places to both live and work.

The lasting impacts of Covid-19 are yet unknown, but what we do know is qualitative research and post-occupancy evaluation will be critical in determining exactly how design can foster health and wellbeing in the future. I implore all designers to engage with and listen to the voices of residents more widely to help co-design and shape design policy, particularly in a sector that will need to continuously evolve to cater for a growing ageing population.

And finally, in light of the recent APPG Inquiry: Housing for People with Dementia, “every decision about care is also a decision about housing”. We therefore urgently need to reevaluate how design the types of ‘care ready’ housing we want to live in in later life. Ultimately we are designing for everyone’s futures; we are all ageing, and good design for specialist living is good design for all.

And, if you found this of interest, check out other relevant resources curated by the Housing LIN on our dedicated Designing Extra Care webpages.


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