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Only the best for the baby boomers
JUDE BARBACK looks at what is happening in design and innovation of New Zealand retirement villages.
Many believe 1948 was the perfect year to be born. With their teenage years untrammelled by the threat of war and defined by an era of free love and Beatlemania, 1948 babies came to expect life to be somewhat rosier than those born a decade earlier. Leading the baby boomer generation, they bought their homes at a time when housing was cheap but set to sky-rocket, leaving them with plenty of money and an expectation for the good things in life.
This year, 1948 babies turn 64. They are the next purchasers of retirement villas and their expectations are unlikely to wane now. With money in their pockets and discerning tastes, it comes as no surprise that the retirement village industry is growing. Statistics New Zealand estimates the number of New Zealanders aged 75 and over will more than double from 250,000 to 516,000 over the next twenty years.
John Collyns, executive director of the Retirement Villages Association (RVA), says there are currently just over five per cent of people aged over 65 living in a retirement village. It is, as he puts it, a “boutique market”. However, RVA members are reportedly building units at a rate of five to six per cent each year, which given these recessionary times is a clear indication that retirement villages is a growth market.
Understanding the market
Retirement village operators are faced with a demand to build more villas, but in an effort to remain competitive, must also meet demands for quality. Consequently, the architects and design companies working with village operators need to be well informed of what older people need and want in their accommodation.
Lifetime Design Ltd, a not-for profit organisation established by CCS Disability Action and supported by the Government, is a design company that prides itself on knowing its market. General manager, Andrew Olsen, says it is important to understand the end-user.
“Baby Boomers are the ‘me’ generation,” says Olsen. “They have spent their lives improving their world, they have high demands of their environment, and often, more so than any other group, they have the means to make it happen.”
“The ageing population is growing at an alarming rate, and as a large influential demographic, they will continue to seek innovative means to live out their retirements. This will provide the opportunity for niche developments that cater to very specific needs, from resort-type facilities through to lifestyle-specific communities,” says Olsen.
He gives the example of Lifetime Care services, which are accessed in small communities of purpose-built, high-quality homes for people in search of an easier lifestyle or on-site support services.
Lifetime Design is best known for Lifemark, its set of design standards used to help inform those involved with the provision of housing for New Zealand’s ageing population, such as architects, retirement village operators, developers, and homeowners. The Lifemark design standards, in adhering to the principles of accessibility, adaptability, usability, safety, and lifetime value, deliver what is needed by residents and village operators.
Olsen believes Lifemark is making an important contribution to the way our lives are lived in the future. Taking into account the number of home injuries, which will only increase as the population ages, Olsen says changing the design standards of New Zealand’s housing stock will make a dramatic difference to the bottom line.
Olsen says they encourage Lifemark design standards to be used by retirement village developers to ensure ease of use by residents at all stages and ages. This is just one way of ensuring the environment is safe to minimise trips, slips, and falls. The aim is to be able to care for an individual within a facility for the rest of their life. This is achieved by creating adaptable and accessible residences with features such as a level threshold, reinforced walls for support rails, and power points and light switches that can be easily reached. Lifemark standards look to exclude steps or provide alternative access if steps are necessary.
Factoring adaptability into design, or ‘future proofing’, is becoming an important consideration for architects. A recent survey of 2000 industry professionals found seven per cent of respondents were designing housing projects for the 50+ age group. Of these, 85 per cent are already including specific design features that will accommodate their clients as they age, in accordance with client requests.
Bell Kelly Beaumont (BKB) Team Architects are among those who look to build flexibility into their designs in order to make them adaptable for future generations of the facilities.
It is, after all, about looking forward to the next step in design, innovation, and consumer expectations. Assuming no cost constraints, Warwick Bell, director of BKB, says bedrooms in a facility would be slightly larger – more in keeping with those in a modern house. There would be a separate lounge, possibly connected to another bedroom for a spouse or partner, and more outdoor space. There would be greater use of ‘green’ technology. BKB is exploring variations of the care-suite concept for several providers, encompassing a different style of unit for couples where one partner requires stage III care.
Surprisingly, ‘future proofing’ is a cost-effective option for retirement village operators. Olsen says it has been proven that incorporating the Lifemark design dtandards saves money in the long term, as occupants are able to live out their full lives in the residence because it has been built to adapt to any stage and age.
From a commercial perspective, looking beyond ‘best practice’ to ‘next practice’ is a powerful marketing tool for village operators. The Summerset Group, which has entered a three-year deal with Lifemark, believes that being the first retirement village operator in New Zealand to use the Lifemark design standards in their developments gives them a competitive advantage.
Summerset residents appear to be appreciative of efforts made to future proof their homes, as they acknowledge that their mobility may decrease as they get older.
“If I need to adapt things, it’s not going to take much to do it,” says resident Dianne.
“Should I need to go into a walker or a wheelchair, it already provides access for that. There is room in the hallway to turn,” says Helen, another resident.
Summerset chief executive, Norah Barlow, also credits Lifemark for providing functionality without sacrificing aesthetics.
“It made something not look like it was built for disability; it made it look like it was built for living,” says Barlow of the Lifetime Design.
Importance of a care facility
The presence of an aged care facility in a retirement village is increasingly becoming a ‘must have’ for people considering the long-term possibilities of their retirement accommodation.
Investment experts are certainly witnessing this trend. Jeremy Simpson, director of Forsyth Barr’s research, says a retirement model that is integrated with aged healthcare is going to become really important and drive the need for the product as people won’t want to move again to gain access to high-quality care.
Indeed, many operators are now offering the full continuum of accommodation and care, from independent retirement living options to assisted living in serviced apartments, to rest home, hospital, and dementia care. Tauranga’s Bob Owens Retirement Village, one of Ryman Healthcare’s newest additions, is a perfect example of a new village that wants for nothing.
Many village operators, who have not previously felt the need for an aged care facility within their retirement villages, are now reconsidering. Masonic Villages Trust is one such operator. Masonic’s decision to build a new care facility on land next to their Masterton village (see side article) came after their residents – who had initially rejected the idea – began to see the need for a care facility on site, as they started to acknowledge their waning health and independence.
New build or renovate?
With a new build comes the benefit of a blank canvas. Compromise is usually dictated by budget but rarely by architectural design. Consumer preferences for things like ensuite bathrooms, accessibility needs such as adequate room to manoeuvre chairs and walkers in bathrooms, modern technologies, and plenty of space for staff can all be incorporated into a new design.
A new build allows designers to adopt best practice according to modern research. Aspects such as lighting and colour are often subject to the scrutiny of architectural researchers. Victoria’s Centre for Building Performance Research recently produced an interesting student project that surveyed the adequacy of light levels in homes for the elderly. Director, Michael Donn, says the project grew from the suspicions voiced by an external optometrist supervisor that New Zealand’s building code minima are adequate for people in the prime of their lives but insufficient for people suffering from the normal yellowing of the eye with age. He proposed the law was making people think they were incapable of reading and seeing clearly because it specified lighting levels sufficient for the nursing staff to read but insufficient for the people in their care.
More challenges are usually presented when existing care facilities need to be updated. In such a renovation project, design elements often need to work in with the idiosyncrasies of the building. However, a renovation project allows the benefit of knowing what has and has not worked well in the past for serving the particular needs of their residents.
Northbridge retirement complex in Auckland (see side article) recently updated its 35-year-old facilities, including its hospital. The main objective with the hospital alteration was to create more space and privacy for residents – again, in order to reflect their changing preferences and expectations. The renovation also gave the opportunity to better accommodate staff needs – such as more space in shower rooms and toilets for greater manoeuvrability when helping patients were welcome addition.
Presbyterian Support Central (PSC) Enliven’s Chalmers rest home and hospital on New Plymouth’s waterfront was another where the decision was made to rebuild. Nicola Turner, general manager of PSC Enliven services, says the decision to rebuild on the existing site was not an easy one. After exploring alternative sites, considering the funding issues and many years of discussion, the decision was finally made to redevelop the existing building.
The Eden Alternative model – a shift away from institutionalised, routine-driven care to a resident-centred philosophy where residents “call the shots” – was adopted for the project. This approach saw the disappearance of long, institutional corridors, multi-bedded rooms, and communal bathrooms, and in their place, seven 12-bed ‘cottages’ – each with their own kitchen/lounge/dining space.
Following the Eden model has come at the expense of features from other models. For example, some staff requests – like for nursing stations – have not been taken up as they were considered part of the medical model.
Other issues that cropped up were due to budget constraints and adherence to building and fire regulations, which saw the initial design revised several times.
Turner says it was also a “nightmare” for architects and the construction firm having the residents still on site, but moving residents out for redevelopment was not feasible. The residents took a keen interest in the build, with peepholes at wheelchair height allowing them the opportunity to watch the work in progress.
New build: Masterton Masterpiece
In 1986, the first retirement village of Masonic Villages Trust was opened in Masterton. At the time of construction, space was allocated within the village for a residential care facility. However, the residents at the time, who were mainly in their mid- to late-sixties and in good health, declared they didn’t want such a facility on-site, such was their keenness to sustain a perception of long-term independence.
Fast-forward 25 years and perceptions have changed. The sixty-somethings are now in their eighties and nineties, and the prospect of an aged care facility next door has much more appeal, as they begin to recognise their declining independence. Couples, particularly, were quick to see the merits of having a continuum of care in place for them. The trust set about acquiring an existing aged care provider in Masterton in order to meet the emerging demands of residents, as well as to stake out a larger presence in aged care with the district health board.
As the acquired facility was over 100 years old, questions began to arise about whether it should be modernised or rebuilt on land purchased next to the retirement village. The residents and staff were overwhelmingly in favour of the latter, and consequently, construction began in 2008 for a new care facility next to the existing village. The new facility officially opened in June 2010.
Choosing to rebuild gave the trust the opportunity to provide a range of different accommodation options. In addition to care rooms (all with ensuite bathrooms), six care suites, including kitchenette, lounge, and ensuite, were included in the design as well.
Warick Dunn, who has been chief executive of the trust since 2004, says as an existing provider, they were able to draw on their own experience when it came to the planning and design phases of the build.
“We had a fairly good idea what intending residents wanted from a new care facility,” he says.
A number of meetings with staff and architects also proved to be useful in informing practical design elements. It was from these meetings that important details were incorporated, such as allowing adequate room in the toilets and shower rooms for greater accessibility. Consultation with staff helped with the design of staff facilities, including rest rooms and common areas, ensuring they were well appointed, with plenty of storage space.
A new-build approach also provided the opportunity to incorporate technological advances, such as ceiling-mounted hoists in some bathrooms.
Dunn says the project went very smoothly. He puts this largely down to the decision to contract a project manager to oversee the build. The trust also refrained from making any adjustments during construction, which also helped to keep the project on time and on budget.
As the care facility was built at the very heart of the recession, Dunn says local trades people and suppliers were grateful to have their services enlisted in the build. There were very few other major building projects taking place at the time in the area.
The end result has been the source of much praise from the wider community as well. Over 200 people attended an open day of the facility prior to its official opening, with much positive feedback emerging.
Two years later, Dunn says the care facility enjoys good occupancy. While preference is given to village residents where possible, the facility is used by the wider community. Dunn says the care facility has increased the village’s competitiveness with another village in the area that also has a care facility.
He is pleased the trust had the forethought to set aside money to develop the surrounding landscaped gardens, which are starting to come into their own.
“We wouldn’t do anything differently,” he says.
The trust’s good experience will allow it to use its Masterton care facility as a prototype for future upgrades to its other facilities.
Northbridge, a not-for-profit retirement complex comprising village, serviced apartments, rest home, and hospital was built some 35 years ago. Its ethos, according to director of Northbridge Lifecare Trust, Heather Dixon, is “to provide affordable housing and nursing to average New Zealanders”.
However, affordable needn’t mean outdated, so when Northbridge began to look a little “tired”, Dixon said they set about upgrading the facilities.
Renovations on the rest home began four years ago, and in 2010, the hospital followed suit. Dixon said she and fellow staff members put themselves in the proverbial shoes of their patients and decided they would want single bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms. Informal discussions with residents and their families confirmed this notion. The hospital was expanded in size but the number of beds remained approximately the same, thereby increasing the space and quality of life for each individual.
Northbridge’s community facilities were the next to receive attention, with the lounge, restaurant, library, and administration area receiving a complete overhaul. Such renovations are rather rare for not-for-profit organisations. Dixon says Northbridge’s charity status means it isn’t taxed, allowing the profits to be put back into the facility.
“We thought it was time to give something back to the residents,” says Dixon.
Boasting waiting lists for up to 14 years for two-bed apartments, Northbridge is a successful village. Dixon says no scrimping was required for construction of the community facilities.
A gallery connects the administration area to a vast modern lounge, equipped to handle every one of the 220 residents for a function. The library is a beautiful space, fitted with a double-sided gas fire to provide ambience and warmth to library users and the people playing snooker on the other side. The revamped Cafe 45 is a popular spot that capitalises on the views overlooking Auckland city. A barbecue area is enjoyed on warmer days.
The new community facilities, which officially opened 30 March this year, took just under a year to be completed. Staff and residents coped extremely well with the upheaval, and the vast majority are thrilled with the result.
What do residents want?
Canvassing opinion on design features from residents in a variety of villages revealed some interesting insights. Room by room, residents give an idea of what they like, what they don’t, and what would be good to have.
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