5 steps to housing innovation for the over 50’s

by Catherine Rickwood

I want to stay at home. Forever. In fact, research by Catherine Rickwood reveals that people are more afraid of going to a nursing home or a retirement village than dying. So what can architects, property developers, and the construction industry do to reimagine and reshape housing so that we can all remain at home, in our communities, forever?

The Housing Challenge

According to Ben Myers, Executive Director of the Property Council:

“Many existing homes just aren’t suitable for our seniors to ‘age in place’; often they are older, contain trip hazards and very difficult to maintain.”

Given the majority of older Australians are choosing to stay in their own homes, the housing sector clearly has the chance to re-imagine housing. In doing so, it will provide choice and facilitate us all to ‘age in place’. Whether that’s simple renovations, makeovers, or redesigning and re-thinking housing from the ground up.  Already, a number of Australian designers such as Happy Haus, Jigsaw, and Prebuilt have demonstrated innovation in design. These ready-made houses are affordable and attractive.

The next challenge and opportunity is to imagine and co-create affordable, equally clever design to adapt existing homes to accommodate the physical and cognitive difficulties encountered by many older people.

5 Steps to Innovation

Re-designing and re-imagining homes for older people to remain exactly where they are requires creativity and understanding. In fact, understanding the difficulties and desires of older people is key to creating housing that works. We use a co-design methodology to do this. The essential steps to success are:

  1. Research – Communicating with older people and gathering knowledge about their current experience of living at home.
  2. Key Stakeholder Engagement – Engaging all those involved in the design process and gathering their views on housing design for an ageing population.
  3. Co-creation – Bringing older people and designers together to co-create a design brief, prioritising essentials against “nice-to-have’s”.
  4. Co-design – Co-designing workshops provide a “hands-on” environment to imagine, draw, and make models of the possibilities.
  5. Testing – Testing housing design ideas in a virtual reality environment. Older people can “walk through” a home created from ideas generated during the co-design workshop. Doing so provides valuable feedback prior to pursuing the project.

Needless to say, affordability is crucial. Consequently, we can only realise success if the co-designed housing outcomes are reasonably priced. Of course, incorporating off-the-shelf products and technology where possible is essential. Creating a new ready-made product that’s specifically suited to home adaptation for older people is also conceivable.

The Result

Communities will change. And, older people will become woven into the fabric of what makes neighbourhoods great.

And what makes a neighbourhood great?

Lists abound, however, this Heart Foundation guide to ‘Creating Healthy Neighbourhoods’ neatly encapsulates the essentials: great open spaces; ability to walk and cycle; access to public transport; easy access to shops and transport; connected and safe streets; and, spaces where the community can meet – both in the open and in community centres.

The opportunity for Australian architects, designers, and builders to initiate and implement new ideas for housing so that we can stay at home forever is limitless.

Can Australia’s housing industry lead the way on housing for our ageing population? We know it’s possible.

If you’d like to unlock the growth potential for your business of housing for the over 50’s, contact us.

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

About the Author

Catherine Rickwood

An experienced researcher and business executive, Catherine's work is informed by academic knowledge and evidence to deliver practical actions with measurable outcomes. These combined skills create a powerful and useful ability to delve deep on issues, ask incisive questions, think laterally, and bring knowledge and insights to individuals, a team, and an organisation keen to engage with, and include the over 50's as a valuable part of their business strategy.



Catherine Rickwood is solutions-focussed, working with innovative organisations keen to improve customer and employee insights and empathy to increase their success in new markets, build loyalty, and increase innovation. She does this using a co-design process that engages employees and key stakeholders to create collaborative solutions. Contact Catherine to discover how her services can support your organisation to harness the changing demographic reality.

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