Connectedness and sharing key to longevity as we age.
Connectedness and sharing key to longevity as we age.

By Russell Lamb 

This post first appeared in Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) FUSION magazine in July 2020. To view the original article, click here: Click here to read (head to pages 46-47):

I am fortunate to work in an industry that continues to innovate and look to the future. Over the past few years we have seen huge advancements in aged care and retirement living design and continue to work on meeting the needs of our community members as we all age. But are we doing enough? From where I’m sitting, I’m not sure we are, and that’s the feedback I’m also hearing from the wider built environment industry as well as the community.

As designers, builders and operators of aged care and retirement living facilities, we have the opportunity to really listen to what people want from their communities as they age and respond to changing needs with innovation and clever thinking.  

That is where the concept of the Longevity by Design charrette was born. As building services consulting engineers, typically we’re involved in the concept stages and design of how aged care and retirement facilities are put together. While we wanted to find a way to get genuine input into what this might look like in the future, we wanted to provide a platform for the industry as a whole to come together to challenge how we all think about the future of senior living design, and how and if we are meeting the needs of future seniors.

Earlier in the year, we brought together more than 120 designers, innovators, planners and seniors at The University of Queensland to do just this.

Working with The University of Queensland’s Healthy Ageing Initiative, the charrette came at a time when we all recognise we’re at a crossroads where we can decide whether Australia’s ageing population is a burden or an opportunity.

It’s important to recognise this because the ageing population is, in fact, an opportunity – and the charrette was an opportunity to challenge assumptions that aren’t necessarily true anymore.

Older people are thinking and acting very differently than ever before and we know that future generations of older people will have very high expectations about maintaining their engaged lifestyles.

The biggest challenge for senior living design is how we think. There are many fundamental structures that need to be changed, but really what’s holding us back is our imagination and our willingness to challenge the assumptions and create a different future. We really need to find ways to crack through some of the current barriers and obstacles that the industry is facing to make a real difference.

The charrette teams had a choice of three localities in the Redlands, on Brisbane’s bayside, to work on, where they were challenged to create visionary, innovative and highly connected designs to meet the needs of an intergenerational community in 2050.

During the design challenge, the group reached the consensus that what was good for older people, was good for all ages and traditional, walled retirement villages have definitely had their day. Everyone wants to be able to choose how they live their lives, for the full length of their lives.

Many of the ideas proposed by the teams shared a common thread of physical and social connectedness, which are both key to promoting increased choice, economic development and job creation.

While many innovative alternatives to retirement villages are emerging, the design challenge participants considered ways the approach to urban design and built form needs to transform to be open and accessible to all generations that make up our communities. We know this is what keeps people engaged and connected.

Ideas ranged from ‘super blocks’ that reconfigure three typical suburban house blocks into five multi-generational residences, to new economic models.  The teams visualised spaces designed to enable older people to continue to be creative and productive, rather than just existing in places padded with amenities and activities to pass the time that actually push them further into dependence.

Rather than being set apart from the community, the teams developed concepts of specialist knowledge and skills centres driven by community interests and needs that would be distributed within short distances of the hub and connected by free and frequent automated public buses and electric vehicle ride share.

Connectedness and sharing might sound obvious and what we all might want, but the Longevity by Design teams showed what the ‘longevity’ economy could look like.

Longevity by Design was a joint initiative of The University of Queensland‘s Healthy Ageing Initiative and DMA Engineers, with support from event partners Paynters and Redland City Council.

Seven teams took away awards for their innovative pitches, including the UQ Healthy Ageing Initiative Award, the People’s Choice Award and the Redland City Council Award, which gave the awarded team the opportunity to present their ideas to a group of experts and practitioners at a future Redland City Council health care and social assistance forum. A full list of award winners and design pitches can be found here.

For more information, go to 


Add your Comment

Sign up to receive regular insights on how to create inner beauty in building services, news from DMA and invitations to upcoming events.