Human contact with nature has been tied to improved health in many studies with some even suggesting that the less green a person’s surroundings, the higher their risk of mortality.
More specific to health outcomes, there have been many studies that directly tie a person’s exposure to nature with improved levels of healing and wellbeing when undergoing treatment for physical or psychological diseases.
The implications of this research and information for building designers, particularly institutional building designers, are profound because they lend to suggestions that the designer plays a pivotal role in the health, wellbeing and even survival of building occupants.
At the same time, research into occupant behavioural trends is also driving changes in education, commercial and aged care architecture. Traditional learning, working and retirement spaces around the world are being substituted for new hybrid spaces that combine and blur the lines between learning, socialising, working, and living, all in the pursuit of better user experience.
In the education sector, architects are designing what are being called ‘sticky campuses’ or multi-functional spaces that encourage students to stay on campus for longer periods of time to socialise, learn and work. In the aged care sector, the shift is aligned with the notion of ‘aging in place’, whereby retirement homes are no longer being designed for the high needs of late retirees, but as hotelesque places for people in various stages of retirement to come and live in comfort as they age.
Research is thus having a profound impact on many types of architecture regardless of the discipline that research originated in. It was also one of the guiding principles for the design of the brand new Stockland Mernda Retirement Village Clubhouse (SMRVC) in Melbourne by Six Degrees Architects.
Top: the building spills out onto a BBQ area and Bowling Green.
Above: The arrival points are clearly articulated, and residents enter through a hotel like foyer into an east/west circulation corridor defined by a rammed earth wall.
Six Degrees have completed a number of university projects involving student study spaces and libraries and are familiar with the sticky campus concept, in particular the principle of enhancing occupant experience through increasingly well designed and more appealing community spaces.
In more than one sense, the contemporary retirement village could be seen as similar to the sticky campus. Not only do most occupants of these spaces rarely leave, they are also voluntarily there to experience a range of services. Similar to new universities, new retirement villages are now offering facilities and amenity akin to hotels, shopping centres and community spaces in a bid to create a more appealing environment for buyers/renters.
This is the case at the SMRVC which Peter Malatt, Director of Six Degrees says was designed to appeal to the next generation of retirees, looking to age in place.
“The duration of retirement and the benefits of ageing in place are becoming evident to the next generation of retirees, and in the coming decade, their choice of housing or retirement provider is going to be increasingly influenced by the quality of the buildings and the sense of community offered,” he says.
“The feel is far more domestic and comfortable, rather than being based on ease of cleaning or simplicity of operation.”
In an appeal to this generation, the SMRVC was designed as an emulation of a town square, where a diverse range of indoor and outdoor amenities and facilities articulate from a central communal space.
A series of social areas, including a bar, dining, lounge, billiards, pool and gym, are grouped for a northerly orientation, capturing morning sun. They open up onto the ‘Common’, an area with a bowling green, productive garden and contemplative park. Private spaces, including wellbeing, doctor, and hairdressing services, have a southerly aspect, acting as a buffer to the road and carpark.
The injection of nature into the project was also a driving principle of the Six Degrees design strategy who understand the warmth, welcome and wellbeing it brings to a building. This was achieved through a mixture of passive design and selection of building products.
Rammed earth walls. fabric linings and furnishings, forest certified plywood linings and timber finishes were used throughout for warmth and greater durability PRODUCTS: FLOOR TILES CLASSIC CERAMICS STONES BASALTINA NERA, 600X300 TIMBER LINING BOARDS HOOP PINE TIMBER VENEERED MDF AUSTRAL PLYWOODS RAMMED EARTH OMNI CONSTRUCTIONS RECYCLED TIMBER URBAN SALVAGE CARPET ONTERA KARONA SHADES, COLOUR MEAD 1063FURNITURE JARDAN (STYLE, COLOUR AND DETAIL SELECTED BY SIX DEGREES) CEILINGPLASTERBOARD BULKHEAD FABRIC WOVEN IMAGE ECHOPANEL FLOOR TILES CSR CEMINTEL BARESTONE 9MM
Northern orientation to all public spaces and clerestory windows over the major common room that spills out onto the BBQ area and Bowling Green optimises natural light for the internal spaces. Timber, plywood, fabric and brick finishes are used throughout the building to, as Malatt puts it, “privilege the user experience” and create a healthy and welcoming environment. But probably the most unusual choice of building material, particularly for a mass market development like a Stockland project, is the rammed earth wall that spreads throughout the SMRVC.
Outside, the building is all about low maintenance, environmental sustainability and, again, user experience. CSR Cemintel Barestone and Carter Holt Harvey Shadowclad clad the bulk of the building while timber, rammed earth and brick details anchor it to the site and provide a natural, warm and tactile quality to the user experience.
The built form wraps around and spills out onto a bowling green and a variety of landscaped spaces.PRODUCTS: LOUVRES SHADEFACTOR AUSTRALIA CEMENT SHEETING CSR CEMINTEL BARESTONE 9MM GLAZING SYSTEM CAPRAL 625 NARROWLINE DOUBLE GLAZING. EXTERIOR CEMENT SHEETING CSR CEMINTEL BARESTONE 9MM EXTERIOR CLADDING CARTER HOLT HARVEY SHADOWCLAD
The final, and most obvious guiding principle of the SMRVC is sustainability, something we’ve come to expect from Six Degrees. Apart from maybe the limitations on the materials used for floors in aged care, Malatt suggests that guidelines for sustainable design are applicable across the full spectrum of architecture typologies, including designing retirement homes.
The project is rated a 4-star Greenstar ‘Custom Design’ and achieved points through use of kitchen waste composting, an integrated landscape strategy and its social sustainability through the principles of aging in place. It is fit with highly durable building materials to prolong building life and makes use of solar heating for pool and hot water systems. The rammed earth walls also add to the building’s environmental credentials and are an effective use of natural materials to increase the internal thermal mass of the building.
Australia is getting older. About 40 years ago eight per cent of our population was aged 65 and over. Now it’s more like 14 per cent. And in that period, those 85 and over increased almost four fold. In the next 20 years Australia's population is expected to grow by 28 per cent, whereas growth for those in the 65 and over age bracket is expected to increase by 82 per cent, and greater than 100 per cent for 85 and overs.
In short, more of us are readying for retirement and we’re likely to live longer while in it. The World Health Organisation calls it the ‘longevity revolution’ and it is certainly effecting the way we design aged care facilities. For Six Degrees, it’s all about providing a product that is appealing and attractive to a wide group of people - people who want and need different things.
At the SMRVC, the services are diverse, the spaces varied and most importantly, checking-in is voluntary. No one has to be there, but they want to.