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Aged care homes are set to get a lot better

Attitudes towards “ugly” care facilities could change if these architects have their way.

National Aged Care design principles and guidelines

The focus is on creating more accessible, dementia-friendly, and home-like living environments. 

The government says this will help improve quality of life for older people living in residential aged care and create better working environments for staff. 

Older people, especially those living with cognitive impairment or dementia, will benefit from well-designed accommodation that is guided by four principles: 

  • Enable the person. Support older people to live in a place that maintains their health, wellbeing, and a sense of identity. 

  • Cultivate a home. Create a familiar environment in which older people have privacy and control, and feel they belong. 

  • Access the outdoors. Support older people to see, access, and spend time outdoors, in contact with nature. 

  • Connect with community. Encourage older people to connect with family, friends, and community and continue to participate in meaningful activities. 

The principles and guidelines aim to: 

  • Guide residential aged care providers when refurbishing and building aged care homes 

  • Improve quality of life for people living in residential aged care 

  • Give older people greater confidence that the aged care home they choose will meet their needs. 

The future of residential aged care home design and architecture is a little clearer following the completion of the Federal Government’s Reimagining Where we Live competition. 

Popular themes of the winning entries include connection to nature, community, and the environment and a focus on smaller living precincts rather than large institutional buildings. 

These design features align with what you told us previously that people need in an aged care home.

Launched in October last year, the competition invited architects and interior designers to come up with innovative ideas while applying the National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines

Teams were invited to enter designs for two sites – one metropolitan and one regional. Competition entries were judged by a jury of individuals with diverse and extensive experience in architecture, design, and aged care. Feedback on the shortlisted entries was provided by six advisers living with dementia. 

National Seniors Australia has for a long time championed better age friendly accommodation – in residential and home care settings. 

Our Better Housing Campaign calls for action to ensure developers and providers supply suitable housing for seniors. 

Our recommendations: 

  • Include “accessible housing” design standards in the National Construction Code (NCC). We’re pushing to have the NCC changed to make new housing age-friendly and facilitate more downsizing options. 

  • National retirement village legislation: We are calling for strengthened and nationally uniform laws for retirement villages to ensure the rights of older people are protected. 

  • Create a capital grants scheme for the construction of rental housing suitable for older people. The scheme should incorporate universal design principles. This will reduce the risk to older renters of falling, hospitalisation, or premature entry into residential care. 

Winning entries

The winning metro entry was Scales of Care by LM2A with Super Natural, a design that connects quality care of the individual and the community environment. 

The design comprises three houses orientated to optimise outlook and engagement with outdoors and which mimics “front yard” and “back yard”. 

The 3-4 level design balances private rooms with shared living spaces, complemented by the staff and service arrangements. 

Judges said it was rich with gardens and courtyards of diverse plantings, shapes, and sizes, providing the resident with the option of a personalised connection to the neighbourhood. 

First prize in the regional category went to Manu Place by Monash Urban Lab with NMBW Architecture Studio, BoardGrove Architects, BLOXAS, and Glass Landscape Architects. The design features central cloistered courtyards between private small households and has natural light, air, and greenery. 

The judges noted the design is sympathetic to the rural setting but gives street access to the community, including a kindergarten and working kitchen garden complete with a greenhouse, the “Gokoma Hub”, so residents can participate in productive gardening. 

The winning entrants won $50,000 each. 

Federal Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, said the innovative designs were models for aged care accommodation and encouraged providers to explore innovation in design. 

“I encourage providers to engage with and adopt the National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines as recommended by the Aged Care Taskforce,” she said. 

You can read more about the competition, entrants, and winning designs here, and the Federal Government’s National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines here.


Related reading: Jury report, Winners, Improving Accommodation, As Close to Home as Possible (NSA report) 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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