Architects make a living solving design challenges: how to fit big house on a small lot, or how to make an industrial building appear approachable and user-friendly. The New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) is now taking on a 21st-century challenge: how to create sustainable urban housing solutions for older adults in New York City.
On May 18, 2013, AIANY will conduct a one-day design charrette (a French word for a final, intensive effort to finish a project) to explore solutions to this very real problem.
As Eric Cohen, AIANY Design for Aging Subcommittee member describes it: “This is not a building design competition, but rather more of a think-tank to generate ideas from people of many backgrounds and points of view. Participants will include end-users, social service people, policy makers, community service people, gerontologists, and developers.”
The charrette will feature interdisciplinary teams working on five design problems to create prototypes. Teams, which could also include caregivers, environmental psychologists, landscape architects, gerontologists and medical professionals will work on ideas for a range of settings, from apartment units and buildings geared toward older adults, to prototypes that don’t yet exist.
“If eyeglasses could transform from being something once thought of as ‘ugly’ into a fashion statement, then our stigmas about aging … can also change,” says Cohen.
He mentions isolation among single elders, especially LGBT elders, as one issue that could be solved through good design, as could accessibility to buildings and transportation. Another looming challenge for such urban areas as New York is cost: most aging services funding is geared toward a general “middle income” that is unrealistic in America’s urban cores.
Design solutions allowing residents to remain in residences of their choice, plus as-yet-invented prototypes of community services could address cost, isolation and access issues.
Once complete, results from the charrette will be published, distributed and on display in the New York chapter of the AIA. The hope is that developers and designers will then incorporate the ideas into public or private development projects.
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