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Sensitive Spaces - A Must for Smart Cities

Posted by
on March 14, 2015 at 05:52 PM

Ours is a world of exclusivity, so much so that our spaces, indoor and outdoor, ignore users with decreased abilities.  Many of us have old parents/ grandparents in our families who stay cooped up indoors for days due to a fear of negotiating the outdoors. Or need to depend on assistance to visit the washroom. We’ve all heard of old relatives falling while climbing down stairs or walking down a road. Even opening a door can pose a challenge thanks to a hardened door knob. Obviously, though these are problems caused by progressing age, or any disability, their solutions can surely lie in sensitive design. These very sensitivities and concerns must surely have inspired the exclusive, futuristic design of a community for the elderly in Portugal by Guedes Cruz Architects called the Alcabideche Social Complex. With translucent roofs to residences that light up at nightfall to illuminate the streets, plazas and gardens that surround them, and this light changing from white to red in an emergency to call for help, every need of the elderly occupants seems to be thoughtfully served. Increasingly, in newer developments, the byelaws for designing must include norms that aid the elderly and physically challenged. 

© Courtesy of Alcabideche Social Complex, Portugal - Internet Sources

Global trends - Exclusive old age community designs: images 1,2,3

Much work has been done globally for geriatric design, but much more requires to be done to incorporate it in the design mainstream. In many countries, especially in the west, exclusive projects have been undertaken to design ideal seniors’ homes, serving their specific requirements. Two award winning examples are ‘health centre and houses for elderly people’ in Prato, Italy by Ipostudio architects and House for Elderly People, Alcácer do Sal, Portugal by Aires Mateus Arquitectos. Both are beautifully conceptualised and elaborately detailed homes for seniors, exclusively serving geriatric life needs. We can find many more such excellent senior housing projects in Europe and USA, but their main drawback is their exclusivity. Rather than this alienating approach of elders leaving their homes to live in communities or old age shelters, the future calls for an inclusive design. As is the eastern cultural approach, we are not cheered by the idea of being quarantined to fringe communities, but would like to be part of a caring and inclusive society and home, especially as we age. Today, the world is geared towards this idea of ‘inclusive’ or ‘universal’ geriatric design in the transition of spaces through home interiors, common built spaces, common community spaces and city spaces.


Inclusive outlook - design ideas within our homes: images 4,5,6,7

Simple design changes inside our homes can include clutter free passageways for movement, disposing of furniture with protruding parts, skid proofing floors by using textured flooring or carpets, making all doorways wide enough to accommodate wheelchair movement (img. 6,7), placing handrails or grab bars at various places as along passages and in bathrooms (img 8,9,10). A fixed, tiled raised platform in the bath coupled with a handheld shower can enable grandpa to sit and bathe comfortably and unanxiously (img.11) Desks, counters at bedsides, near their favourite dining seat or living room couch and beside doors will ensure their medicines, tissues, biscuits, phone, t.v. remote, books, etc are always within easy reach and they have places to keep their bags and stuff while they open doors (img. . Easily accessible storage cabinets and meal counters attached to cooking counters are helpful to seniors living independently. Fluorescent switchboards can help grandma locate switches in the dark.


Sensitive transitions to outdoors: images 8,9

Any apartment building plan should ideally have lifts that can accommodate wheelchairs. The common areas too should have skid-proof flooring and seats available for seniors to rest before moving on. Given the craze for grand entrance foyers with dazzlingly smooth marble or other flooring, we often overlook this factor, seeking later to remedy this by use of carpets and synthetic turfs. Hand rails in lobbies and on the steps at entrances are a must to make the building elder friendly. Housing societies can be inclusively designed too, by providing well lighted outdoor spaces, shaded and skid free walkways, seating placed at intervals and in gardens, pavilions etc. for meetings and interactions, meeting and reading rooms. 

Planning inclusive cities : image 10

As far as urban planning and design goes, to say that Indian cities like Mumbai are actually hostile to the elderly would not be far from true. Potholed roads, uneven pavements, open manholes, chaotic traffic, insufficient parking spaces and a basic disregard for rules and norms make outdoor trips a hellish experience for even younger citizens. Some awesome yet simple street furniture products like 'pit stop posts', which are cane-like posts installed in busy urban areas to give seniors a spot to rest or catch their balance while stepping off the curb designed by IDEO, Singapore remind us of the need to spare a thought to geriatric care at city level.


Ramps at public places : images 11,12,13,14,15

Along the same line of thought, the same inclusions apply to the physically challenged as well. Provision of ramps is a basic step in designing to include those with disabilities and is again, an area where a lot of work has been done. Some celebrated examples like the stair and ramp integration at M-Museum Leuven, Belgium, Yokohama international port terminal and Robson Square, Vancouver highlight the design’s sensitivity towards various users. But again, they are exclusive examples. Real inclusion calls for ramps and other facilities to be featured in the design of all everyday spaces and places like bus stops, railway stations, airports, banks, bazaars, shopping malls, clinics, restaurants, hotels and homes. Even raised sidewalks need to have ramped entry/ exit points for wheelchair users, and guidelines for building streets need to include these features. 

Geriatric care and facilities for the disabled are significant indices of any nation’s standard of living. After all, we as generation would like to age independently and facilitating this independence is a prime expectation from the design of future cities and spaces. 

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