‘If She Wants to Have Cats, Let Her Have Cats’.

Like many of us I’ve been on the ‘easier’ side of the Australian nursing home experience, i.e. I could leave. I suspect that many of these environments only serve to quicken our departure from this mortal coil, and when I dare to think far enough into my future the default nursing home experience scares the hell out of me.

More than 7 years ago I worked on a retirement & aged care project based on the ‘Apartments for Life’ model out of the Netherlands. During the mid-90s, Dr Hans Becker, who heads up Humanitas, developed the Apartments for Life ageing-in-place model that seeks to bring dignity, happiness and community back to our ageing population.

Now that I’m able to pile 7 years of new experiences onto what I learnt from that particular project, I’m suddenly excited by the prospects. We see multiple similarities with our emerging Sustainable Communities rating tools in Australia – all of the deep-rooted things that are ultimately happiness-enablers.

Old ladies get to keep their cats (in a healthcare environment), old guys get to sit at the atrium bar, locals get to infiltrate and be part of the village life… all supported by comprehensive but subtle healthcare. Oh, and the buildings are also greener than the average care environment.

With our ageing population the sheer mass of customers is going to demand a better way of doing things… here’s my wish list;

  • We will see the Apartments for Life model adapted into medium-to-high density residential design, including full adaptability of all units;
  • Healthcare and hospitality will continue to meld, and healthcare will be more about holistic prevention rather than cure. Evidence-based design is already driving this;
  • We will see new sustainable communities in vertical format (hint hint), supported by new modes of healthcare, especially in Asia;
  • An aging-in-place renovation-the block-blitz will unfold in our neighbourhoods, enabled by remote healthcare provision and diagnostics apps. And yeah, we’ll probably cop some reality TV too.


The Australian Benevolent Society has been behind Australia’s first toe-in-the-water and have generated an overview of Apartments for Life in the Aussie context. The source report doesn’t appear to be available but Aged
& Community Services Australia have a good summary.

The planets are aligned for this one and I think we’re entering a very very exciting design environment. I’m sure in the far-flung future I’ll be one of those old guys sitting at the bar with my mates, trying to remember where I put my teeth.


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