The UK is suddenly home to several new, exemplary housing projects for the over-60s. Veronica Simpson reports
All Images: Tim Soar
The world’s population is ageing. This we all know, although the statistics bear repeating: according to the United Nations, the global population of over-60s doubled from 1980 to 2017 (to 692 million), and is estimated to almost treble by 2050, to 2.1 billion. While the UK – with 20 million householders aged 55 and over – has typically been put to shame by the quality and range of accommodation offered in countries such as Denmark, Holland and Germany, there has been a welcome shift in the past couple of years.
The recent crop of schemes emerging from UK architects, enlightened local authorities, and some of the specialist developers reveals a quality of accommodation as good as anything on the Continent or further afield. More to the point, there is far greater choice: from luxurious, high-end retirement developments in beautifully landscaped surroundings to multigenerational, affordable dwellings set in dense and vibrant new neighbourhoods.
There have been two key drivers for improvement. The first is specialist housing providers, such as Pegasus Life, demonstrating that the kind of architecture affluent older people with equity want is exactly the same kind of architecture that any aspirational adult wants: well lit, nicely detailed, elegant, contemporary homes, which simply need to be flexible enough to cope with changes in physical mobility. The second driver is a growing number of local authorities resuming the role of developer, and working with good architects and masterplanners to create neighbourhoods that can accommodate people at all ages and stages: lifetime neighbourhoods.
PRP Architects has just completed a scheme in the Queen Elizabeth Park for the London Legacy Development Corporation, where it was able to convince the planning team that blended, integrated neighbourhoods were the way forward. PRP senior partner Manisha Patel says inspirations arose from research and brainstorming at competition stage: ‘At the time there was a lot of coverage in the media about cutbacks to pensions, the rising costs of nursery care, and the growing awareness that a lot of childcare support came from elderly parents.
We were thinking: if the support is coming from families, people need to be able to move nearer to them. It’s a problem everyone faces. It doesn’t matter what culture they’re from.’ For that to happen, in every new piece of city there needs to be a diversity of accommodation at affordable prices, whether privately owned or rented. Says Patel: ‘We work a lot on community regeneration. We talk to a lot of elderly people on estates and they don’t want to move out of their communities.’ Specialist housing – whether sheltered, retirement communities or care homes – are beyond the purse of many lower-income groups, with either poor or rare provision from the state. So PRP came up with a new, all-ages typology to address these issues, the multigenerational home (see Chobham Manor case study). This is a house with a small, two-storey apartment attached, each with their own entrance and shared a courtyard. The arrangement gives families room to manoeuvre at all life stages. In a way, it’s an update of the house with a ‘granny flat’ – and it has sold extremely well.
There are several reasons why this new typology ticks so many boxes, and why local authorities may have woken up to the issue: in an increasingly isolated, segregated and dispersed society, the pressure and cost to governments of social care – already unsustainable – will only escalate. Says Patel: ‘In the 1950s, families were all together, then it was fashionable to be independent, find your own place, but you start finding that families in many cultures are coming back together again, and it comes down to affordability and support. In most countries around the world they have their own form of multigenerational living. The young and the old are supporting each other … In Japan (multigenerational housing) is literally a four-storey town house (with family groupings) stacked on top of each other.’ In Poland and elsewhere in Eastern and Central Europe there will be multiple family members scattered around one of the large, courtyard housing blocks.
One of the interesting social trends PRP identifies in the UK is that today’s over-60s are more likely to be choosing to stay urban, reversing the mid 20th-century trend for older couples to move out of cities to the seaside. (Interestingly, that rural/coastal drift is now more likely to be young creatives and those with small families, who are opting for better scenery and more affordable family housing.) ‘We are designing more and more developments, which are including an ageing population within cities. Not just in London but all over the UK,’ says Patel.
‘There was a point where, in London and Manchester, all new housing was aimed at 30-somethings. Now we see the introduction of build-to-rent and private rental sector apartments, which are all about lifestyle. That is starting to become more attractive to people who are downsizing. And part of the appeal is living with different age groups. You don’t want to just be with people your own age group. You have to have that choice.’ Ultimately, she says: ‘It’s our responsibility to push forward different ideas.’
One of the most exciting new ideas to emerge is intergenerational living: literally, the housing of the young and old in the same blocks, even the same homes on occasions. PRP is developing housing along these lines in Cornwall, with Truro Council. ‘We are working with Falmouth University to see how we can mix students with the wider community and elderly, people downsizing,’ says Patel. There are more similarities between the age groups than you might think, she adds: ‘They all like their IT. They all like their social media. They like spending time in cafes, in breakout spaces, they want access to entertainment, cinemas.
Co-location makes a lot of sense. It helps address the growing issue of loneliness. The idea is that they can have two areas of separate accommodation but come together when sharing facilities. This is something (Cornwall) has never done before. They are very interested in these models (emerging) in the US and Holland, including students living with the elderly: they get susbsidised rent and they help out with shopping. There are campuses (in the US) that have been designed that way.’
Morris + Company’s Wildernesse Mews in Kent replaces an old stable yard
The idea of passive retirement is clearly passé. With people staying fitter and living longer, the drift towards urban retirement is also sparked by a desire to enjoy the good things in life while you have – in retirement more time and money to do so: food, theatre, the arts. This is something Pegasus Life has addressed with a new scheme just about to complete from Morris + Company, in Hampstead, London. Called Hampstead Green Place, it’s on the site of a former convent, next to the Royal Free Hospital. The founding director of Morris + Company Joe Morris says: ‘The target is mid- to late-60s super urbanites who want to stay in the city.
They are still culturally very mobile, going to events and exhibitions and theatre. It’s about creating a much more urbane outlook on life. They look south toward the city, and you see the amazing profile of London.’ Barbicanesque in style, he says it’s all about ‘sculptural tectonics, a muscular, upward thrusting building’. And, like the Barbican, he says: ‘It has at its heart the idea of community, with a spa, swimming pool, library and meeting spaces, and a public larder concept cafe on the ground floor.’ Although there is clearly demand for these high-end, more mono-cultural developments, Morris agrees the main trend is towards integration: ‘It’s more about … a greater range of culture and age and ethnicity so that communities support each other.’
At the time of writing, Morris was planning a trip to Zurich ‘to do a tour of co-living and multigeneration housing complexes. Housing on the Continent – Switzerland and Germany in particular – seems to be far more advanced in terms of dense living, flexibility, courtyards and broken boundaries, rather than the UK, which is all about grounded ownership.’
Morris + Company’s Wildernesse Mews in Kent replaces an old stable yard
Cohousing – developments collaboratively planned and collectively funded to house either a specific age group or a range of ages – is another growth area, although Morris says the UK planning system can’t quite get its head round it: ‘We have one on at the moment, and every time they go to planning it’s like the planners really don’t understand what we’re talking about.’ (See Cambridge’s Marmalade Lane case study for a successful example.)
The most refreshing thing, in all this, is that increasingly there is no distinction between the quality of offer, whatever the age. While describing his various Pegasus Life projects, Morris says: ‘There’s no real difference to what you might expect from any other kind of high-quality housing. They are designed with real care and insight. And the clients lavished a lot of time and energy and effort into the team and procuring the sites and the brief. It doesn’t feel odd and strange that you would do that because we’re talking about people, not old people.’
Case study - Moor’s Nook
Pegasus Life commissioned Coffey Architects to transform a near-derelict industrial lot in Woking, Surrey, into an aspirational but affordable community for retirement living. The 3,400 sq m scheme has a horseshoe-shaped plan, with 34 one and two-bedroom homes and a communal landscaped courtyard at its centre. It replaces a derelict laundry facility with an engaging and civic structure that ‘holds the street corner’, as Coffey’s lead architect Steve Jones says, with a tall chimney that rises to offer the building as a landmark within the wider setting. A folded roof zigzags over the two-, three- and four-storey block, breaking down the massing and emphasising its domestic identity to the street, while on the interior courtyard the roof eaves project dramatically inwards, adding shade and a more intimate, domestic feel.
The interior courtyard has a quite different character, with lush green trees and lawns at its centre, while smaller planted areas create mini, semi-private patios. Wide, metal-balustraded balconies lean out over this leafy area, offering opportunities to customise and personalise each entrance (all apartments are accessed off this central courtyard).
A small, public piazza is carved out of the most prominent, northerly street-facing corner of the building, demarcating the street entrance. It connects, via a light-filled colonnade, with the interior courtyard, setting up a connection between north and south aspects, and a clear transition between public and private.
All the apartments are dual aspect, and double-height spaces have been created in the top storeys, with slabs of daylight pouring in from generous roof lights. Says Jones: ‘They are planned to offer a degree of flexibility – where you might want your living room or bedroom, or want the second bedroom to become a study.’ There are also choices for residents about whether they live in a more sociable apartment – say, next to the dual-aspect, communal lounge, which sits, somewhat unusually, on the first floor, at the northern apex of the building (the chimney marks where a wood burning stove is positioned in this lounge).
As one of Pegasus Life’s more affordable schemes (one bedroom apartments are on sale for just under £400,000) Coffey Architects had to relinquish control over the interiors, but had a free rein with exterior detailing, including the sections of stippled, projecting brick, which flag up where there are two- or one-bedroomed apartments (if it stretches over two bays, it indicates a two-bedroomed flat).
Jones says the team benchmarked these apartments, in terms of design, space and style, against their counterparts in Holland, Denmark and Belgium. And it shows.
Client Pegasus Life
Architecture Coffey Architects
M&E Milieu Consult
Project management Gleeds
Case Study - Chobham Manor
The first Olympic legacy neighbourhood to complete in East London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park features a fascinating new typology from architects PRP: the multigenerational home. The brief from the client – the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) – was for ‘lifetime neighbourhoods’, which would prove so attractive, engaging and long-lasting residents would choose to stay there, rather than move as soon as an opportunity presented itself (apparently the trend among residents in the further reaches of east London). So PRP’s competition-winning scheme went the extra mile to make this new neighbourhood as inclusive and attractive for a whole range of demographics and age groups.
Chobham Manor features 850 homes distributed over several parcels of land masterplanned by PRP and Make, in partnership with Taylor Wimpey and the London and Quadrant Housing Association. It includes terraced homes, mews and townhouses, apartment blocks as well as this new multigenerational home. The latter consist of two separate dwellings placed either side of a corner plot, with a shared courtyard. One is a three-bedroomed house, placed over three or four storeys, the other a two-storey, one-bedroomed annexe, both with their own front doors and direct access to the courtyard. Says PRP senior partner Manisha Patel: ‘The idea is that you are able to use the main dwelling, perhaps as a young family, and you might use the annexe for an au pair, or rent it out to help pay for the kids’ university fees when they get older. When you want to downsize you can move into the smaller house and rent out the larger one. You are able to self-finance while staying in your own home.’
Contemporary in style, with dark brick exteriors and large windows, the interiors are designed along ‘inclusive design principles’, says Patel: ‘We looked at how they could be used by different age groups, and that’s where we found there were so many overlaps between all these life stages. Ideally, anyone should be able to enjoy living there.’
With this proposed new typology, Patel admits that Taylor Wimpey was ‘not 100% convinced at the time. We said if it doesn’t sell we’ll make it a rental product, but they sold like hotcakes. One of the developers’ directors now lives in one. His mother-in-law was living with him, so it worked out really well.’
Client London Legacy Development Corporation
Masterplanning and development team PRP, London and Quadrant
Housing Association Taylor Wimpey and Make
Case Study - Marmalade Lane Cohousing
A large, shared communal building, the Common House, sits at the entrance to the Marmalade Lane site – Cambridge’s new, pioneering cohousing community. With a large ground-floor kitchen and enough space for 50 to enjoy a sit-down meal, it’s an ideal location for the apartments that Mole Architects has placed above and around this building, for older or downsized residents. They are next to the laundry room, a yoga/meeting room and a quiet lounge/study space, with access to a couple of guest rooms in the same block. They are also right next to the one area where parking is provided; the idea is that cars will be minimised on this inclusive, family-friendly spot.
Beyond the Common House is a massive shared garden with three huge, mature oak trees, and ample space for play as well as for growing food. The garden is lined on three sides by terraced housing, the Common House and apartments, leaving the south-facing side open to maximise sunlight. Car-free ‘play streets’ run between the garden-facing homes and those that demarcate the edge of the plot.
To generate this idyllic neighbourhood, Mole Architects, together with developers Town, worked closely with K1 Cohousing, a cohousing group of future residents and supporters that secured the right to build on this site thanks to Cambridge council’s progressive planning policy. Four modular dwelling types were decided on, with a mixture of one- to five-bedroom houses and one- to two-bedroom apartments. Individual houses range in size from 80sqm to 128sqm, to accommodate everyone from young or older couples, to singles and families. They were sold at market value, although there were discounts for those who had invested their own time in steering and supporting the project.
The original cohousing group had gone through a year-long consultation with Cambridge Architectural Research (CAR) to develop the brief before selecting Mole and Town’s proposal in 2014, through a council-run tender process. Says Jan Chadwick, resident and champion of this cohousing community: ‘Mole and Town were head and shoulders the more engaged group, and chimed with our ethos: treading lightly on the planet in terms of energy usage, conservation, and having a design that would enable people to interact naturally as a community.’
Trivselhus came on board to finance the scheme part way through the project, but the collaboration has been a natural fit: the houses are constructed using its Climate Shield closed panel timber frame system, precision-manufactured in southern Sweden. It ensures thermal efficiency and airtightness, as well as high build quality. The system also allows for greater flexibility of interior layouts: each household selected one of five ‘shell’ house or flat types, which they were able to configure using floor-by-floor selections of floor plans, kitchen and bathroom fittings. While window and door openings are consistent, residents were able to choose from four external brick specifications and a palette of door colours. In this way the site communicates both individuality and coherence.
Mole director Meredith Bowles says: ‘Marmalade Lane starts with the people, and ends up with a place that’s unique and is likely to be cherished.’
Client Town and Trivselhus
Architects Mole Architects
Enabler Cambridge City Council
Gross internal area 8,600 sq m
Completed December 2018
Case Study - Wildernesse Mews
Morris + Company has completed a staggered terrace of handsome brick houses in the grounds of a 17th-century mansion, Wildernesse House in Kent. Developed as part of the Wildernesse Estate retirement community by Pegasus Life, Wildernesse Mews replaces an old stable yard and is set right next to the Grade II listed arts and crafts mansion, which is being retrofitted by Purcell, creating 23 apartments and a spa – just one of the upmarket facilities expected of a premium development. Morris + Company has also designed an elegant pavilion restaurant next door, and there are a range of leisure and sporting activities across the site’s 24 acres of rolling landscape. The mews houses consist of eight two- and three-storey dwellings, of two bedrooms each, which allow for family or carers to live alongside residents.
There are many uplifting elements that set this design and build scheme well apart from the norm, from the lattice decorative element in the brick to generous wooden storage benches at ground level. Each house has Juliet balconies and large, wooden-framed windows bringing plenty of light into the interiors. The houses feature open-plan kitchen, living and dining rooms, and sculptural timber stairwells wide enough to accommodate a lift. High-quality timber joinery continues throughout, and the flush detailing to lintels and sills as well as recessed rainwater drainage enhances the contemporary, clean appearance.
Brick, reconstituted stone, timber and slate roofs have been chosen in sympathy with the architecture of the mansion and the palette of the natural surroundings. Pre-cast concrete banding, pitched and hipped slate roofs, and the staggered arrangement along the slope all reference the main house’s design and materials. A variety of circulation routes run between and around the houses, and a series of patios either side of the terrace are fitted with shared planters to help generate social activity.
The next stage of the project for Morris + Company is the completion of five free-standing, four-or-more bedroomed villas.
Client Pegasus Life
Architect Morris + Company
Total area 1,060 sq m (internal) 1,260 sq m (external)
Construction cost £3.5m
Completion April 2018
Windows/joinery GEM Group
Rooflights The Rooflight Company
Planning consultant Tibbalds
Contractor Shaylor Group
Structural engineer Peter Brett Assoc.
M&E consultant Max Fordham