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Sheltered housing design

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The design of sheltered housing is having to develop to satisfy changing needs. In the past, sheltered housing was often designed to meet the needs of older people who were still relatively fit and independent. The assumption was that as they grew more frail, residents would move on to care homes or to nursing homes. Recently, however, a number of providers in the voluntary and private sectors have been developing new concepts of sheltered housing: flats are designed from the outset to accommodate a range of age-related impairments, communal facilities are provided and care services are available when they are needed. The object is to create an enabling environment in which older people can come to terms with their increasing frailty and continue to enjoy dignified independent lives. This new concept has come to be known as 'extra care sheltered housing'.

A book has been published that tackles the design issues raised by the provision of such housing. Called Homes for the Third Age , it is based on research by the Housing Research Unit of the University of Brighton in collaboration with Jim Bagley, Michele Hollywood and Peter Shearer of the Hanover Housing Association.

It starts by explaining current options and the concept of extra care sheltered housing before moving on to the design criteria for impairment and disability, social well-being, designing for minorities, spatial criteria, the visual environment, the acoustic environment and the thermal environment. It treats the obvious, but in considerable and sensible detail. For example, under 'breathing difficulties' it recommends: 'Horizontal travel distances to be kept to a minimum; the environment is to be dust-free; heating system designed to discourage dust and microorganisms.' Under visual impairment it deals with and illustrates issues such as appropriate and inappropriate lighting, glare and the use of contrasting colours.

The next section of the book looks at the various stages in the planning of an extra care housing scheme: how does a project begin?

What determines its feasibility? What are the roles of the different players? What are the criteria for selecting a site? How should the site be organised, planned, landscaped? What will determine the overall form of a scheme? This chapter talks about design, illustrating the pitfalls of 'Welfare State Modern' and 'Institutional Brutalism' as styles, and shows, with approval, schemes by PRP Architects and Feilden Clegg.

The next chapter covers detailed design, in the form of a series of design studies which cover flat types, key spaces, openings, communal facilities, ancillary accommodation and circulation spaces. It goes into sufficient detail to explain the need for a parcel/milk shelf outside the front door and, inside, to have a letter basket and recessed doormat.

The book moves on to discussing the environmental design issues specific to this type of housing, and then offers a system of generic design guidance. Whether or not they choose to follow this, readers should find the rest of this book highly informative.

Homes for the Third Age - A Design Guide for Extra Care Sheltered Housing by David Robson, Anne-Marie Nicholson and Neil Barker is published by Routledge and costs £42.50.

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