Designs for the golden years

by Media Xpose

📸Circle Senior Living 🖊Andrea Desfarges

The architect plays a fundamental part in the perception that the resident will have of the space. They can and must help to promote the elder’s autonomy, independence, and provide dignity in the use of their new home.

According to the revised version of UNO’s 2017 World Demographic Perspectives Report (1), it is expected that the number of people over the age of 60 will more than double by 2050 (from 962 million globally to 2.1 billion), and triple by 2100 (to 3.1 billion). Globally, the group of people over 60 is growing more rapidly than any other demographic.

As people age, there are certain physiological and cognitive changes that are almost inevitable. And while many who are over 60 have been around technology almost their entire adult lives, those physiological and cognitive changes need to be compensated for.

The writer spoke to Julian Katz, Director of Julian Katz Architects, who recently played a vital role in the development of Circle Senior Living (, a new brand of nationwide luxury care properties. The first property opens soon in Sandton.

Katz says that architects have a responsibility to make any public or shared space an area free of discrimination.

“On my desk I have Part S of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, and that is something I constantly refer to. It becomes my bible as it speaks to persons with disabilities and aged people. One should also look to The Constitution, Health & Safety Act, Promotion of Equality and Unfair Discrimination Act, although they deal primarily with disabilities and not the aged, I feel that this should be your go to when planning any project of this nature,” he adds.

What are key criteria when designing for the golden years?

The role of colour: As we age there is a process that our body goes through, for example our eyesight usually deteriorates first, so one needs to use larger fonts on signage, door numbering and in the eating areas in a senior living environment.

Clever use of space, light and texture all come into play but the use of colour becomes vitally important. Older people with dementia are known to react better to monochrome, as well as pastel colours, even using it subconsciously to find their way back to their rooms from communal areas or to help them communicate.

Ergonomics: Katz suggests that there are the practical elements that need to be considered with design such as the use of natural light and lots of interactive spaces, not having surfaces that echo as residents can be sensitive to noise, the height of door handles, and using levers and not knobs that need minimal strength to open.

The ergonomics of the building are very important. This includes ensuring passages are at least 1 500mm wide so that wheelchairs can pass each other comfortably; not having steps or uneven surfaces; and using softer flooring such as laminates and installing handrails at key areas.

The bathroom continues to be one of the most dangerous places for injury in the home as we mature. A way to work with this is to create an area that can become one wet room that can be tailored to the residents needs as their care requirements change, with higher toilet seats, rails, seats in the shower and lighting that has movement detectors. Hot water taps can be set for safety and quick use.

Ergonomics for decor and furnishings include no low slump chairs, but rather firm support and the correct height; fabrics must be gentle to the touch; and colours are in harmony. Sliding doors with reinforced aluminium frames for extra stability are important, as are cupboards and drawers with interior lighting that are easy to open and close.

Even the garden needs to be thoughtfully designed with plants that aren’t too woody and have aromas that engage in year-long sensory perception.

70 is the new 50

There are other factors that can only be fully understood once you have had a loved one live in a care facility and seen the daily needs first hand. Having experienced this himself with his own mother, Katz chose to partner with Corene Breedt-Remmutla and Mike Sieff, the co-founders of Circle Senior Living, who have over 50 years of senior care experience between them, both in the NGO and private sectors.

“We want to be more contemporary in our thinking and not promote buildings and spaces that are institutional in their feel but primarily lifestyle developments,” says Breedt-Rammutla.

“We need to think about it more as a hospitality environment where guests are treated with respect and have options.”

Technology is key

“We use a lot of fall protection technology around our development as well as supplying a remote that one can wear to sensor sudden impact,” adds Breedt-Rammutla.

Security and technology should go hand in hand with 24 hour controlled access, concierge services, and valet parking. With the resident’s permission, their location can also be tracked using technology.

“Smart TVs facilitate zoom video calls and community announcements and there are iPads in the rooms where health checks are noted and trends in biometrics can learn to predict when something irregular might happen,” she explains.


Katz says that recent trends show that most people wish to stay within 4km of the area that they have been living in for most of their lives when they downsize or retire.

“This means that we are designing for a new type of urban senior that wants to remain active and not be isolated from the community that they know. The best way to cater for this is to repurpose existing buildings and rather have urban infill developments.”

Reducing energy consumption, using gas for heating with solar and backup power, harvesting rainwater and overall less consumption are steps that make the environment better for everyone. 



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