Diverse paths towards future-focused design

By James Kelly
Tuesday, 23 February, 2021

Diverse paths towards future-focused design

Holistic design is a powerful tool for change as our industry tackles negative perceptions about seniors’ communities and aged care arising from the pandemic and the Royal Commission. James Kelly, Senior Living and Care Partner at ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects, shared at LASA Congress 2020 two very different, site- and community-specific projects that embrace residents’ diversity, defy ageist stereotypes, and embed community connection and sense of place.

Taking narrative cues from location — The Bays, Hastings

Good architects approach design as a form of storytelling and create built form that captures the essence of people, place and local character. Of course, there are many ways to accomplish this. Meaningful stakeholder engagement is crucial in understanding clients’ and users’ needs. Varied spaces that draw people in and give them agency to use in different ways encourage residents and staff to express their personalities, passions and values through the ways they use space. Taking narrative cues from location is critical in establishing a genuine sense of place and connection to the broader community.

When we were asked to design a new residential aged-care facility and community health precinct for The Bays Healthcare Group in Hastings, Victoria, we looked to the distinctive local area as the basis for conversations about the building’s appearance and its connection to the town. The Bays is located in a suburban area of Hastings, a town with a strong connection to Western Port Bay and therefore wonderful views and strong design narrative potential.

Design Analysis at The Bays.

Our design team drew on the site’s location with a design story inspired by the sea, local industry and the tidal wetlands in between. Architecturally, these elements created a concept of striations, which led to conversations about colour and tone based around the natural environment. It also inspired materials selection and some quite sculptural architectural detailing that help convey design intent.

Place Analysis at The Bays.

Wetlands-style boardwalks are a subtle reference to the surrounding wetlands environment. Metal cladding sourced from a nearby factory distinguishes the entry and public zone with materials that celebrate local industry. Timber-look elements on the residential wings soften the entry and provide a consistent tonal response that picks up on the colouration and movement in the sands of the wetlands. The result is built form that’s distinct but fits comfortably into its streetscape and broader coastal setting.

Narratives from local residents were important, too. They allowed us to embed a lovely ritual from the existing facility into the new facility. Each morning a group would meet under a covered veranda near the entrance to chat, welcome visitors, enjoy the outdoors and take in all the activity in and around the nearby primary school. To celebrate this tradition in the new design, we created a welcoming viewing room and deck with fantastic views. Residents can now sit inside or out to continue a ritual that speaks volumes about who they are and what matters most to them.

Viewing room and deck inspired by residents’ ritual.

Strengthening connections with surrounding communities — Mayflower, Keilor

Future-focused designers always look for opportunities to strengthen connections with surrounding communities. At ClarkeHopkinsClarke our practice philosophy is to impact tomorrow through design that’s sustainable socially, environmentally and financially. To that end we’ve developed a methodology and book called Creating Vibrant Communities, published by my colleague Dean Landy, our Mixed Use and Urban Design Partner. The methodology helps us capture the tangible and intangible elements that make places exceptional for clients, users and neighbourhoods alike. As a practice we use the methodology as a bespoke tool for analysing and creating projects that have higher value than the sum of their parts.

Figure 1 shows the elements we include or respond to within any development. These can be scaled from the smallest project to the largest. Broadly they are categorised as hard and soft.

Figure 1: Our Creating Vibrant Communities method highlights hard and soft elements that make great places work.

Hard elements are the tangible ones: the mix of uses that deliver a sense of vibrancy and place. Think Community, Retail and Health.

Soft elements are the intangibles: the elements that bring someone comfort or create a sense of identity or intrigue. Think Place, Connection and Safety.

Here’s how we translate this methodology into a design outcome, using the example of a project currently on the drawing board in our office.

Mayflower is a seniors’ living and aged-care community located on an old school site in Keilor, in Melbourne’s north-west. We began our conversations about what a vibrant community might look like here by analysing the broader community to which our design intervention will be added.

Figure 2 shows our analysis of the hard elements surrounding this site. There is a town centre some distance away. But close by, only the old school itself and a park to the east are currently meeting the community’s need for shared space where people can come together, socialise, exercise and interact. This guided our conversations with the client about refining the brief and designing an asset the local community could access and enjoy.

Figure 2: Our analysis of hard elements surrounding the Mayflower site.

We began with the soft elements. The community park to the east of our site became a core component of the design. We added fitness trails, walking paths and covered ways to the park, designing this facility as an ungated community that we’re inviting locals to walk through and engage with on their way to the council park. We’ve also created indoor and outdoor spaces designed to bring Mayflower residents, visitors and the broader community together, including a community garden, cafe and town square.

Soft elements incorporated at Mayflower.

In terms of hard elements we’ve captured as many as possible from our ideal mix: dwellings, public realm improvements including recreation spaces, health care in the provision of high-care aged care, community assets and retail uses. At its core this design creates spaces and reasons for new and existing community members to come together, share their diverse interests and stories, and thrive.

Hard elements incorporated at Mayflower.

These case studies were first presented at LASA’s Ten Days of Congress in James Kelly’s how-to session for non-designers: Designing for Community, Connection and Sense of Place. View the full presentation here.

James Kelly is a Partner at ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects, where he leads the Seniors Living & Care Sector. His team champions considered, holistic design and intergenerational communities offering diverse choices, higher quality and stronger community connections for seniors at all stages of life.

Main image caption: Walking and cycling paths at Mayflower invite locals in on their way to the local park.

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