Designing for Seniors and Soldiers, Toward a “Silver” Architecture

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(Image courtesy of Michael Graves and Associates)

By  Jimmy Stamp 
November 11, 2014 , smithsonian.com

Going green is good, but could architects be doing more for two segments of our population?

In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, geriatrician Louise Aronson advocated for a new type of building, one designed with an aging population in mind, which, she suggests, might be dubbed “silver” architecture. The idea came to he after taking her father to a top-notch, “green” medical center that was surprisingly unaccommodating for older patients. Sure, sustainability is important, but a building needs to do more than perform efficiently and attract millennials. Aronson notes:

Such approaches once may have made sense from a business perspective, but current demographic realities are creating financial and practical reasons to build more homes, businesses, health care facilities and public buildings that are well suited to older people’s needs.

The Americans With Disabilities Act’s guidelines help, but they do not ensure access or safety for this unique and rapidly growing population. Many buildings are A.D.A.-compliant and still difficult to navigate for older adults who have one or more physical, sensory or cognitive challenges, and especially for the frail elderly who have many.

To meet the challenges of an aging population, she proposes the development of LEED-like standards and awards for a “silver” architecture. Such an architecture would be well-lit, quiet, accessible and safe. It would be spacious enough to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs and provide room for a caregiver. These aren’t new ideas, but they aren’t as widely adapted as they could be, especially considering that over 50 million Americans are over the age of 65 – and that number is growing quickly. “Some might say that buildings can’t cater to every group with special needs,” says Aronson. “But silver architecture and design aren’t about indulging a special interest group. They’re about maximizing quality of life and independence for a life stage most of us will reach.” She makes a good point.

It being Veterans Day, this article got me thinking about architect Michael Graves, who recently designed a pair of houses for returning soldiers that follow through on many of Aronson’s suggested parameters for silver design. First though, a brief digression. The idea of a “silver” architecture actually has some precedent in architectural history, although the term was used in a very different way. Read more…

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