Design for Aging

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The mission of the AIA Design for Aging (DFA) Knowledge Community is to foster design innovation and disseminate knowledge necessary to enhance the built environment and quality of life for an aging society. This includes relevant research on characteristics, planning and costs associated with innovative design for aging. In addition, DFA provides outcome data on the value of these design solutions and environments. 

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Strategies for Safer Senior Living Communities
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DFA's past initiatives

By Brian D. McLaren AIA posted 12-31-2017 12:00 AM


ADRP/American Occupational Therapists Association Joint Project

In 1991, the ADRP was awarded a grant by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging. The grant was part of the administration’s Eldercare Campaign and focused on increasing awareness among architects, architecture faculty, and students of elder care issues as they affect design of the built environment. The major portion of the award was devoted to a joint project between the ADRP and the American Occupational Therapy Association, a booklet titled Design for Aging: Strategies for Collaboration between Architects and Occupational Therapists, published in 1993. The booklet provided guidance on ways in which architects and occupational therapists could work together to improve the environments in which the elderly undertake the activities of daily living.

Design for Aging Network and Updates

The ADRP established a Design for Aging Network to formally link architects, interior designers, educators, facility owners, developers, managers, health care and service providers, and product manufacturers concerned with facilities for the elderly. A brochure describing the network was distributed to more than 1,500 individuals and organizations, and a network directory was published in 1993 and updated in 1995.

National Volunteerism in Action for the Aging Award

In April 1992, the ADRP was nominated for the prestigious National Volunteerism in Action for the Aging awards program sponsored by the National Council on Aging. The AIA received the award in recognition of its outstanding initiatives in aging and for establishing the ADRP.

Next Generation

The AIA Design for Aging student competition was formally issued in August 2010 to schools of architecture throughout the county in preparation for the submission due date of July 31, 2011. The competition was for the design of an urban inter-generational community that includes housing for frail elders. The submission were judged by the same jury as the eleventh cycle of the Design for Aging Review competition and the results were presented in November 2011. This competition was open to all upper division or graduate level architecture students.

The winner of the student competition was recognized for outstanding achievement and exhibited at the 2011 LeadingAge annual meeting in Washington DC and the 2012 AIA national convention. The design will also be included in the upcoming 11th edition of the Design for Aging Review companion publication. This competition poses a unique challenge –it provides students an opportunity to learn about a project type that is part of a burgeoning market and in need of innovation.

Design for Aging: An Annotated Bibliography, 1980–1992

In 1992, the ADRP awarded a grant of $3,200 to the AIA Library to expand its holdings on the topic of design for aging and to develop an annotated bibliography of key references. The acquisitions and the bibliography have been available to AIA members since 1993.

Congressional Symposium on Environmental Design

ADRP/AAHSA – Congressional Symposium on Environmental Design
The ADRP assisted the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) in preparation for the 1993 Congressional Symposium on Environmental Design. The symposium educated congressional and federal agency staff on the need for dramatic changes in the regulatory system relating to the design of facilities for aging. The event focused on initiating regulatory reform in the design and construction of care facilities for the elderly.

Design for Aging Review, 1991–present

The DFA, in association with the AAHSA, conducts the biannual Design for Aging Review (DFAR) program. The review covers a wide spectrum of aging design projects, awarding citations to outstanding projects in the field and publishing selected projects in the Design for Aging Reviews publication.

Design for Aging Review Traveling Exhibit, 1991–present

In conjunction with the DFAR awards program, the DFA sponsors and hosts a traveling exhibit of DFAR projects and citation winners at such locations as the annual AAHSA meeting and expos, the annual AIA national conventions and expos, the NASLI winter meetings, as well as the AIA-AAH/American Society of Healthcare Engineering’s International Conference and Exhibition of Health Facility Planning, Design, and Construction.

Design for Aging Review Symposium, 1990–present

The DFA sponsors a symposium at the AAHSA annual meetings and AIA national conventions every year since 1991, in conjunction with the Design for Aging Review program. Jurors involved with the awards program, and participants in the post-occupancy evaluations selected from the citation winners, have presented their findings and the projects were published in the Design for Aging Review publication, whose audience averages 200-300 architects and providers of services for the aging. The program was also presented internationally at “Better Living–Adding Life to Years,” a conference organized by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City and at the International Association of Homes and Services for the Aging program in Amsterdam, both in 1995.

Post-Occupancy Evaluations of Design for Aging Facilities Review

The DFA completed post-occupancy evaluations of selected citation winning facilities in each of the Design for Aging Review programs. These have been presented to enthusiastic audiences at AAHSA’s annual meetings in the years between publication cycles.

National Easter Seal Society, “Easy Access Housing”

The DFA, then ADRP, worked with the National Easter Seal Society and Century 21 to conduct a national design awards program for Easy Access Housing, a program that emphasized innovative approaches to design for aging in place. The program was conducted in 1992 to target the architecture community; it resulted in an exhibition and publication presented at the 1993 AIA National Convention in Chicago.

Design for Aging Curriculum

The DFA worked with the U.S. Administration on Aging to create a comprehensive package of resource materials and teaching guidelines on the topic of design for aging. The package consisted of a primer, a “tool kit” (exercises and case studies), an annotated bibliography, and a slide set. The package was distributed to architecture schools throughout the United States and Canada, and a portion of the package was developed for distribution to architects.

Guidelines Update

The DFA solicited 232 public comments from AAHSA providers, AIA members, interior designers, and researchers in environmental design for aging for changes in Chapter 8 (Nursing Facilities) of the 1992–1993 edition of Guidelines for Construction and Equipment of Hospital and Medical Facilities. This outpouring (more than one-third of all comments received about the entire publication) caused the AIA Academy of Architecture for Health’s Revision Steering Committee to appoint a special task force (including ADRP and AAHSA representatives) to revise the chapter and its appendix. As a result, a significantly improved Chapter 8 appeared in the 1996–1997 edition of Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospital and Healthcare Facilities. It presented important new performance-based criteria aimed at enabling more flexible and innovative design responses to functional needs and improving the quality of life for residents and staffs of long-term care facilities. The DFA bore a heavy responsibility for that publication, which was eagerly received by the Health Care Financing Administration, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and AAHSA providers and regulators in 42 states that use the guidelines, either as a basis for regulation or as a reference document.

For the 2001 edition of the Guidelines, the AIA Design for Aging Center designated a current advisory group member as its representative on the Guidelines Revision Committee. Through this representative, the advisory group offered proposals for change and comments on proposed revisions. As a consequence, the 2001 edition provided further improvements to Chapter 8 on nursing facilities and introduced new chapters on hospice care, assisted living, and adult day care facilities.

In 2002, the DFA Advisory Group again joined with executives of the Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI) and representatives of six provider associations and consumer groups to explore the possibility of having the AIA join with the FGI and the industry organizations to develop a useful set of design guidelines for assisted living facilities. In 2004, DFA’s representatives on the Revision Committee for the 2006 edition of the Guidelines achieved the abovementioned goal and other long-sought breakthroughs. Working with those same industry organizations, the DFA succeeded in gaining consensus among the members of the Health Guidelines Revision Committee about significant new text proposals for Chapters 13 (hospice care), 14 (assisted living), and 15 (adult day health care), all of which shall now be included in proposed revisions to the Guidelines.

Design for Aging Network Directory

In 1993, the DFA published a directory of the 125 members of the Design for Aging Network. Members came from a wide range of professional disciplines, including architects, interior designers, educators, researchers, manufacturers, care providers, occupational therapists, and gerontologists. Approximately 750 copies of the directory were distributed free to all network members, key aging-related organizations in North America, and the libraries of all schools of architecture and gerontology in the United States and Canada.

Other Activities

In addition to the above listed collaborations, the DFA has consulted, explored liaisons, and considered potential joint programs with many other organizations interested in the design and construction of environments for aging, including but not limited to:

  • Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments
  • National Association of Home Builders
  • National Center for Assisted Living of the American Health Care Association
  • Assisted Living Federation of America
  • American Association of Retired Persons
  • Alzheimer’s Association
  • Consumer Consortium on Assisted Living
  • American Seniors Housing Association
  • Administration on Aging
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Assisted Living Workgroup
  • Carpet and Rug Institute
  • Contemporary Long Term Care Magazine
  • Provider Magazine
  • Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management Magazine
  • Health Facilities Management Magazine