An ageing population means the time has come to rethink design — both in renovation and from the ground up.
More than ever, people are becoming like fine wines: they’re getting better with age.
We’re living longer and living better than ever. While that’s wonderful, it’s a new source of stress for societies and public services. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, Hong Kong is getting old, and the time has come for the SAR to think long and hard about housing its elderly population.
No place like home
Entry fees at Tanner Hill for rental privileges started at HK$1.8 million and ranged as high as HK$20 million. At those prices, and with Hong Kong’s strata titling, it made more sense among the silver set that currently owns property to simply revamp what they already owned. Seniors opting to stay in their homes, and owners in general, are looking to design to make their residences more senior-friendly for the long term. “A lot of my clients these days are more concerned about their futures. They’ll probably live in their home another 10 or 15 years and they’re approaching that age and the issues that go with it,” says Clifton Leung Design Workshop’s Leung. “They do want to renovate at this stage and we do get these requests more now.”
Elderly-friendly design elements can include non-slip textured floors, contrasting colours for ease of sight, softer materials like wood and carpets, rounded corners and ample turning space. Senior-positive design is quite specific, and “It does require a little renovation work. You can’t just add a few bars, but it is possible,” says Leung.
The non-profit Senior Citizen Home Safety Association (SCHSA) is one of the few currently advocating for senior-focused services and design safety (Leung designed their offices and community spaces), and conducts research on the subject. Its smart home pilot programme aims to empower seniors to age-in-place independently, safely and smartly. But Leung hasn’t heard any industry buzz about developers taking the long view or designing for the elderly.
Would Leung welcome something like CAPS or a specialty service within his own studio? “Yes, I would. A lot of people don’t know how to convert an apartment into a senior-friendly home. You need certain types of hardware and design code, specific measurements. There are a lot of considerations — and you need to understand each [client’s] lifestyle. It’s good service and a good market.”