How has the pandemic affected later living home design?

In part two of our series on post-pandemic building typologies, we look at the later living sector and why the older generation is looking for a stronger sense of community


  • Helen Parton

22 July 2021

Illustration of later living complexes

Building typologies for older people are increasingly dynamic and design-led, reflecting this demographic’s desire for more aesthetic appeal and an emphasis on a stronger feeling of community.

Figures for older population growth from MIPIM make for fascinating reading. It states that over-65s will make up 23% of the population in the US by 2060, 30% in Europe and 40% in Japan. Some parts of the world have made significant inroads into the later living sector already, such as Australia and New Zealand, which have 170,700 and 30,000 housing with care units respectively according to Savills' report Housing Solutions for an Ageing Society. This research points to “major listed and private players who own large portfolios of retirements villages,” while the USA has different housing types and tenures all on one campus.

Properties such as the Embassies of Good Living a “global co-living concept designed to change the way we perceive and experience later life” are popping up in Germany with ambitious plans to open 30 embassies worldwide by 2030. The UK market is not as mature. “The later living sector has traditionally had a bit of an image problem in the UK – many people associate ‘retirement living’ with care homes. This is absolutely not what we are talking about – the emphasis is on activity and service, not care,” says Jon Eaglesham, managing director with architects Barr Gazetas, which is currently working on a project in Mill Hill, north London with Marstead Living to provide around 200 homes.

An evolution in later living building design was already well under way before the pandemic, as was thinking about where properties should be located. City centres are becoming popular locations for later living developments for multiple reasons. For example, they already have good public transport links and are close to amenities and entertainment. One such development can be found in Toronto, Canada with ‘Tapestry at Village Gate’, a high-end apartment complex in the Etobicoke neighbourhood. It has a mix of studio and two-bedroom apartments with lots of on-site food and drink choices, as well as multiple transport options to head into downtown Toronto. A similar development by healthcare provider Bupa in a suburb of Sydney, Australia comes with an on-site cinema and communal swimming pool. And in the UK, a Grade II-listed country estate on the outskirts of Reading, currently owned by the BBC, is going to be converted into “high quality retirement housing.”

For those who aren’t interested in city life, more rural retirement villages can prove popular. In the US, age-restricted communities have been successful too. They usually require that the person buying a home in a community is a minimum age of between 55 and 65. Canada also has age-friendly communities, which have policies and services that make a town or village as accessible as possible to the older generations. This can range from keeping the pavements in good shape to providing more community activities for seniors.

Paul Stanley MRICS, head of investment at Coplan Estates says the later living sector “can provide an alternative to traditional assets where lease patterns are becoming shorter-term and more volatile. There is also a predicted increase in prime and secondary town centre sites available.” Later living in town centres offers that much-desired community feel with transport, restaurants and culture all just a short walk away.

“These schemes mean you are part of a wider community with like-minded people and shared social spaces, spas, gym, outdoor areas, plus a host who deals with any building issues or medical help,” says architect Phil Coffey. He has worked with specialist retirement living developer PegasusLife to transform a derelict laundry facility to a 3,400m2 horseshoe-shaped design with 34 one and two-bedroom homes and a central communal landscaped courtyard in central Woking. Coffey has also been commissioned for a site in Chobham, Surrey designed around a walled garden which is currently under construction.

Jon Eaglesham believes there is “a definite sense” that the later living building sector is about to get much bigger. “With the industry’s growing focus on purpose and social value, the opportunity to build sustainable communities that will help older people thrive is one that is becoming more attractive to institutional investors, developers and operators,” he says.

Historic context

To give some historic context of an effective community-based model for later living, RICS has recently funded a report on almshouses, which have existed in England for almost 1,000 years. Today, specialist charities provide social housing for over 36,000 people in approximately 30,000 dwellings.

This research takes a future-facing approach at how almshouses can inform 21st century housing provision. Nick Phillips, CEO of the Almshouse Association, says: “This report explores the characteristics of these small-scale micro-communities that appear in almost every market town and city in England, identifying some of the barriers that are preventing almshouse development for the future – planning, awareness of their existence and lack of understanding of their great value to society.”


Two older people sat on benches talking

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