The Barriers Encountered when Designing Care Homes.

BESiDE has highlighted a need and an opportunity to enhance the connection between designers of the built environment and the experiences of those living, working and visiting older peoples care homes. 

To find out more about the process of designing a care home, Lesley started by interviewing designers who work in Architects offices in Scotland. These interviews (10) have started to ‘set the scene’ and have provided insight into the current processes and methods of contemporary design practice focused on designing for the future of the ageing population.

From initial findings we have found that, building guidance; a lack of research ‘tools’ to engage with users; an absent research culture; and missing elements of design training, are factors preventing a designer's engagement with the actual needs of older people within care homes.

1. Building Guidance

Building guidance, focused on designing accessible environments, was highlighted as a factor that can create barriers for designer's in understanding: 1.the reason for the guideline, in terms of context, and, 2. which guideline to follow, as the vast amount of guidance can be contradictory.

As one designer explained:

‘Guidance nearly always lacks the context and doesn’t really connect well with ideas of ageing in terms of how it relates to design. There is never any mention of technologies we could use. We need the reasons as to why we are supposed to design something in a certain way. That way we can come up with better, more aesthetically pleasing and technically relevant solutions.’

Another added:

‘From a designer’s point of view, one of the biggest hurdles I’ve found is there’s too much guidance and it is always different depending on where you look but it lacks ideas relating to ageing.’

2. A lack of research ‘tools’ to engage with users
Designer's do attempt to work with users of their buildings, especially within the early stages of a project. However, they have recognised that they lack the research ‘tools’ to help them engage fully with their user groups. In relation to experience of ‘community consultation meetings’ it was stated:

‘We never really have a plan […] and mostly let the client lead the discussion. It can sometimes go off point and a lot of it is not related to design at all.’


3. A Lack of research culture in Design Practice

Closely related to theme 2 was that a lack of recording these user interactions, to evolve and refine methods of engagement, was also raised as an issue. A designer described the problem:

‘I have been the lead architect on care homes for several years and I am about to move jobs. When I move all that knowledge I have built up over my experience will also go and that’s not good for the office or for the next care home designed within the office.’


4. Missing elements of design training

A designer's training (Continual Practice Development [CPD]) was raised as a factor that often lacked an educational/research element and instead became a sales pitch from product suppliers.

A designer highlighted:

‘I have been in architectural practice for nine years, with at least 2-3 CPDs per month, and have never been to one that has been focused on ageing and design. It would actually help in design practice development and would bring ageing and ideas about different types of tech, and what this means for design, to the front of our minds. We never hear about technologies really... just things like assistive doors.’

Thoughts on the future

We are going to carryout a more extensive investigation to establish the extent of these problems within the UK professions. BESiDE has highlighted a need and an opportunity to enhance the connection between designer's and the experiences of those living, working and visiting older peoples care homes. We want to make sure that: 1. Our findings connect designers with users of care homes in more relevant ways; and 2. Dissemination of our findings is tailored in response to the sensibilities of the designer (format, style, etc).

BESiDE aims to further uncover experiential insights in order to enable both current and future design to remain sustainable, support mobility and enhance the wellbeing of older people.  In addition to further establishing the context of design practice (with a wider sampling of the profession through a questionnaire) we are working together to refine methods to provide understanding of the ways in which the built environment is currently shaping the behaviour of care home residents, staff, and supporting family members. 

Read more about what we discovered from Built Environment Professionals in our ARQ paper on Knowledge Exchange.

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