Public spaces are having a moment. People from outside the field of urban planning are beginning to notice the vital contributions that they make to our quality of life: inserting nature and cultural memory into the everyday, reminding us of our collective responsibilities, supporting democratic expression. People are also beginning to notice the subtle ways in which those contributions are being eroded by threats of privatization, corporate appropriation, and apathy.
Most acutely, this moment is brought to us by Apple, which has begun an aggressive retail rebranding effort to re-conceptualize its stores as “town squares,” and wrought a wave of well-founded concern. Technology continues to beckon us away from the need to leave our homes or interact face-to-face with other humans. If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, it would follow that opportunities for such interpersonal interaction become a luxury we begin to seek, a call to remember our origin as social beings.
Not to give technology too outsized a role in this moment, politics also plays a part: political progress often demands a physical place to exercise our first amendment rights (or to fight for them). Large, visible public spaces are a natural home. Americans in particular have recently discovered that places we treat like public spaces—airports, for example—are, in fact, the domain of private companies, or are at risk of being ceded to private companies. When we see public spaces as a physical extension of our rights, we begin to approach their true value to our society.
I can distinctly remember, during a cross-country bus tour in college, stepping off the bus on Main Street in Greenville, SC. We were greeted by wide sidewalks with bountiful street trees, well-paved crosswalks that invited us to surf from one row of shops and storefronts to another, punctuated by public art, and terminating in a park overlooking the river. With places to sit and some protection from the elements, the street invited people to interact and to linger. This was my first personal “aha” moment that a street could be more than just a corridor for the efficient movement of automobiles—if its physical elements were designed well, it could be just as vital to the health of a place as a park.
The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox
Urban ecology has expanded in the last couple decades as a major, global, interdisciplinary field that advances biodiversity, sustainability, and fundamental ecological research in the context of cities and urbanization. With all this accumulated learning, has urban ecology made its mark in the field of ecology more generally?
In some of the most important peer-reviewed ecology journals, and on social media, it seems even the most basic of urban ecology concepts have yet to be appreciated or incorporated in the broader ecology discipline. For example, it’s been 25 years since Humans as Components of Ecosystems was published, and yet many ecologists still don’t see humans as part of how we define and study nature—despite the fact that every ecosystem on earth is affected by, and has effects on, people.
The High Line in New York City. Photo: David Maddox
In November 2017, Nature Ecology and Evolution published a major review of the field of ecology, titled “100 articles every ecologist should read” (behind a paywall, unfortunately). It must be noted that the list was a product of a extensive survey of ecologists. Nevertheless, many ecologists around the world took exception to the lack of gender and racial diversity, and its general lack of inclusivity (see here, here, and here). Notably lacking from these academic discussions has been a recognition of core contributions from urban ecology to how we understand, manage, and plan ecosystems on our urban planet.
It begs the question: what would a reading list be for the discipline of ecology in the Anthropecene? But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
No one disputes that the 100 papers listed by Nature Ecology and Evolution are important in the history of ecology. Indeed, everyone should read these papers. But is this the right list of 100 papers to understand ecology today? There are other papers that should make a reading list for a complete understanding of modern ecology. An alternative version of a “key reading” prompt could be this: what are the 100 papers that every ecologist must read to understand ecology today, in the Anthropocene? Social ecology, biophilia, justice, poverty, gender, values, the Global South, design, climate change, policy; these are just some of the topics that are core material for understanding the broad science of ecology today, These topics are largely missing from the 100 papers list.
And also missing, of course, is urban ecology.
As it happens, urban ecology routinely includes the aforementioned list of additional topics: social ecology, biophilia, justice, policy, and so on. How does urban ecology advance the state of the art in ecology more generally? It advances our understanding of how our current world works, how it might work better, and it lays foundations to turn that learning towards pressing Anthropocene challenges, both urban and non-urban.
We asked a diverse group to help our non-urban ecological colleagues understand some of the most important contributions from urban ecology for advancing the field of ecology. We asked them this question: What is one thing every ecologist should know about urban ecology? (We asked them to suggest a reading also—a start on a reading list.)
Along the way, let’s expand the idea of “ecology”.
By Timothy Brown Principal at Traverse Landscape Architects
As a landscape architect, my experience has often been that we are brought in late on a project to “shrub it up”. The most unfortunate part about this is that owners and developers are being deprived of the chance to have a much richer and more significant project.
Below I offer eleven reasons why landscape design should be considered and landscape architects should be included throughout the project development process.
1. The landscape is the warp and weft which can weave a disparate collection of buildings into a cohesive city, community or campus.
2. Whether they are biking, walking or driving, people most often experience a place from ground level, and landscape provides the interest and impetus which inspires people to return in order to spend time in a place.
3. Vibrant native plantings, flexible plaza spaces, legible and convenient pathways and wayfinding provide a framework within which critical placemaking events can happen, contributing to the overall success of a place
4. Landscape architects are often the keepers of a holistic vision and balance on a project, reconciling the sometimes conflicting design aspirations of architects, engineers, owners and developers.
5. Landscape touches every component of a development project and is a major factor inspiring people to live in a place or return as a visitor.
6. As this article from Time Magazine asserts, access to high-quality green spaces and nature makes people happier, improves physical and mental health and improves our overall sense of well-being. (Also See: WHO)
7. Well-designed landscapes, especially in neighborhoods and on campuses, contribute to an overall sense of well-being by providing places for people to meet up for a walk, for collaboration or to just chat. People places are successful places.
8. Well-designed landscapes provide a myriad of ecosystem services, not the least of which include groundwater recharge, habitat creation, and mitigation of urban heat island impacts.
9. Using vernacular materials in innovative ways, referencing natural landscapes with native plantings and providing places for people to gather, recreate and relax are just a few ways that well-designed landscapes contribute to a culturally impactful and potent sense of place.
10. Landscape architects are trained to look closely at all the existing conditions of a site. The inclusion of landscape architects from the beginning of the process can avoid costly mistakes down the road and ensure the preservation of historically important vegetation and site artifacts.
11. Well-designed landscapes bring people closer to the places where they live work and play, giving them a place to dwell, promoting stewardship and inspiring advocacy.
These are just a few of the many reasons landscape architects should be an integral member of the development team starting from project conception.
As a UX designer, I am sure you have been asked many times “What is your UX design process? What and how many steps does it have?” There is a simple reason why this question so popular among designers: UX process is a cornerstone of UX design, it’s a make-it-or-break-it aspect of UX design. Without a solid UX design process, a designer could be completely moving in the dark. A clear and concise UX process, on the other hand, makes it possible to craft amazing experiences for users.
In this article, we’ll define a general UX design process, as well as the order in which specific UX phases should be taken. We will also see what methods can be used by UX designers during each phase.
What Does a UX Process Look Like?
The answer to this question is: it depends. A UX design process is something that everyone has in the UX industry, but something that everyone does differently. This happens because UX process depends heavily on the project. Different projects require different approaches: the approach to a corporate website differs from the way we design a dating app. And while there are some practices UX designers should follow for each project (such as conduct product research before moving on to prototyping), there are principles in every part of the process that have to be custom designed for the specific project.
UX Process Overview
At its core, every UX process should consist of the following 5 key phases:
1. Product Definition
One of the most important phases in UX design is actually done before the UX design process even starts. Before you can build a product, you need to understand its context for existence. Product definition phase sets the stage for the success of a product. During this phase, UX designers brainstorm the product at the highest level (basically, the concept of the product) with stakeholders.
This phase usually includes:
Stakeholders interviews: Interviewing key stakeholders in a project to gather insights about their goals. Defining the goals and values of the product that you would like to build is a key driver for a results-driven process.
Create value proposition: Value proposition maps out the key aspects of the product: what it is, who it’s for and when/where it will be used. Value proposition helps the team and stakeholders create consensus around what the product will be.
Concept sketching: Creating an early mockup of what the team is looking to build.
Project kickoff meeting: The kickoff meeting brings all the key players together to set proper expectations both for the team and stakeholders. It covers the high-level outline of the product purpose, who is involved in designing and developing the product, how they will work together, and what stakeholders expectations are (such as KPI and how how the success of the product should be measured).
2. Product Research
Once the product idea is defined, product research (which naturally includes user and market research) provides the other half of the foundation for great design. Good research informs your product and the fact that it comes early in design process save a lot of resources (time and money) further down the road (as fewer adjustments will need to be made).
The product research phase is probably the most variable between projects – the phase varies based on the complexity of the product, timing, available resources and many other factors. This phase can include:
Individual in-depth interviews (or IDI): A great product experience starts with a good understanding of the users. Not only do UX designers want to know who their users are, but designers want to dive deeper into their needs, fears, motivations, and behavior.
Competitive research: A comprehensive analysis of competitor products maps out their existing features in a comparable way. Research helps UX designers understand industry standards and identify opportunities for the product in a given area.
The aim of the Analysis phase is to draw insights from data collected during the Product Research phase. Capturing, organizing and making inferences from the “what” users want/think/need can help UX designers begin to understand the “why” they want/think/need that. During this phase, designers confirm that the most important assumptions being made are valid.
This phase usually includes:
Create hypothetical personas: Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a product in a similar way. The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of the key audience segments for reference.
Create experience maps: An experience map is an important design tool to understand the product/service interactions from users’ point of view. An experience map is basically a visual representation that illustrates user flow within a product/service. A basic experience map just follows one path (one user, one goal, one scenario) even when the product/service allows multiple path variations.
When user expectations from the product are established (it’s clear what their goals are and how they like to operate with it), UX designers move to the design phase. An effective design phase is both highly collaborative (it requires input from all team players involved in product development) and iterative (meaning that it cycles back upon itself to validate ideas and assumptions).
The design phase usually includes:
Sketching: Sketching is the easiest way of visualizing our ideas. Drawing by hand is also the fastest way to visualize a concept – it allows the designer to visualize a broad range of design solutions before deciding which one to stick with.
Create wireframes: A wireframe is a visual guide that represents the page structure (hierarchy and key elements). Wireframing acts as the backbone of the product – designers often use them as the skeletons for mockups.
Create prototypes: If wireframes are mostly about structure and visual hierarchy (look), then prototypes are about interaction experience from it (both look and feel). A prototype is a simulation of the product, commonly using clickable wireframes.
Create a design specification: Design specifications usually consist of user flow and task flow diagrams which outline the functionality and style requirements of the product. Design specifications describe the processes and graphical assets needed to make a working product.
5. Validation (Testing)
Usually, the validation phase starts when the high-fidelity design is fleshed out. A product is validated with stakeholders and end-users through the series of user testing sessions.
Similar to the product research phase, this phase is also variable between projects. Validation phase can include:
“Eat your own dogfood:” Once the design team has iterated the product to the point where it’s usable, testing it with the product team is a great low-cost validation technique.
User testing sessions: User testing sessions serve as a validation of design, based on tests with real users.User testing sessions have a lot of forms, some of the most popular are usability testing, focus groups, beta testing, A/B testing, and surveys.
Create user diaries: User diaries are great at capturing an information from real-world users. Using Google Docs, UX designers can create a simple template and then include open-ended questions such as:
Where were you when using the product?
What tasks did you hope to achieve?
Do you have something that frustrated you?
Metrics analysis: Numbers provided by an analytics tool about how a user interacts with your product: clicks, navigation time, search queries etc. Metrics can also “uncover the unexpected”, surfacing behaviors that are not explicit in user tests.
Working with feedback from users: Feedback data such as support tickets, bug reports, and other analytics are able to drive product refinement.
How To Improve UX Design Process
Now you’ve seen how each phase is connected to each other, let’s consider some helpful tips for improving the UX design process:
Consider Overlap Between Phases and Iterations
It’s important to understand that UX design isn’t a linear process. The phases of the UX process often have considerable overlap and usually there’s a lot of back-and-forth. As the UX designer learns more about the problem being solved, the users and details about the project (especially, constraints), it may be necessary to revisit some of the research undertaken or try out new design ideas.
The Importance of Communication
Communication is a key UX design skill. While doing great design is one thing, communicating great design is equally as important, as even the best concepts will fail if they don’t accept by the team and stakeholders. That’s why the best UX designers are great communicators.
Processes Morph To Fit Projects
UX designers should be flexible with every project – the process employed should be tailored to fit specific project needs, both business and functional. A process tailored to the capabilities of the business and the clients proved to be generally effective.
When it comes to UX design process, there’s no one fits all solution. But whether your UX process lightweight or it’s full of a lot of activities, the goal of each UX design process is the same – create great a product for your users. Thus, use what works the best for your project, get rid of the rest, and evolve your UX process as your product ev
THE future ..its already arrived but it definitely not evenly distributed yet ….
four decades ago, virtual and augmented reality were the future. fast forward to the present day and they combine to create a 21st century passport into an alternate universe in mixed reality. merging the digital and the physical, tech giants everywhere are recognising the value in bringing together the immersive capabilities of a head-mounted VR set and the ability of AR to place data into the real world environment. mixed reality reinvents the storytelling process. it merges narratives with reality and presents viewers with a wholesome experience that’s perpetually indistinguishable from real life. this cultivates a fertile ground for increased contact between all participating entities, ergo fostering the creation of shared experiences.
google invested in ‘magic leap’, an allusive mixed reality company. now, apple are getting their teeth into MR which means only one thing – world domination. but back in 2015, microsoft launched hololens, one of the first devices both popularising and merging AR and VR. and the evolution of this device provides an interesting framework with which to navigate the future of MR.
‘computers used to be flat?’
microsoft hololens enables you to interact with content and information in the most natural ways possible.
image courtesy of microsoft
microsoft’s creator of the hololens, alex kipman, thinks headsets could be the successors to computers everywhere. its no surprise when MR extends current limits of presenting data, making physical screens a thing of the past. simple 2D analytics tools seem old school when you can project renders as large as the environment allows. employees of the future could even don company-issued mixed reality glasses as their PCs, releasing employees from the chains of their desks as well as their desktops – read more.
holoportation looks set to transform the way we communicate with each other from afar
image courtesy of microsoft
heard of holoportation? well as MR evolves the advent of holographic images talking to us becomes ever more real.microsoft’s hololens uses a new type of 3D capture technology allowing 3D models of people to be transmitted anywhere in the world in real time. that means talking to your friend who lives miles away from you in a hologram – read more.
shop till you never ever drop
tenants will eventually have the option to view their potential accomodation in VR
image courtesy of airnbnb
mixed reality could transform the way we shop, creating a productless experience where consumers get to try items and services in real-time without breaking a sweat. furniture giant IKEA already saves couples all over the world by letting them skip flatpack fury, placing furniture in-situ via their PLACE app. and airbnb just recently announced it’s in the early stages of adding VR and AR to its services, predicting their own use of 360 photos and 3D scans to let tenants explore homes and cities before they arrive.
entire ecosystems made of sound
a shot of what magic leap and sigur rós’ tónandi looks like in action
image courtesy of magic leap
the secretive mixed reality company, magic leap, made waves back in 2015 with a huge investment from google which many people doubted would ever come to anything. well apparently it has it’s an alternate sonic universe… the company has been working with icelandic rock band sigur rós on an audiovisual project called tónandi which projects waveforms of the music into the physical space. this immersive way of releasing music could either be the future of music as some are predicting – a flop similar to the google glass – read more.
and there’s more…
magic leap one’s lightwear which comes with a lightpack and control
if the internet is a virtual, infinite universe, then the ‘magic leap one creator edition’ (the company’s main focus) may be the first step in exponentially multiplying the size of that universe by colliding it with the physical world. it’s an AR headset for developers (‘built for creators’) that according to an interview with rolling stone will ship in 2018. the technology is supposed to accept multiple input modes including voice, gesture, head pose and eye tracking whilst mapping persistent objects onto the environment.
Last month I attended a SPACE10 forum led by New York-based design duo Anton and Irene on the resurgence of co-living. They suggest the financial squeeze of modern life combined with an upsurge in digital nomads is bringing the ‘sharing economy’ into the home. As 40% of the urban areas required by 2030 are not yet built—which means a city the size of New York needs to be constructed globally every month—it is crucial architects stay up-to-date with contemporary living patterns to respond appropriately to shifts in housing requirements. My last Archinect feature of the year will provide a short overview of the history and challenges that co-living has previously faced, discuss trends emerging from the ‘ONE SHARED HOUSE 2030‘ survey and speak to Dorte Mandrup, architect of the Lang Eng Co-housing Community, on how to approach the challenge of designing successful spaces for co-living.
‘Co-living’, an umbrella term for different types of ‘co-housing’ setups, can loosely be defined as a home where two or more people live together who are not related. While ‘co-housing’ is an intentional community created and run by residents, ‘co-living’ may also encompass shared accommodation initiated by an external agent, such as a developer or entrepreneur.
Aside from the investor rush to fuel co-living startups, concrete figures on the international co-living boom are not yet available. However, early indicators such as the UN now offering support to co-living initiatives within their sustainable development goals and last year’s prestigious Harvard Wheelwright architecture prize being awarded to a project innovating in co-living, suggest it is gaining traction. While it is indisputable that young people strapped for cash have always had roommates—think Bret and Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords—co-living is now simultaneously becoming part of everyday urban life and billion-dollar business.
I expect most people reading this who have lived in cities during their 20’s have experienced a houseshare, myself included. I rented a terrace with friends in Sheffield, moved into a Danish kollegium when I started my masters in Copenhagen and had a stint in a family attic while working in London. But rather than remaining a student necessity, increasing numbers of families and professionals are now opting to co-share. This also reflects a surge in the rental market, which in the US has jumped from 52% of total adults in 2005 to 60% in 2013. This is perhaps unsurprising with soaring urban property prices and take-home wages barely rising across the country, a pattern which is echoed in cities worldwide.
Last year Anton and Irene initiated ONE SHARED HOUSE as they became fascinated in how co-living seemed to be experiencing a cultural resurgence. The documentary maps Irene’s childhood experience of growing up in a communal house in Amsterdam. In the early 1980’s Amsterdam was facing an acute housing shortage so the government enacted a law ruling that 1% of all apartments had to be communal. In 1984 Irene’s mom responded to a newspaper ad for a co-share and moved their family into Kollontai, a communal house with 8 other women and their 3 children designed by the new brutalist architect Sier van Rhijn. In the film, Irene explains “they were feminists and non-conformists […] and many were rebelling against the traditional 1950’s families they had grown up in.”
“Whenever I would tell people I grew up in a communal house”, Irene explains to me, “it inevitably turns into a 30-minute conversation about the pros and cons of communal living.” To delve deeper into the subject, she contacted architect Sier van Rhijn about his experience of designing Dutch co-living spaces during that period. “It was fun,” he explained, “even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.”
It was fun. Even though [the occupants] had no experience designing living spaces, they were very engaged and very idealistic. As an architect, it was sometimes hard to deal with their ever-changing demands, and sometimes it drove us a little crazy.” Sier van Rhijn, architect
Modern co-living can be traced back to thoughts emerging from Denmark in the 1960s, which crystallized in Bodil Graae’s 1967 newspaper article ‘Children Should Have One Hundred Parents’. There was a consensus at the time that modern housing was unable to provide adequate wellbeing for occupants over their lifetimes, and that ‘bofællesskab’ (living community) should instead be the aim for future housing projects. In 1972, a group of families were inspired to create the Sættedammen co-share, realized by architects Palle Dyreborg and Theo Bjerg. The project is generally accepted to be one of the first contemporary co-shares, favoring both autonomy from powerful landlords and the Danish government. The living community approach was introduced to the States in 1989 by Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in their book ‘Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves’.
Creative leaders and innovators are thinking about design thinking in more mature ways. Moving away from a sole emphasis on language and learning, they are increasingly focusing on questions of application, ownership, and impact.
Design thinking: It started as an academic theory in the 60’s, a notion of starting to look at broader types of challenges with the intention and creativity that designers use to tackle their work. It gained widespread traction as a product design process, has been integrated into culture change initiatives of some of the world’s most important organizations and governments, and has been taught in schools kindergarten to grad school. It’s been celebrated, criticized, merged with other methodologies, and modified for nearly every conceivable niche.
Regardless of what side of those perspectives you fall on, it’s undeniable that design thinking is continuing to grow and evolve. Looking across the social innovation landscape today, we see a few patterns that, taken together, suggest that social innovators continue to see great promise in design thinking. They are working to find ways to make it yield real performance gains for their organizations and clients.
From design thinking to design doing
Creative leaders have moved beyond increasing people’s awareness of design thinking to actively seeking concrete opportunities for using it. One of the principal drivers of this shift has been the need to demonstrate value and return on investment from design-thinking initiatives—something people have talked about for years. (Ever heard the question, “Is design thinking just the next fad?”) Social sector organizations, in particular, stand to benefit from the shift from design thinking to design doing. Timelines for getting things built in the social sector are often slow, due to legitimate constraints of responsibly doing impact work, as well as to legacy practices and politics. As long as organizations use design thinking responsibly and acknowledge the broader systems in which new ideas live, some of the emerging models can help them move projects along more quickly and gain greater stakeholder participation.
At The Design Gym, we have seen this eagerness for results show up in the form of Design Sprints—fast, iterative, user-focused project cycles that tackle a problem over the course of several days or weeks. Design Sprints emphasize seeing problems in smaller chunks, and encourage users and stakeholders to play a central role in problem solving, moving projects forward faster and cheaper than “business as usual,” and leading to more concrete and tested outcomes.
This year, our team led the FSG Impact Hiring Innovation Lab’s cohort of companies through design thinking sprints to gain insights from stakeholder groups, generate unique ideas, and prototype solutions. Such projects allow organizations to put design thinking to work on high-priority, strategic challenges. They often produce outcomes impressive enough to influence larger organizational and team design strategies, project scoping, and internal culture shifts—approaching problems with design thinking sometimes becomes the norm. We expect the next question for leaders who have seen the benefits of “design doing” will be how to continue designing their teams and cultures to show not tell—showing stories of real outcomes, not telling of their new training toolkit, and making design thinking more than a side-of-desk project.
Building cultures around design thinking
As design thinking has proliferated, many organizational leaders have moved from replicating the design thinking programs of academic institutions like the Stanford d.School or foundational agencies like IDEO to adapting the methodology to their own goals, external environments, and organizational cultures.
One organization that has particularly inspired us is Beespace, a New York City-based social-impact foundation. Beespace has designed a two-year program that helps new organizations not only get off the ground, but also create the conditions for breakthrough innovation. To create this program, which combines deep thinking, impact assessment, and rapid prototyping, Beespace’s leadership asked itself what tools it would need, and came up with a mix that included not just design thinking, but also disciplines of behavioral science and systems thinking, and tools stemming from emotional intelligence and theory of change.
This shift from replicating approaches to fashioning ones that serve a particular organization’s unique needs represents movement to a more mature, sustainable way of employing the methodology. It is a shift away from copying and pasting toward something more introspective, customized, and hopefully impactful. Leaders should not get too caught up in stories of success, but instead push their organization to dictate what success means and how it should show up. Given that these practices overlap so deeply with mission, people, organizational structure, and definition of impact, no two programs should look the same.
Empowering the few to shift the many
We have seen a lot of interest this year in “train the trainer” programs, particularly from organizations realizing the value of developing their internal capabilities to reduce reliance on outside consultants. Such development often entails focusing on the few people in the organization who are highly capable of instigating major change, as opposed to spreading awareness among the many. It takes time and resources, but the payoff is well worth it from both cultural and operational perspectives.
The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative (100RC) takes such an approach to its mission of working with cities around the world to help them become more resilient. 100RC has focused on training a relatively small group of change agents, called Chief Resilience Officers (CROs), in the cities in which it works. CROs are senior-level city employees tasked with developing strategies and initiatives—with significant support and guidance from 100RC—to bring about long-term transformation.
Although the concept of developing internal advocates is surely not new, as an approach to adopting design thinking, it is generating a conversation we believe will continue to get smarter. We expect to see different models for building internal expertise, as the work of introducing design thinking into an organization can be done by lots of different people: expert facilitators, workshop trainers, creative leaders, designers and design strategists, or even just that brave soul who suggests approaching a 30-minute brainstorm slightly differently. We’re excited to see how different organizations explore the possibilities and find which ones work best for them.
Looking at the creative community holistically to tackle larger societal issues
No beating around the bush here—it’s quite a political climate here in the United States. But, out of this has come an absolute groundswell of creative activism and some really unexpected collaborations. Among the creative community, the boundaries around problems that fit within our scope of work have expanded. Individuals, nonprofits, government agencies, start-ups, and huge corporations alike are asking what it means for them, where they can (and should) put a stake in the ground, and who else out there can help make it happen.
Over the past few years, there’s been greater cross-pollination between different industries and types of organizations—collaboration that’s creating wild innovation bigger than either political party could achieve on its own. As Paola Mendoza, artistic director for the Women’s March on Washington, recently said, “We, artists, inspire people to love when it is easier to hate.” Now is the time to begin looking beyond our traditional boundaries of for-profit vs. nonprofit, public sector vs. private sector, and one mission vs. another. The time is ripe to call for collaborators rather than competitors to tackle some of the larger creative challenges facing society today.
FSG Impact Hiring Innovation Lab, for instance, is bringing together nonprofits such as The Aspen Institute, Fortune 500 companies such as McDonald’s and T-Mobile, and creative agencies like ours to develop innovative strategies in hiring, retention, and advancement of opportunity youth and other populations facing barriers to employment.
We anticipate that collaboration between governments, nonprofits, individuals, corporations, and startups will continue to increase. And, there are few greater motivators than a sense of passion and purpose—something individuals and organizations alike can amplify to energize their cultures. We have yet to see what true beauty can blossom from these dynamic and often trying times. What we do know is that complex problems require new ways of thinking, new ways of working, new types of partnerships and conversations, and radical forms of diverse collaboration. And the creative catalysts inside all of us are best positioned to address them.
Shifting the storyline
Social innovators have begun thinking about design thinking in more mature ways. As some of the concept’s novelty wears off, the social sector is increasingly focusing on questions of application, ownership, and impact. The theme of the story is shifting from “What is design thinking?” to “Look at what we did using design thinking.” For practitioners and creative leaders, it is a good time to ask what these trends mean for your ability to tell your own future success stories.
Its going to happen to all of us – “Done got Old – can’t do the things I use to!” – Junior Kimbaugh – even those of us in deep denial who intend to work till we die ( most designers and architects I know do not intend to retire). Yet the existing models for later life living are pretty poor and none of the regularly offered ones are very satisfactory. This in-depth review of the options is worthwhile reading for anyone involved in design or management of the aged or making place for aging in our society.
Illustration Evgenia Barinova
Global populations are aging—according to the UN, by 2030 the number of citizens aged 60 years or over is projected to grow by 56%, a figure which by 2050 is expected to double again, to a total of 2.1 billion seniors worldwide, skewed towards ‘greying economies’ such as those of the US and Europe. Where and how will our seniors live in the future? This month I speak to architect and KADK professor Deane Simpson, who researches shifts in the built environment which are occurring as a consequence of population aging, and Stephen Bates of award-winning firm Sergison Bates who recently completed the Housing for Older Residents project in Hampstead, London. Is it possible to move beyond stereotypes to create an architecture which is functional, healthy and beneficial for the older generation?
It was a visit to St Petersburg, Florida, during the mid-1990s which first sparked Simpson’s interest in the peculiarities of elderly lifestyle communities. With a group of friends, he had stumbled into a housing district exclusively for the over 65’s which challenged their preconceptions of the modern mixed-demographic city. In a bar brimming with vivacious seniors, they felt like complete outsiders. It was an experience which inspired him to lead an architecture study group from ETH-Zurich back to Florida to research deeper into what he saw as a distinct shift in senior living which later informed his award-winning book ‘Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an Aging Society’.
“A common understanding of seniors would be people with physical or mental difficulties who required care”, explains Simpson, “but my sense was that that housing and urbanism for the ‘Young-Old’ was not really being discussed. I became interested in how emphasis had shifted from care towards entertainment and leisure, and how these communities were self-segregating on an urban scale”.
Old age is now widely understood to have subdivided into two separate phases of life—the ‘Young-Old’ can now expect to enjoy 20-30 years of good health prior to becoming ‘Old-Old’, when they require special care and support. Historian Peter Laslett, in his 1996 book ‘A Fresh Map of Life’, suggests this phenomenon first emerged as a consequence of the older generation becoming liberated by improvements in healthcare and lifestyle and possessing significant comparative wealth compared to other demographic groups. In the decades following 1950, there was a limited precedent for the ‘Young-Old’ in terms of societal expectations and conventions of how and where to live.
The US is recognized to have pioneered early trends in retirement living as it was not tied to the need to rebuild after the Second World War, a task which preoccupied both Europe and Japan. The world’s first documented age-segregated retirement community, Sun City Arizona, built in 1954 and now home to 37,000 seniors, was the first to explore accommodation options for the emerging ‘Young-Old’ demographic. Sun City promised year-long sunshine, leisure-based social activities, companionship and fun—a far cry from the dreaded nursing home.
My sense was that housing and urbanism for the ‘Young-Old’ was not really being discussed. I became interested in how emphasis had shifted from care and rest to entertainment and leisure, and how these senior communities were self-segregating on an urban scale” Deane Simpson
Owner-occupied retirement housing now represents 17% of the total housing stock in the US, a figure which is steadily increasing year after year. According to the Financial Times, the wealth of the ‘baby boomer’ generation has enabled age-specialist developers to bid for the first time against mainstream development firms to supply prime real-estate. In New Zealand, 12% of over 75s now live in retirement communities, a figure which has risen from 9% in 2014. Meanwhile, housing typology options for seniors have continued to diversify to a certain extent, with an emphasis on familiar styles and forms arranged into neighborhood groupings. I was interested to explore the main trends and innovations in senior housing, so I went in search of architects who are addressing the needs and desires of the older generation with a variety of contrasting approaches.
Senior living dream 1: The Retirement Village
Taking after the Sun City model, the retirement village is characterized by separate dwellings designed specifically for the over 55’s, separated from the rest of the city. Organizations such as the UK-based International Longevity Center warn that the global upsurge in the construction of privatized retirement villages might spell the end for the traditional care home and a state-driven model of elderly care. While most villages take a detached, suburban picket-fence type outlook to housing as seen in Sun City, others adopt a more experimental approach.
One of the most extraordinary propositions I came across was that of Guedes Cruz Architects’ Alcabideche Social Complex near Lisbon, Portugal. The community of 52 cube-like dwellings, constructed from concrete and plexiglass, shade elderly residents from scorching summer sun. Unlike almost all other retirement communities I researched, this project embraces some of the harder to stomach realities of aging—when a resident sounds an alarm within the house, the entire roof of the building lights up red, a glowing distress signal which is broadcasted to the entire community. The 10,000m2 neighborhood also houses a support building and an undulating landscape of public terraces and pools which connect the dwellings.
Senior living dream 2: The High-End Apartment
This interview with a New York resident underlines the older generation are just as diverse as any other age group, not all of whom are searching for the quiet life. “Living in the city is so much better than in the country or burbs”, the 82-year old told the reporter. Some developers are responding to the need of housing seniors within the city by peppering apartment complexes within the existing urban fabric, as a preference to creating detached retirement communities. I spoke to architect Stephen Bates of renowned London-based practice Sergison Bates regarding their Housing for Older Residents project in Hampstead, north London, completed earlier this year. The residential scheme consists of 29 individual apartments with shared facilities, such as social spaces, spa and a communal garden. The community is to be supported by an in-house caretaker whose role is to facilitate both daily activities and care for resident’s needs.
Bates explained that a key driver behind the design was to find an architectural typology appropriate for elderly residents with respect to the context and conservation area of the surrounding site. “We were inspired by the mansion blocks which characterize the area and used this existing urban form to mediate with the townscape of large Arts and Crafts stand alone or semi-detached villas in Hampstead”, he told me. The innovative ‘honeycomb’ plan which first drew me to the project was in part defined by the site footprint and a diagonal emphasis to allow long views across the site towards the gardens. The plan is organized into a number of ‘bedroom suites’ which group changing, bathrooms and sleeping areas together to form definable territories which allow privacy and flexibility of occupation, linked by a ‘middle room’ at the heart of each apartment. “Multi-sided rooms make it possible to have different orientations within the apartment”, describes Bates, “and allowed us to form a collection of ‘good’ rooms rather than aligning purely functional spaces one next to the other.” While offering visual interest to residents spending significant time indoors, a further aim of the design was to enable a live-in carer, visiting family members or a spouse to enjoy different degrees of privacy.
“Many of the residents would have come from a large house, possibly within the area of Hampstead itself”, Bates explains, “and the transition to horizontal living would have to be facilitated by the careful organization of internal spaces. We designed a plan that incorporates a series of areas that allow differentiated access, with interlocking rooms and long diagonal views across them. This creates a landscape of spaces one can move through in more than one way, so that the needs of individual residents can best be met.”
We designed a plan that incorporates a series of areas that allow differentiated access, with interlocking rooms and long diagonal views across them. This creates a landscape of spaces one can move through in more than one way, so that the needs of individual residents can best be met.” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.
Portuguese practice Aires Mateus Arquitectos have taken the senior high-rise typology into a rural context for their ‘Residências assistidas em Alcácer do Sal’ (Houses for elderly people in Alcácer do Sal) project, also in Portugal. Speaking to Dezeen, they describe the scheme as a “micro-society”, “between a hotel and a hospital”. They suggest an aim of the project was to address the limited mobility of the building’s residents by forming a patchwork of gently sloping walkways which meander across the site. While the architectural intervention is striking and sculptural due to the way it slices into the topography, it is unclear what access the elderly residents have to medical facilities or social spaces to promote their health and well-being in the long term.
Senior living dream 3: Aging in Place
While not a new concept, aging in place has garnered significant public attention and commendation in recent years. While critics suggest ‘lifelong homes’ is a convenient policy to promote while cutting public spending budgets, there is also significant grassroots support. Furniture fixes and small interventions are the most cost-effective way of adapting a home as the occupants’ physical abilities deteriorate. In this report, the American Architectural Foundation suggest that enabling people to remain in their previous homes or original communities is the most favorable outcome according to their survey preferences. In the 2007 study ‘aging in Place in America’ commissioned by the Clarity and the EAR Foundation, elderly people fear moving away, losing their independence and exile from their communities, more than they fear death. While this may highlight certain misunderstandings of what alternative options there are available, the severity of this statement is nonetheless significant.
The de-institutionalized approach to senior living may have significant benefits when the built environment is tuned to support and assist elderly residents. Aging in place has been proven to support independence and retain community ties which are difficult to sustain when people are uprooted after they reach a certain age. “At the same time,” suggests Simpson, “[Aging in place] is not a perfect solution as it still poses challenges—on both the housing and neighborhood scale. Immobile seniors who have aged in place in low-density car-based housing areas can be vulnerable to social isolation, and can be beyond walking distance to local amenities or a supermarket. Environments like these can also be more costly to service with healthcare provision.”
[Aging in place] is not a perfect solution as it still poses challenges—on both the housing and neighborhood scale. Immobile seniors who have aged in place in low-density car-based housing areas can be vulnerable to social isolation, and can be beyond walking distance to local amenities or a supermarket.” Deane Simpson
The challenge of creating communities that allow people to age in place may also offer an opportunity to rethink suburban or low-density neighborhoods which have long been a challenge to both architects and urban planners. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) support the ‘lifelong homes’ concept—a dwelling that adapts to people’s needs and desires as they grow older. The London Mayor’s design advisory group have offered guidance to both architects and urbanists on how to create ‘Lifetime Neighborhoods’ in this recent report.
Patel Taylor’s Courtyard Housing in Barking, London, aims to address some of the challenges of maintaining an affordable, mixed-generation neighborhood. The economic model of their housing development in Barking is based on that of traditional English almshouse, in which accommodation is provided by a charitable body for citizens who are unable to support themselves. The social housing project was designed to support independent living as residents grow older, but can be occupied by people and families of any age. “The scheme aims to provide council tenants with quality of life and pride in their homes”, say Patel Taylor.
Interestingly, some retirement communities may spontaneously arise from a natural process of aging in place, which is one of Simpson’s ongoing research interests at KADK. Brooklyn-based design studio Interboro Partners have analyzed a number of housing projects in New York City which have emerged due to families moving in during at a specific time then remaining in the same housing block. “I believe that the naturally occurring retirement community is an interesting case to discuss when we focus on dense urban environments”, suggests Simpson, “in the NYC examples, they make use of elevator access and nearby park-like space, at the same time they are tightly integrated into a vibrant and amenity-rich city.”
A main characteristic of a co-living approach is to form independent but connected living arrangement to ensure sufficient degrees of privacy, while benefiting from shared social spaces.”
Senior living dream 4: Co-living
Loneliness and the rising cost of care are some of the most challenging aspects faced by both ‘Young-Old’ and ‘Old-Old’ age groups. Based on a traditional Japanese concept first trialed in Tokyo, some architects are experimenting with combining seniors with other demographic groups with free time but minimal disposable income to create skill-sharing communities. Examples include this nursing home in the Netherlands which is also a student dorm and the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle.
A main characteristic of the co-living approach is to form an independent but connected living arrangement to ensure sufficient degrees of privacy, while benefiting from shared social spaces. When applied to senior living, this approach aims to challenge the stigma of the ‘granny annex’ to create a multigenerational family home where two or more generations can co-exist peacefully. Lennar’s Next Gen Home is innovating in this market—their new build homes combine two separate houses together to form a ‘home within a home’, each area accessible from a separate entrance. In their promotional material, the ‘Next Gen Suite’ has been tested both with aging relatives and adult children with severe disabilities. For more on co-living stay tuned for next month’s feature.
Senior living dream 5: The Cruise Ship
While at first glance it might seem slightly farfetched, increasing numbers of cruise liner companies are now offering live-in possibilities following a wave of media speculation that constant cruising was a more cost-effective prospect than a room in a traditional care home. Back in 2015, USA Today covered the story of 86-year-old Lee Wachtstetter, who took her daughter’s advice to sell her home after the death of her husband to go and live on the Crystal Serenity cruise liner.
The Florida-based shipping company Residences at Sea were one of the first to provide an exclusive long-term rental offering and other enterprises such as Crystal are now following suit with customisable apartments, some as large as 4000 square feet. Cruise Retirement now allows retirees to buy their own cabins. This reflects a boom in the cruise industry overall—according to the The Cruise Lines International Association, over 25 million passengers are predicted to set sail in 2017, with over half of them in the 50-74 age range. However, it is unclear what data the cost predictions that cruise living is cheaper than other accommodation preferences is based on, as circumstances and prices vary dramatically for seniors across the globe. Difficulty in securing affordable insurance, few complimentary onboard meals and lack of access to specialist care onboard may well outweigh the senior discount. In addition, the logistics of living constantly on a cruise ship may be impractical at best—where would possessions be stored? What would the arrangements be while the ship is in port? How might this lifestyle be sustained year after year?
Cruise lines are also selling their elderly living packages as lifestyle products, bearing certain similarities to the first retirement villages. This phenomenon is what Simpson refers to as ‘youthfulness without youth’—environments which, while alluring, are unfortunately seldom designed to support their residents during the complex process of physical and mental decline. “It is only recently that some of these retirement villages have given in to pressure to provide assisted care facilities”, he explains, “it’s not part of their branding as lifestyle products. They do not have cemeteries, sometimes they remove the deceased during the night, reflecting taboos about death and illness amongst this age group.”
It is only recently that some of these retirement villages have given in to pressure to provide assisted care facilities, it’s not part of their branding as lifestyle products. They do not have cemeteries, sometimes they remove the deceased during the night, reflecting taboos about death and illness amongst this age group.” Deane Simpson
Since the 2008 financial crash, the perception of the ‘Young-Old’ as a pleasure-seeking group that is benefiting from the welfare economy while leaving other groups disadvantaged has generated a great deal of anger. Yet, societal expectations of this age group are changing fast. While 30-40 years ago, the ‘Young-Old’ might expect to retire to warmer climes to enjoy an expanse of leisure time—whether moving from the Midwest to Florida, or from the UK to Spain, up to 60% of Americans over 60 now say they will look for a new job after retiring according to Careerbuilder.com, a US jobs website. Many people in this age group are also taking on additional childcare responsibilities, as their children often have a two working parent household which is now required to support a modest income.
However, the push factors forcing people out of their homes today remain broadly similar to what they were back in the 1960s—including an inability to maintain a household, inadequate neighborhood leisure amenities, proximity to healthcare and other amenities, high living costs, adverse climate aggravating health conditions such as arthritis, fear of crime, or the death of a spouse. Yet new experiments in senior living promise companionship, lower housing expenses, provision for poor health, and closeness to family. Housing for the ‘Young-Old’ remains a site of experimentation and innovation, which will have an increasingly significant impact on the market overall. “In the past decade or so”, suggests Deane, “the great majority [of citizens who fall into the ‘Young-Old’ age category] have opted to age in place. This does not mean the desire for a fresh start and to move away is necessarily disappearing. Outcomes of different surveys also emphasize what can be problematic about the current living conditions for those who are aging in place.”
Outcomes of different surveys also emphasize what can be problematic about the current living conditions for those who are aging in place.” Deane Simpson
What makes an age-friendly city? How can architects and urban planners ensure communities possess a rich social life and cross-generational activities? How can segregation and social isolation be reduced? Throughout 2014 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) compiled a volume of knowledge from both industry and breakthrough research into an Alternative Age Friendly Handbook, which offers some helpful insights. In the US, the American Architectural Foundation cites a lack of diversity, lack of access to continuous and accessible walking routes, few intentional social spaces and restricted access to both healthcare and crisis assistance as key areas for improvement. While these features are aimed at older adults, it is necessary to recognize improvements in these areas are also of great benefit to everyone in the community.
Bates recommends that architects engaged with accommodation for the elderly acknowledge the specific needs and requirements of aging residents, some of which are often overlooked. “There are many models that still need to be explored, in particular, the development more mixed-age collective housing solutions rather than residential forms that cater to a homogeneous age group,” he suggests, “architects need to go back to experimenting with housing in the way they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. More experimental housing typologies should also be tested to respond to other demographic trends, such as the growing number of single households in western cities. The proliferation of micro[flats is definitely not the only, nor the most appropriate answer.”
Both Bates and Simpson are in agreement that complex, vibrant, diverse and amenity-rich neighborhoods should drive the development of housing in this sector. “That means thinking beyond the conventional real estate modernist plan”, suggests Bates, “to look at pre-modernist models, as there is much to learn from them, and being more imaginative and flexible about how daily lives can unfold within domestic settings. Housing is the most codified sector in construction and too often homes end up being the unimaginative result of compliance with existing standards and regulations”, Bates continues, “I think we should be much more ambitious and much more open to looking beyond modernist orthodoxy.”
Architects need to go back to experimenting with housing in the way they did in the ‘60s and ‘70s. More experimental housing typologies should also be tested to respond to other demographic trends, such as the growing number of single households in western cities” Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates Architects.
According to the American Architectural Foundation, senior housing has positioned itself at cutting edge of innovation in the housing sector due to a willingness to try the new with a hope that it will improve on what we remember of the old. “The ritual of aging is that of continual reinvention, not of tradition, and the senior housing industry is deeply vested in understanding and responding to evolving market desire,” they state. The emergence of AI in household care and the opportunities of digital mobility also present interesting opportunities for tailored elderly care suited to individual needs, therefore unlocking previously unimagined living arrangements. Might a domesticated model of care be delivered without a semi-hospitalized environment? How could healthy routines be designed into the building fabric of new developments using new technologies?
“The architect’s role in this would be to produce a diversity of possible models. This diversity should develop through an openness and willingness to experiment and promote the exploration of alternative models to the limited bandwidth of options in the current market environment,” suggests Simpson. “When one is designing for a certain age group, an essential aspect is to address the fact that the user, him or herself, will age in that given environment. This is sometimes overlooked. When designing for the ‘Young-Old’, one has to bear in mind that in 20 years they are likely to be amongst the ‘Old-Old’. So it becomes relevant to factor in how one develops the capacity for these environments to support the people dwelling in them, in different stages of life which in turn correspond to different needs. In responding to this challenge, it becomes relevant to overcome the stigmatization of elderly-friendly design aspects”, he continues, “ as well embracing a diversity of users and preferences. We should keep in mind that seniors are as diverse a population as the rest of us.”
The ritual of aging is that of continual reinvention, not of tradition, and the senior housing industry is deeply vested in understanding and responding to evolving market desire.” American Architectural Foundation
In the US, the Living in Place Insitute provide additional assistance on the options for renovating an existing home to the needs of aging.
To read more about the urban and architectural experiments which come out of these different urban environments, different typologies of retirement see Deane Simpson’s ‘Young-Old: Urban Utopias of an aging Society, published by Lars Muller.
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Daliya Safiullina, consultant of Strelka and organizer of the contest, told ArchDaily: “The challenge was to create a model of a contemporary park for Moscow, because nothing similar had been constructed since 1958. The idea was to generate an open-air museum in which the real exhibition was going to be the skyline of the city, a platform that would allow users to appreciate the beauty of Moscow. In that sense, the flying bridge proposed by the winners became the essence of the park”.
Zaryadye got its name by the end of the 15th century, when The Red Square was a big market. It literally means “behind the rows,” referring to what extended beyond the market.
At the end of 1940, a base was established for what would have been Stalin’s eighth skyscraper. For several years, Zaryadye was the most-delayed construction project of the Soviet Union. In 1967 the architect Dmitry Chechulin finally built the Hotel Russia, which was demolished after less than 40 years of use. Sergey Kuznetsov explains, “After the demolition, the site remained abandoned for 6 years. During Yuri Luzhkov’s term as Mayor, the authorities contemplated several commercial real estate development projects, including a proposal by architect Norman Foster. Finally, in 2012, the Moscow government decided to create a multifunctional public park. ”
The main concept of the proposal is “Wild Urbanism”, a complex idea that strives for the symbiosis between the natural and the artificial, where plants and people have equal importance. Mary Margaret Jones, Senior Principal of Hargreaves Associates, explains, “We wanted to create something fluid and organic, something that would allow visitors to move freely around the park. To achieve this, we brought the paving of the Red Square into the park, and we extended the forest of the park towards the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Creating a hybrid landscape where the natural and the constructed cohabit to create a new type of public space.”
Brian Tabolt, Associate of DS + R, adds, “It’s about merging things that normally don’t go together, like pavement with vegetation, or the urban landscape with the natural landscape. Zaryadye Park is a superposition of layers where these elements can coexist simultaneously”.