Students design smart senior housing solution

Posted by Justin Havre. on Thursday, December 10th, 2015 at 3:09pm.

If your home is like most people’s homes, it was built for a healthy, mobile person.  An older person with health and mobility issues can find a normal home a challenging if not dangerous place in which to live.  On the other hand, assisted-living and long-term care facilities which provide great housing for seniors who need it can be frightfully expensive. 

With our population aging rapidly, the hunt for suitable and affordable aging-in-place housing is on, which is why University of Calgary has thrown down the gauntlet for students to design and build a new model.   A home that could be constructed close to family and health care amenities that will still allow an older person to be as independent as possible.

The Cumming Faculty of Medicine was involved with the student project with the Faculty of Environmental Design.   Once students were provided with the issue at hand, including health research knowledge courtesy of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, they were let loose to come up with something.

There were 10 students involved, working over a 12 week period at the Research Studio.  What they came up with was contemporary, marketable, reasonable, affordable and creative.

They constructed a prototype for a laneway house, a new type of inner-city housing alternative that the City of Calgary is piloting in Sunnyside and allowing in certain neighbourhoods on a case-by-case basis.  A laneway home is usually in the rear of an existing structure, generally overtop of a garage.  However, the laneway prototype designed by these students is a single-level “L” shaped structure, just 400 square feet in size.  No stairs above a garage and no stairs going below grade to a secondary suite.

The plan is to build high quality dwellings that integrate all the amenities for seniors to age in place and live close to their families while being independent.   The homes would have a patio, a living room and a bedroom with a large bathroom outfitted with grab bars that would also be wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair.  Other rooms of the home were designed to minimize risk of injury and reduce bending or stretching to reach items.  Non-slip floors, toe-kick light switches, railings along the way to support walking from one room to another.

The students designed this prototype with creative technology. Seniors can write grocery lists on smart boards in the kitchen which family or caregivers can access.  Video conferencing with health care practitioners could be possible right from the comfort of home.

The prototype home is even going to be put to the test starting after Christmas.   From a health-care perspective, the feedback from users which will include seniors, medical professionals, builders and even realtors who will be assessing the economic feasibility of such homes will help students and the O’Brien Institute make changes and design improvements.

Laneway homes are one of the solutions that the City of Calgary is carefully looking at.  The City has made it clear that by 2020, 50% of the population increase should be contained inside existing neighbourhoods.    It’s part of the municipal plan and with relaxed zoning to accommodate lane homes it makes sense to build them for seniors, right in our own backyard.


Leave a Comment