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Creating accessible, stylish spaces

Architects are incorporating more features for the elderly and people with disabilities while pushing design boundaries

Chantal Sajan on 18 Apr 2020

The Straits Times


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When it comes to elder-friendly designs, it is all about the details.


A continuous handrail, for instance, is one of the key features of a recently renovated three-storey terrace house off Jalan Tua Kong in Bedok. Besides being a sturdy navigation tool to prevent falls, it is a stylish accent in the building's revamp.


The owners, a couple in their early 70s, commissioned LLARK Architects to future-proof their home, which was built more than 30 years ago, and turn it into a 304.4 sq m modern minimalist abode.


Mr Luke Lim, LLARK's design principal, says: "We designed the handrail to be recessed so as not to be too obtrusive, and illuminated it with LED light strips within the niche.


"We paid particular attention to the provision and design of the handrail at critical areas such as the bathrooms and stairs."


Mr Lim's elder-and child-friendly designs are showcased along with the works of four other local firms at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) exhibition, Pushing Boundaries: From Interiors To Masterplans, at URA's Aude Space till the end of August.


"We showed this continuous handrail at the exhibition, and how it is integrated with the overall design, so that the user can maintain his or her grip throughout the process of moving in and out of the shower," says Mr Lim.


A new home lift, costing about $65,000, was installed to aid accessibility. The house's internal layout was also reorganised to improve air circulation. The total renovation bill was about $700,000.


These elder-friendly retrofits reflect a growing trend as more Singaporeans get ready to age in place.


Last year, Singaporeans were found to have the world's highest life expectancy of 84.8 years, according to a report by the American Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in collaboration with Singapore's Ministry of Health.


Besides longer lives, more are looking forward to longer careers, with the retirement age in Singapore set to go up from the current 62 to 63 in 2022, and to 65 by 2030.


Mr Lim foresees more of his future projects including elder-friendly features.


He recently completed a corner terrace in Jalan Keris, East Coast. The owner, a retiree in her 60s, renovated her two-storey house to include elder-friendly features as well as more rooms to accommodate her two children and their growing families.


Another architect, Ms Charmaine Wong of Chalk Architects, recently completed the renovation of a 122 sq m five-room Housing Board point block flat in Delta Avenue, Bukit Merah.


Her clients are a couple in their late 30s with an eight-year-old son.


They wanted the redesign to include wheelchair-friendly features because the wife is recovering from a spinal injury and moves around in a wheelchair.


They have a large extended family and their loved ones visit regularly, so they wanted the redesign to help nudge more footfall to the living room for family gatherings.


"The design incorporated wide spaces, eliminating narrow corridorlike passages," says Ms Wong, who helmed the project with her interior designer colleague Isjacob Ishak.


"This strategy is crucial to allow for conducive spaces for physiotherapy sessions to be carried out easily in the flat," she says, adding that the renovation of the flat, built in 1985, cost $80,000.


"Also, all the furniture was customised to eliminate sharp corners. The master bathroom was enlarged slightly to create ample manoeuvring space for easy transfers from the wheelchair to shower chair."


Ms Wong says the owners also wanted to have family bonding over dinners, so the custom-built island dining table became a focal point for get-togethers.


She adds: "Barrier-free homes for the elderly and wheelchair users are no longer seen as dull, restrictive and sterile. Ultimately, a home is to uplift the spirits of the owners and empower them with a greater sense of ownership and enjoyment."


Besides individual homes, there is also an increasing need to look into designing safe, elder-friendly community environments where seniors can age in place, says Mr Tan Jwu Yih, director of the Building Plan and Universal Design department of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).


"One in four Singaporeans will be 65 and above by 2030. We have observed the inclusion of more elder-friendly designs for building projects," says Mr Tan. "These include designing homes to cater to multiple generations and equipping homes with smart home automation.


"Some projects have even taken it to the community level, such as Kampung Admiralty."


Established as Singapore's first integrated retirement community, Kampung Admiralty clinched BCA's Universal Design Mark Platinum award in 2018.


The awards, introduced in 2012, recognise buildings that are accessible and user-friendly.


The spokesman continues: "It is an example of integration of housing for the elderly, medical services, and childcare and eldercare centres, with a community park, vegetable farm, hawker centre and retail outlets under one roof."


He says proximity and direct access to communal amenities allow the elderly to feel that they are part of the larger community.


"Going forward, we will see more projects adopting the assisted-living model, designed to integrate both home and elderly care. Elder-friendly features will be included within the block or unit together with eldercare services and programmes."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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