You’re your own boss so you don’t have to wait for 5pm before catching an Uber home from your studio space downtown to help your housemates prepare dinner. This evening you’ll eat together, chat business ideas for your various start ups and brag about your grandchildren.
By the year 2050 the United Nations estimates that the number of people in their 60s and older will more than double, making up just under a quarter of the world’s population. According to architect Matthias Hollwich, in Western society many retirees will be living in cities.¬†Hollwich’s book, New Aging, offers ideas on how to adjust our lives starting from the age of 40 years old in order to enjoy an independent retirement. In sharp contrast to a foreboding warning to get regular check ups and up your calcium intake, his ideas are suggestions for life adjustments that could serve us well at any age, and are an insightful look at what old age may look like in an urban future. New Aging also prompts bigger questions like how society can better serve¬†the needs of an ageing population.¬†Suggestions include living with friends as housemates who look out for each other in order to prolong our independence from nursing homes or retirements villages, if not altogether eliminating time spent in a beige, routine existence where meals are timed and your possessions are limited to what you can fit in one room.
Other steps include eating with friends as often as you can, taking it easy by relying on services like grocery delivery and treating safety improvements on your home as aesthetic opportunities.¬†Based on these principles and the importance of intergenerational living,¬†Hollwich Kushner has designed Skyler: A New Aging Tower, a building prototype that enables users to age in one place and constantly grow and shape their own future.
Insidious anti-ageing messaging is omnipresent and leaves us super-fooding, injecting and dyeing our way to our death beds. It fosters age discrimination, something that is inherent in our corporate systems which forces an experienced workforce into retirement at 60 or 65.¬†On a more positive note, it places an awareness on our health and fitness meaning that, along with advances in medicine, humanity is living longer and stronger than ever before. There are potential decades after retirement that we’re able to be active and contributing members of society. It’s in these years that Hollwich suggests starting the business you’ve always wanted to, or becoming a student again. Launching a wearable tech range¬†or becoming an internet personality¬†needn’t be experiences exclusive to your twenties. Why do we put such pressure on ourselves to do it all now?
In short, Hollwich believes we need to change our perceptions of ageing in order to age better.¬†We asked him more about the New Aging philosophy:
How do you think the way society treats older people has had an affect on our¬†attitudes toward ageing and how do we change this thinking?
The anti-ageing movement and ‚Äúyoung forever‚Äù aspiration makes us miss out on addressing¬†and enjoying ageing. By not addressing the changes that age brings to life we are¬†vulnerable to social and physical deficits that we have not been prepared for. This¬†can result in the need to move into places we do not want to move into. Also, by not¬†looking positively towards ageing we tend to discriminate against older people which¬†is ironically a self-discrimination against our future selves. We have to re-embrace our¬†older members and give them their rightful place in society ‚Äì with respect and¬†appreciation.
During your research for Skyler, and New Aging, what did you find is¬†dysfunctional about the living facilities currently on offer for the elderly?
There are two big aspects that we have to keep in mind.¬†First ‚Äì we are age segregating. Putting just old people into one building (that might¬†be a nursing home, retirement community, or assisted living facility) is the¬†wrong thing to do. This is based on efficiency of services but not on the needs of¬†older people. Cross generational contact is key for healthy ageing. So we have to¬†change that.
Second ‚Äì there are no elderly. There is no one single group of people that we can¬†plan for. Old people are as individual as we all are and we have to keep that in¬†mind when planning. Some are social, some are not, some like gardening, many do¬†not, there is not one answer to the big question of ageing and architecture.
Skyler is designed as an intergenerational living space. How does living in a building¬†that includes all ages and stages of life benefit us all?
The beauty is that it’s a cross-generational benefit. Young people can learn from older people,¬†and vice versa. For Skyler we made sure to include transitional amenities that¬†support every age group in their growth. Young people need education, people who¬†retire need ongoing business opportunities and volunteering options, older people¬†need spiritual and healthcare support ‚Äì but young people might also need some¬†spiritual experiences and healthcare and older people might enjoy additional¬†education. So ultimately it provides a mix that creates a vibrant community that¬†grows and cares with each other. Also, when you have 1000 people of all ages in a¬†building, just 5 need more intense medial support. So the community can be part of¬†that and not be overburdened.
You speak about proximity and accessibility in your book. In the future, might the city¬†be a place people move to instead away from in later years?
The trend is already happening today. Suburbs are being exchanged for the vibrancy¬†of inner city areas. Social qualities, access to goods and services, and transportation¬†are the key motivators for a move back into the city. Self-driving cars and new digital¬†services might change that dynamic again in the future ‚Äì but right now it is the mega¬†trend.
How might technology play a role in this lifestyle?
Technology is about to create wonders. We already see huge shifts through firms¬†like Uber, creating mobility for older people, Blue Apron, providing ingredients for¬†cooking at home, and many more. We now just need a new healthcare system that can¬†provide care on demand.
You‚Äôre an advocate of a start-up culture among retirees. Please let us know more¬†about your theory?
When retiring at 65 years old many of us still have 30+ more years to participate in¬†society. We retire with knowledge, and networks, and many of us with financial¬†independence, which are the key 3 attributes for successful entrepreneurship. We¬†now have to change perception and work environments, so older people use the¬†opportunity to start their business.
What are some other trends you hope to see among ageing generations?
I hope for groups of people to start strategic alliances to work together as a collective¬†to prototype ageing together. As a community we can tackle challenges so much¬†better. We can also change homes and houses together so we can live together¬†when older and support each other.
I see a whole shift in product design. Not designing for old people but through the¬†lens of old people for everybody. I believe that if we find good¬†solutions for our oldest members of society they will also benefit all younger generations. Wheel chair¬†accessibility is also great for strollers. A handicapped compliant bathroom is great if you’ve¬†had an injury and you can navigate safely in it. It might also make a¬†bathroom more spacious.
What changes are you starting to see already?
Boomers are clearly not happy with what society is offering to them today ‚Äì I see a lot¬†of thinking and initiatives in the world of ageing. Technology is also waking up. I¬†believe in 10-15 years we will see our world reshaped by longevity.
What do you hope for for your own future? What kind of lifestyle do you look forward¬†to?
I, as everybody, want to live the life I want all life long, and I have to make sure¬†that my social and physical deficits that certainly will emerge are taken care of¬†and countered through good architecture, smart technology, and a new attitude in¬†society that embraces and respects ageing. This is a revolution that we have to initiate¬†in our own lives so we can live smarter now to live better forever.