By Design

Mobility becomes an issue as we get older.

Mobility becomes an issue as we get older. Photo: Supplied

THIS WEEK Tony Trobe talks to Joss Haiblen, a Canberra homeowner since 1984. With his partner and friends Haiblen has been thinking about ageing and its place in the suburban environment.

TT: You and your group of baby boomers are fit, active and well connected in your part of town. Why are you looking at future living arrangements?

JH: Most of us have helped, or are helping, our parents cope with the challenges of remaining in the family home. Access, levels, bathrooms, kitchens and much more become problematic with declining mobility and health. It's a real wake-up call for us.

TT: Did any of your parents look at other options before it became essential?

JH: There seems to be a fierce desire for independence among their generation, which we share, but there can also be a certain stubbornness and unwillingness to plan ahead.

TT: So you want to maintain independence while recognising realities. Are your present homes suitable?

JH: We've all worked to make our homes more liveable. This includes improvements in energy and water efficiency, and sustainable design. Ironically, some of the hands-on management required would seem to be at odds with ageing in place. Reality would dictate that we should go smaller and simpler, with more passive design incorporating integrated, built-in and shared features. At the same time we want to stay in our local community and be close by to enjoy each other's company and help each other out.

TT: What would such a development look like and where might it be?

JH: Ideally we would buy several blocks in our area and amalgamate them. We would build three or four quite small one-bedroom dwellings, as well as a shared building with guest accommodation and shared laundry, workshop, studio and indoor-outdoor kitchen-barbecue area. The site would feature integrated water harvesting, energy generation and shared gardens and parking. No building would be as big as my present modest [former government-built house]. The site would easily blend with the character of the RZ1 zone, which is where we would prefer to have it.

TT: That, of course, brings up the planning regulations.

JH: Yes, blocks cannot at present be amalgamated in RZ1, nor can more than two dwellings be built on a block, despite its size. There are planning provisions for seniors' developments but they do not take account of small consortiums like ours. I think more flexibility in these matters is inevitable and I look forward to contributing to forthcoming reviews of the planning regulations.

Tony Trobe is president, Australian Institute of Architects ACT.