As Australia’s approach to retirement living moves from the segregation model, ie the old ‘stand-alone’ nursing home, to a more integrated, community-based model, operators and developers would be well placed to look to the retail and commercial sectors for lessons in connectivity and even profitability, according to PDT Architects Director Laurence Taylor.


Laurence suggests that the commercially-driven mixed-use model of inner-urban retail and CBD commercial property may provide a solution to some challenges currently facing retirement developers.


“Today, cities including Brisbane, are struggling with the challenge of providing appropriate accommodation for older people in places where these people actually want to live, and that’s usually within the community to which they have always belonged,” Laurence said.


“And the second challenge then of course, is how to meet this demand for retirement accommodation in a way which keeps people connected to the world beyond the fence of the retirement village.


“Clearly, we don’t have the land in the inner-city or even the middle ring to spread out, so we must go up. But this also presents challenges, including how to achieve positive integration for those living in the village, but also connectivity to and through the village for neighbours and others in the community.”


Laurence suggests that the vertical village concept is only part of the answer.


“Going up, as in a vertical village featuring stacked apartments, solves the problem of sprawl and provides the opportunity to develop near-city sites for retirement where zoning will allow.


“But what if we were to open up and activate the ground plane of these villages in the same way that a commercial building might have cafes, shops and laneways at street level? We could both engage the community, connect the residents to the social framework nearby and as an added bonus, also create an entirely new revenue platform for the village operator.”


In design terms, this means a focus on integration and vertical layering which can be achieved through design and a clever approach to product mix and tenancy consideration.


DMA Partners’ Managing Director Ryan Andersen said, “This model fits well with the lifestyle trend of eating out and the rise of food and beverage precincts in the suburbs.


“We are continuing to do a lot of work in the retail space and there is an intense focus by owners and operators on delivering a quality food and beverage offering.


“It is possible to see how this concept could be translated to retirement villages in the suburbs and effectively achieve two things – ground plane activation and a new income stream for the retirement village, but also new spaces for neighbourhood social activity built around dining,” Mr Andersen said.


Laurence Taylor said, “If we thought about the ground floor as being the social and community space, we could identify revenue opportunities with retailers who could service both the village and the surrounding community.


“Then, if we considered a first floor as a service layer, perhaps with medical suites and other serviced office space, we could provide both the things the retirees need but also generate income through new GLA.


“These type of services – medical, pathology, physiotherapy for example – don’t need a street presence but do want to be close to their clients. And, while they are technically within the retirement village, they would have strong connectivity to the broader community if the ground plane was effectively designed.”


Laurence said, “By creating a commercial framework which does not rely solely on resident contributions, we may be able to solve both the isolation problem for residents and also generate additional revenue to support the maintenance and operation of the village.


“This could even go some way to offsetting expenses which are on costed for village upkeep and therein deliver a further benefit to the older residents.


“Retail is not necessarily the answer but by exploring a variety of options on the ground plane we may just be able to use clever urban planning and design to deliver benefits to both the retirement village and the community in which it sits.”


Laurence Taylor is a Director/Partner with PDT Architects, and has collaborated with DMA Partners on development projects over many years.