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January 16, 2017: John Brown, Environmental Design at the University of Calgary.   John Brown, U of C webpage

Alex McFadden introduced John Brown. He is currently Associate Dean of Research and Professor of Architecture in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary. He recently completed his PhD from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He has been teaching for the past twenty-five years.

Through Housebrand, he has designed over 250 new home and rebuilding projects. John's "Aging In Place Laneway Homes" research and design was recognized by the mayor's Urban Design Award in Housing Innovation in 2015.

This is thinking outside the box - literally. That "box" or house doesn't fit for every senior in every way. John looks at aging more as a staircase progression from the childhood to middle age to old age. He uses that same staircase model to show three stages of old age : young-old where there is a shifting lifestyle; then the middle-old with shifting ability, and finally the oldest-old encompassing shifting health.

There is an ecological movement of aging that interacts with the environment, and that is housing. Resilience is the capacity of an ecological system to adapt to stress. So add to our staircase functional resilience for the young-old, emotional resilience for the middle-old, and physical resilience for the oldest-old. This may encompass physical and/or cognitive issues, chronic disease and terminal illness.

The models showing personal competence against the years of age have the typical house being limiting, even detrimental, to ability early on in one's life span. What John's model proposes is extending and/or postponing independent living as one ages. He wants smart houses that will augment their world and augment independence.

But how? is the question. For that there isn't just one answer. John uses the example of eye glasses. They are not considered a medical device, and they come in many different styles and colors and shapes of frames. One chooses based on how they look. They are a part of ourselves, and we should choose houses in the same way. After an occupational therapist has been into a home and installed grab bars and other aids everywhere, what do we say? The person who lives here is not doing as well, they are sick. Back to the eye glasses: nobody knows our prescription, nor should they. It is a private matter; the same with one's home.

The Laneway House is part of the next generation of "aging in place" housing. In Canada, every day 10,000 people turn 70 years of age. The need is clearly there as our population ages. There is design functionality that combines mass customization and even digital monitoring and sensory devices. This allows the home to be adaptable to meet the changing levels of one's physical and cognitive needs. All the while maintaining the domestic aspect of the home and extending the independence of the person living there.

This home is only 450 square feet, prefabricated, temporary and adaptable. Your doctor prescribes this type of housing and the house could be placed on your lot, your family's lot, or a friend's lot using the laneway access or a crane. The proximity to the main house provides both privacy and adjacency. It is portable and leased. At the end, the unit would be taken away and redeployed. The unit is fine-tuned and customized to the resident's changing profile as they age.

Most of the medical paraphernalia is out of sight in modular walls. We do not need to make houses for the elderly look like a hospital. Some of the features include hand rails on the cabinetry, and under-mount lighting for those nightly trips to the bathroom. There are hidden sensory devices that can measure how much the patient is walking, or can take the patient's weight to detect rapid weight gain/loss, or automatically turn off the stove for a dementia patient.

The bathroom has a privacy area with a sliding door for the toilet and shower. It also boasts a common area where medical needs can be taken care of by the patient themselves or, when required, by a care giver. This maintains the patient's dignity. The bedroom also has a full medical wall that can be adjusted to different medical modules to end of life.

John has been working on this project for four years with colleagues in environmental design, the Cummings School of Medicine, W2IC, a systems research and innovation team at U of C and the Calgary Zone of Alberta Health Services.

Testing of the prototype will commence this spring. The City of Calgary has given approval to the prototype. Data will be collected over a three-month period from the residents, their families, the health care team, neighbours and the community. The data will be used to assess, not only the medical effectiveness, but the functionality of the home and the impact on the neighbourhood and community. This has potential in a rural setting, a flotilla of units outside a care facility, and for those just out of hospital needing stop-gap care.

Who knows, one day you or I may be living in a Laneway House! None of us are getting any younger, as Ron Brookes pointed out in thanking our speaker. The world famous Boltman was presented, and in our Jubilee year he is wearing a gold hat.

  • Ron Brookes, John Brown, and Terry Felton
    Ron Brookes, John Brown, and Terry Felton

reported by Judy Cochran

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