Internationally, we are seeing change occurring rapidly as the private and public sectors take steps to ‘”redesign” environments for a rapidly ageing population.
In Wales, Northern Ireland and England for example, there is now a requirement for all state sector-funded public housing to meet accessibility standards. And from 2013, all private sector dwellings will be built to the standards.
Likewise, closer to home in Australia, two of the industry’s leading organisations, Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association, have agreed to make all new homes compliant with Lifetime (or Universal) Design principles by 2020.
In New Zealand, there is a clear preference for a “self-regulatory” approach. Meanwhile, taxpayers are footing multi-million dollar bills for retrofitting homes so that ageing and disabled people can continue to live in them.
There is a fantastic entrepreneurial opportunity for builders, architects and designers to get ahead of the ageing wave and ride it. This requires a greater level of awareness of the full scale of problems and the opportunities than at present.
Without this, we ultimately risk leaving a legacy of inaccessible housing for future generations, who will have to foot the retrofitting bills.
The cost to the country is a planning and design catastrophe as all our basic assumptions around housing fall out of date.
However, in the absence of regulations and guidelines, the Lifemark provides a solution. A quality assurance scheme, the Lifemark gives the building sector a ready made package of comprehensive, research-based design principles for adaptable and accessible, cost-effective housing.
Architects can also use these to offer value to their clients, talking them through the various ways their home can be made more accessible. Additionally, the Lifemark can add value to their client’s home as a property market investment offering a clear point of sale to a wider market.
Investment in designing and building accessible and adaptable homes from scratch in New Zealand is crucial if the country is to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and other nations who have all recognised the importance of homes that last a lifetime.