The recipe for inclusive and innovative design for seniors living comes down to four key ingredients

Simon Drysdale, Group Director of Seniors Living at ThomsonAdsett

Renowned English author and architectural critic Reyner Banham argued principles of modern design should always consider human engagement, foster interaction and be sympathetic to the environment.

This is particularly the case when it comes to designing seniors living spaces such as lifestyle communities and residential aged care, where good design is informed directly by the needs of those who will use the space now and into the future.

After 20+ years  in the architecture, I have developed the ‘four Es’ to guide good design outcomes in Seniors Living.

As Group Director of ThomsonAdsett’s Senior Living division, I have implemented this thinking to a number of recent projects we’ve been fortunate to work on across Australia, including Tasmania and South Australia, including metropolitan city projects and national clients across a number of masterplans.

Our experience of using the ‘four Es’ is that it helps to create spaces which encourage independence, dignity and places of trust.

So, what are the four Es of good design when it comes to seniors living, and in what order should they be implemented?

The four Es of good design:

  • Engagement
  • Enquiry
  • Experience
  • Enterprise


The simplest and most successful form of engagement in understanding client needs starts with taking the time and investing in the resources to understand who will be using the end product or space, for what purpose and what they expect may be needed into the future.

The outcome is a resilient return brief and less variations later in the delivery because everyone understands the delivery path and appreciates the “I live here” experience.

To achieve this, it is imperative to make a point of engaging with the right people who will be living in the final product.

Too often the wrong stakeholders have the biggest say and the result is an end product which doesn’t reflect the wishes and wants of the community member and their families, and those supporting the resident. Fine tuning your stakeholder list will make the world of difference to the success of your designs in functionality and inclusiveness.

In the case of seniors living, our design process consciously considers the residents and how they will move through the space and interact with it?  Is this experience enhanced by the design or is it hindered by the design?

From non-slip floors to bright colours and unobtrusive security, there are many ways to facilitate ease of movement in safe and comfortable ways for residents.

Also critical to the engagement process is the way seniors living is designed to maintain connections with the external community.

Does the design promote intentional neighbouring with consideration given to who and what facilities and services are nearby, and which can be accessed and supported by those living in the residential village?

COVID-19 has showcased that we are a social and vocal species and that “design for encounter” – or that which encouraged connection –  helps fight loneliness.


Understanding the needs of the end user should always inform the design and encourage and promote the pursuit of knowledge, engagement and connections in design.

Encouraging and maintaining curiosity is essential to combating what we call architecture of sedation.

This can be done through the inclusion of features such as hands-on gardens, private and group learning spaces and places for communal activities such as cooking classes or entertainment.

Touches such as the provision of a children’s playground and a coffee shop encourage residents to host visitors of all ages and keeps them connected to family and friends. Are the spaces designed to encourage and host inter-generational and community connectedness?


Consideration must always be given to how a design will be experienced in physical ways by those using the buildings.

Without understanding the experience of those the design is for, essential elements may be missed. This is most notably the case when it comes to dementia-inclusive design, an important facet of design for residential aged care services.

A constant for our clients is the importance of how their buildings are, and become, experiential ambassadors of their mission values. Bravery, inclusion, enablement, dignity, environment, and quality of life should be integral to any design especially for this community and should foster engagement.

When designing seniors living, you can never have too much information.


In the same way knowledge (enquiry) is ideally promoted and made accessible, so too should enterprise to ensure the residents of senior living villages and communities are able to contribute in ways which promote well-being and connectedness.

Retirement is now increasingly seen as a new opportunity to pursue passions, knowledge and enterprise; and smart designs recognises this.

It is now common to see senior communities designed with dedicated spaces for residents to pursue these connection opportunities. The latent human capital in communities is increasing being viewed as true business opportunities, not only because the spectrum of age engagement, but also because consumer retail demands continue to become more sophisticated.

Residential aged care is no longer considered as a single service silo. They are increasingly becoming knowledge networks merging recreation, retail, lifestyle and volunteer integrated sophistication.

Why the four Es?

When designing residential living for seniors, you are not just designing buildings, you are creating a community. This needs to be reflected in the design from the inclusion of communal areas to establishing sustainable communities which are future proof.

Keeping the four Es in mind is a strong place to start in the process of creating smart, innovative and effective living spaces for seniors living which foster independence and inclusion in the wider community, and promote healthy, active living.

This column was originally published in the Australian Ageing Agenda. To view the article click here.