Arquitectura Viva
Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad: ‘Architectural Challenges Posed by Old Age’

Eduardo Prieto

In 2050, one of every three Spaniards will be over 65 years of age. This will mean a population of more than 15 million with very high life expectancies and specific needs to address. The rest of the Western countries will have similar proportions and the urgency of confronting the ageing process is formidable. Aware of this situation, the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad organized ‘Architectural Challenges Posed by Old Age,’ a lecture series held at the Madrid Insrtitute of Architects on 25-26 October.

Architects, psychologists, economists, sociologists, politicians, anthropologists, physicians, and jurists formed the cast of speakers in a seminar whose main characteristic was its multidisciplinary take, an approach justified by the many dimensions of the ageing problem. The ultimate purpose of the event was to foster analysis of the functional, psychological, economic, and environmental needs and requirements of ‘old age,’ with a view to fomenting the creation of better thought-out architectural and urban spaces.

After welcome remarks by Francisco Mangado, founding trustee of the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad, and Mario Garcés, State Secretary for Social Services, the symposium directed by José María Fidalgo took stock of all the dimensions of the problem at hand through 18 presentations and two round table discussions, and the result was an impressionist but also broad panorama sure to open up new perspectives on the issue.

A Social, Economic, and Architectural Problem

The event began with two complementary lectures of a terminological, medical, anthropological, and social character. Antonio Abellán, CSIC research expert on gerontology, outlined basics on the threshold of old age and its future projections, and Sacramento Pinazo-Hernandis, psychologist and vice-president of the Spanish Geriatric and Gerontology Society, looked at questions like the importance of creating new environments of normality for elderly people, ‘intergenerationality,’ and the concept of ‘useful well-being,’ denouncing the ‘ghettoization’ which, in her opinion, affects senior citizens, however much they see themselves as intellectually, physically, and economically autonomous.

For their part Pedro Gullón, a physician specialized in public health, and Miguel Ángel Valero, director of CEAPAT / IMSERSO, tackled the problem of how the physical environment, in particular the urban one, is a major determinant of the life of elders. This approach was complemented, from an architectural angle, by examples where attention to the needs of old people has been fundamental in defining spaces and atmospheres. The architect Heitor García showed the audience a pioneer case in Denmark where the response to the needs of the elderly goes beyond the actual dwelling and into the realm of urban planning. The anthropologist Victoria Tortosa presented a case in Soria, where the ‘Rural Housekeepers’ initiative is generating creative attention to the serious problem of ageing in rural areas. The architects Juan Núñez and Óscar Ares explained the City of Well-Being and Health in Aldeamayor de San Martín (Valladolid), a reinterpretation of the conventional scheme of a ‘home for the aged.’ And Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid, spelled out some of the strategies behind municipal efforts to make the Spanish capital an age-friendly city.

Old Age and Architectural Types

Focused on the more specifically architectural aspects of the theme, the second part of the seminar began with a look at the problem of housing for ageing people, as much in typology terms as in constructional, environmental, and economic terms. The economist José Antonio Herce assessed the economic impact that the ageing portion of the population could have on the real estate market. Paz Martín, architect running the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad’s Elderly Program, discussed different residential models for seniors from a typological angle. Antonio Aguilar, Director General for Architecture, Housing, and Land at the Public Works Ministry, tackled the political dimension of the problem, presenting the State Housing Plan for 2018-2021. The psychologist and gerontology specialist Mayte Sancho talked about shifts towards housing models that elderly people, increasingly autonomous in every way and accustomed to higher living standards, can identify with.

The problem of accommodations for people in their advanced years – which ultimately translates into the problem of tension between specialization and common shared needs – was illustrated in more descriptive lectures by architects. Esteve Bonell spoke on his projects for elderly people, and Ignacio Olite, director of the Fundación Arquitectura y Sociedad’s Ultzama Summer School, on two rental apartment blocks for assisted living in Azpilagaña and Olite. These more architecturally-focused presentations were complemented by two conferences that threw light on new models of social and architectural management – cooperatives of elderly people – through an innovative case we can consider paradigmatic: the Brisa del Cantábrico Cooperative, presented by its president, Nemesio Rasillo, the values and strategies of which were illustrated in the competition for a residential city won by the architects Alberto Morell and Manuel de Lara.

The seminar ended with two lectures and a round table. The journalist Jesús Ángel González, communications director of Liberty Seguros, tackled the theme of ‘senior mobility’ from the angle of corporate civic responsibility, and the architect and sociologist José María Ezquiaga, dean of the Madrid Institute of Architects, addressed the relationship between the needs of old people and the determinants of urban scale. The round table discussion, moderated by José María Fidalgo, gave rise to interesting reflections on the challenges posed by ageing: the need to foment the autonomy of a growing share of the population, a sector which, though retired from economic activity, still feels useful and productive; the problem of applying standards and regulations and their impact on architectural and urban forms; and the dichotomy between the need for ‘specific’ architectures for elderly people and the socially open and intergenerational nature of public space. These are all open-ended themes bound to have a bearing on the development of a part of architecture from here on.

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