Intergenerational living is a new idea based on an old model. Will the concept and the advantages therein survive following the upheavals of the last two years, both in the private and public domain?
At heart, the idea is about people of different ages who live together and share experiences as well as their time. In the past, this was done within extended families or groups of people who were very close. More recently however, this concept has been introduced in certain homes for the elderly. Given the severe upheavals indoor life and even life in public spaces has suffered during the pandemic, the question is can the original concept of intergenerational living and all the original advantages it brings continue?
The benefits of intergenerational living projects are well-known and the few initial developments in France or around the world can pave the way for the future. After a time of physical distancing, self-isolation, and the loss of most human contact, we may be heading, post-pandemic, for a future where we need to be more united.
Our priorities during the pandemic were the protection of the most vulnerable people in society. But as we emerge from this crisis, it has become necessary, even essential to seriously debate the lifestyles of the future. Intergenerational housing, in which the elderly can live independently, while being part of a united group, could be one of the metaphorical building blocks for a better future.
© Mutations Architectes
A subject for an ideas competition
In 2014, the architectural firm Mutations Architectes received the first prize in a competition in Portland to come up with ideas around intergenerational housing. Its submission concerned a vacant plot located not far from downtown Saint-Denis, which at the time contained an abandoned hangar and on which the studio imagined several developments. One of these would be housing for students but also include accommodation for the elderly. Each inhabitant would have the opportunity to enjoy community spaces, such as the workshops or the shared garden, while having their own home and retaining their privacy. It was a question of "designing sequences of life” said Pierre de Montigny from Mutations Architectes, recalling this design concept which was called: "Auberge du dialogue des âges". This design not only delighted the jury but also could have been realised. Alas, the idea remained on paper and it’s only today that we realise just how necessary it is.
In the world
In Canada, Great Britain, Belgium and elsewhere the construction of intergenerational housing has been emerging for many years. These are mostly projects carried out by associations and located not far from cities. Some residences even have medical facilities for the elderly who will be able to participate in the life of the city when they feel like it or when their health permits it. Meanwhile, other residents, usually young students, can easily access their places of study and other activities.
In France, there are some exemplary projects that, within a few years, are likely to encourage the building of others. The intergenerational residence in Lille, for example, which was instigated by the project manager of Villa-Village, led by the agency Stera Architecture, is worth a mention. Indeed, this project houses both seniors and students alike. Everyone is at home in their own fully-equipped accommodation, spread over two buildings. One of these buildings is older, while the other consists of a contemporary extension thoughtfully designed with care and attention. Architect Stefania Stera is responsible for this intelligent design composition. The meeting places consist of a large kitchen, a courtyard and a laundromat that also serves as a lounge, as well as a computer suite required by some residents: all the spaces necessary to maintain a minimum of social connection.
© Stéphane Chalmeau
© Stéphane Chalmeau
Another equally functional example, this one brand new, is the Rennes agency a/LTA, managed by Maxime Le Trionnaire and developed by Gwenaël Le Chapelain. Named ‘La Lyre’, the building is located in the ZAC (a mixed housing development zone) Normandie Saumurois in the north of Rennes. The concept was born following several urban workshops between the various operators and architects to investigate new ways of living, including free access for first-time buyers, flat-sharing and senior residences, all with the aim of breaking the feeling of isolation. This is an unprecedented program that includes 8 housing units reserved for the elderly, a residence dedicated to student flat sharing and another dedicated to guests, without forgetting a common room and a garden open and accessible to all residents.
Other forms to explore
Finally, the Nordic pavilion of the Venice Biennale 2021 was transformed, thanks to the intervention of Stavanger-based architecture firm Helen & Hard, into an experimental cohabitation project. The concept supported and realised by the National Museum of Norway was presented as a concrete example of an intergenerational project based on participation and sharing. These various initiatives from around the world improve the discourse around the need for
common spaces while at the same time preserving some element of private space for residents. Intergenerational housing needs an active commitment and the voluntary participation of the inhabitants in the management of their new living environment. It is part of a concerted effort to address isolation and an accelerator of social connection that we shall likely witness more of as we emerge fully from the pandemic, a period that has changed so many of our habits. Architecture and the design of intergenerational living has an important role to play in this process of societal change.
Originally written by Sipane Hoh