Designing for Longevity
INTERIOR DESIGNERS HAVE A BIG ROLE TO PLAY as our
nation undergoes the biggest demographic shift since the post-World War II baby boom. That realization hit home with me
when I attended the Clinton Foundation Health Matters Summit
this past January. At the opening plenary session, “The Quest for
Longevity and Our Rising Death Rates,” moderated by former
President Bill Clinton, panelists discussed evidence-based strategies for improving longevity. A key takeaway from that session
was that health, wellness, and longevity depend on many factors,
including the physical environment and socialization. People live
longer, healthier lives when their living environment encourages them to be active and interactive with others, regardless of
their age or level of physical ability. As one of the panelists stated,
designing for longevity is part of the solution for an aging world.
Never before in human history have so many people lived for so
long. Yet, most of the existing built environment has been designed
for healthy, active, young and midlife adults. We have a huge task
ahead of us to redesign these spaces to support people as they age,
When we talk about aging in place, we usually think of single-
family homes in the suburbs. But as New York’s Age-Friendly N YC
Initiative in this issue’s cover story points out (pages 28-33), many
elderly Americans live in cities or are contemplating moving from
the suburbs to the city. This is putting pressure on city governments
and urban planners to ensure that housing, streets, transportation,
and public spaces are accessible and safe for older citizens.
Health issues can affect quality of life as we age, but so can the
loss of family, friends, and loved ones. I was struck by what Dan
Buettner, who has studied and written extensively on why some
people live longer than others, said during the panel discussion:
The impact of loneliness on health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The happiest human beings, he said, have six to seven
hours of socialization a day. It is critical, therefore, that people not
be made prisoners of poor design in their homes and places of work.
We must ensure that spaces are accessible and supportive for all,
to encourage physical and social activity.
Addressing this issue will require the cooperation and coordination of governments, builders, planners, advocates for the elderly,
communities, and those engaged in the remodeling and renovation industry. Interior designers have a major contribution to make.
They are best qualified to design and implement spaces, whether
new or renovated, that meet the full range of needs of older adults
now and in the future—making them not only functional, accessible, healthy, safe, and welcoming to visitors, but also beautiful
As this issue’s “Making Code” article demonstrates (pages
40-41), designers also can be instrumental in effecting changes in
building codes and other legislation by helping to write or revise
existing codes and by advocating at the state and local level for
the adoption of codes that require design for longevity in future
building and renovation projects.
Designing for longevity is not just about the needs of the elderly.
It encompasses the entire life spectrum, emphasizing the importance of health, wellness, and design for everyone in all aspects of
the built environment. Through good design, we can live longer
and live better.
Randy W. Fiser