Emerging trends in aged care design

by Jessica Lee
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The Grace, The Alba

In the bayside leafy suburb of Albert Park in Melbourne’s inner south lies The Alba, an elegant tower that has transformed from a dated office building into a premium aged care residence. 

International design firm Fender Katsalidis designed The Alba and its neighbour, The Grace, with an aim to represent the future of aged care, where sustainability, technology and a continuum of care come together to provide the best possible outcomes for residents. 

The Alba includes 95 residential aged care beds and 60 assisted living apartments designed for people who need additional day-to-day support, but want to remain living independently in their own homes.

Reflecting on the project’s imminent completion, the firm’s “leading voice in seniors’ living design” Jessica Lee gives her top three trends in aged care design and discusses her firm’s desire to create spaces that improve the well-being of seniors. 

Adaptive reuse projects to combat a tight construction market 

In the Australian aged care sector, there is a huge opportunity for more adaptive reuse of existing buildings rather than the construction of new ones, especially in a tight construction market

Across Australia, large government-funded projects forge ahead, including hospitals, transport and a significant amount of infrastructure required to support the 2032 Olympic Games and 2026 Commonwealth Games. 

While it’s an exciting time for the nation, the trade-off is that the high volume of projects being submitted for planning currently outweighs the supply of builders. Ultimately, this decreases competition in the tender market for seniors’ living projects and drives up construction costs. 

Despite this, the need for aged care only increases, compelling the sector to look towards the conversion of established buildings that require only half the construction work and rely on different skill sets, particularly builders with expertise in internal refurbishment. Importantly, this approach also avoids the environmental impact of demolition and provides a new lease of life to ageing assets. 

As we have seen at The Grace and The Alba, adaptive reuse presents alternative avenues for construction in the aged care sector that can be more cost-effective and sustainable in the long run. In the current economy, the entire sector is exploring new ways to re-life and expand its offering. In more ways than one, this is for the better. 

Hybrid approaches to care for couples 

At a conference recently, I was presented with the idea that retirement villages can play a larger role in the provision of aged care, something referred to as ‘Aged Care Lite’. While I agree that many people want to age in place, it is not always possible for these communities to provide a higher level of care. 

This is where the rise of supported living apartments, also known as assisted living residences, can provide a viable alternative. While living independently, residents can gain access to at-home care services that help to uphold their well-being and allow them to age with dignity. 

One of the major benefits of this hybrid model is that it can cater to couples, those who have lived together for a long time and want to stay together but may require different levels of support. With this approach, both parties receive the necessary support, respite and independence. 

With many stigmas and controversies surrounding residential aged care, assisted living presents a highly practical and empathetic solution that is gaining traction among providers and residents alike. 


Interior of The Grace Albert Park Lake, a collection of retirement apartments.

The rise of vertical living in aged care

As our population ages, it is increasingly important that infrastructure is put in place to support the needs of this demographic, including in our inner-city suburbs and established neighbourhoods. 

For many reasons, it may not be sustainable or feasible for the elderly to move out of their local area in search of a home that will meet their care needs. Ideally, they should be able to stay within their neighbourhoods — close to family, friends, and familiar social spaces. This allows them to maintain their sense of belonging and connectedness to their community. 

Vertical aged care can provide purpose-built housing with specialised care services to support an ageing population. This not only benefits our local senior citizens but also the wider community by fostering intergenerational connections and community cohesion. 

Certainly, it is time for the sector, and for the broader community, to explore vertical aged care as a way to offer appropriate housing choices in places our elderly have called home most of their lives.

 Jessica Lee

Jessica Lee’s work is defined by the idea that architecture should be human-centric and her determination for good design to be accessible to more people from all walks of life. Led by her boundless passion for architecture, Lee has become a highly regarded principal at Fender Katsalidis. 

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