Through demographic change
Architecture and housing construction are almost consistently geared towards the requirements and demands of younger, healthier working adults, often neglecting the needs of children as well as those of older people.
When it comes to architecture and housing construction with regard to demographic change on the other hand, thoughts generally shift towards housing provision for the elderly.
In contrast to the varied life perspectives which ageing holds, the images of age emerging here are clearly less differentiated, though, and hardly do justice to the heterogeneity of old age. For the most part, this stage of life is examined under polarising perspectives: Being young and active in contrast to a deficit model which characterises ageing mainly in terms of loss, frailty and illness – lifestyle living as opposed to accessibility.
Such a view of old age living fails to recognise, however, that the rising number of older people is not accompanied by a rising number of those who are restricted due to their age. In individual biographies, demographic ageing leads to a gain in healthy and active years. Ageing then primarily means extending the time for potentially taking an active part in life and not a dramatic extension of a phase of frailty and infirmity. It is still without doubt that accessibility is helpful and absolutely required. The focus should nonetheless be on architectural design and housing construction which allow communication and cooperation in daily life for healthy and active older people – but not only for them. This in turn is not just a problem of technically feasible accessibility or even technically perfect living quarters equipped with the respective aids. What is missing is a dimension that requires technical functionality in moderation but clearly goes beyond it. A dimension resulting from demographic change embedded in cultural change, a change from ability to being¹.
So those who understand that old age as we perceive it today did not exist in the past and will probably not exist in the future – because old age is the result of accumulated life experiences which change with every generation – should understand “good bathroom design” from a modern perspective as follows:
Good bathroom design is not an end in itself. Its expression rather corresponds to human requirements at each stage of life. This means it is not only about attractive styling but about rooms that have to meet the current requirements of people and should take into account any expected developments to a reasonable extent.
Planning and construction of bathrooms are becoming ever more complex through technical and financial requirements as well as through growing challenges for the careful use of our environment and resources.
In addition to coping with technical, ecological and economic requirements, planning has to do justice to the social shifts linked to demographic change. For planners this means that they have to create “demography-proof” bathroom design by using innovative concepts. Whether the adaptation of the living environment to the respective requirements is referred to as “accessible living” or “barrier-free living” is of no consequence. What matters in the end is achieving the highest possible level of comfortable living and quality of life for everyone in the home.
¹ Schulze, Gerhard, Die Sünde. Das schöne Leben und seine Feinde, Frankfurt/Main 2008