The intergenerational residence is a new idea based on an old model. Will it keep its original advantages following the upheavals of the last two years both in the private and public domain?
Indeed, it is about people of different ages who live together and share their dynamics as well as their time. In the past, this was done within extended families or groups of very close people. More recently, this concept has been introduced in certain homes for the elderly. A thought that could switch in times of an epidemic. In the last two years, indoor life and life in public spaces has undergone severe upheaval. Will the intergenerational residence retain its original advantages?
The benefits of intergenerational projects are known, and the few developments in France or around the world pave the way for the future. In an age of physical distancing, self-isolation, and the loss of most contacts, we may be heading for a future where we need to be more united. Our priorities today are the protection of people and the ability to ensure their livelihood. But when we emerge from this crisis, it will be necessary - even essential - to seriously debate future lifestyles. Intergenerational housing, in which the elderly can live independently while being part of a united group, could be one of the building blocks of 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 of ideas in Portland on the subject of intergenerational housing. It concerns a vacant plot located not far from down-town Saint-Denis which at the time contained an abandoned hangar and on which the agency imagined several developments. The latter are composed of housing for students but also for the elderly. Each inhabitant has 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" declares Pierre de Montigny, remembering his design called: "Auberge du dialogue des âges". A design that not only delighted the jury but could have been realized. Except that the idea remained on paper and it is only today that we realize its necessity.
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 the 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 the places of their activities.
© Luc Boegly
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, the project houses seniors and students. Everyone is at home in their own fully equipped accommodation, spread over two buildings. One of the two entities is old, while the other consists of a contemporary extension designed with thought and attention. Architect Stefania Stera intelligently composed the whole. The meeting places consist of a large kitchen, a courtyard and a laundromat that also serves as a lounge as well as a necessary computer space for some residents: the spaces necessary to maintain a minimum of social connection.
© Stéphane Chalmeau
© Stéphane Chalmeau
Another equally functional example – and this is a novelty - 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 (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 lead to a typical realization that highlights new ways of living including free access for first-time buyers, flat-sharing and senior residences, all with the aim of breaking isolation. 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 architecture firm Helen & Hard based in Stavanger, into an experimental cohabitation project. The concept supported and realized by the National Museum of Norway presented a concrete example of an intergenerational project based on participation and sharing.
It is necessary to add that these various initiatives introduced around the world contribute to the improvement of the dimension of common spaces while preserving that of private spaces. Intergenerational housing needs an active commitment and the voluntary participation of the inhabitants in the management of their new living environment. It is probably an alternative to isolation and an accelerator of social connection that will return in force after the pandemic period that has changed many of our habits. Architecture is an important means in the process of this project.
Originally written by Sipane Hoh