“Intergenerational housing: Approaches to different vital needs” is the title of the round table that took place in the afternoon session of the second day of the Barcelona Housing and Renovation Forum (FHAR) organised by the Municipal Institute of Housing and Renovation (IMHAB) of the Barcelona City Council.
The speakers – Gaspar Mayor, manager of the Municipal Housing Trust of Alicante; Zaida Muxí, architect and author of the book Women, Homes, and Cities; and Ana Fernández, architect at Cohousing LAB – explained their experiences in the design and promotion of intergenerational housing, highlighting the benefits it brings to residents and the community.
Different experiences in the Netherlands
Architect Ana Fernández, with more than thirty years of professional experience, shared how intergenerational projects are taking form in the Netherlands. “Now we have to see if these can be applied in Catalonia,” she said.
Fernandez explained that in the Netherlands there are housing associations with a long history that enjoy a variety of economic and fiscal benefits from the State. These associations have great importance in the real estate market, and 60% of social housing for rent is in the hands of these associations.
“These associations carry out diverse intergenerational projects that have been carefully planned by architects and designed for the benefit of all the people who live in them,” Fernández explained.
Among the examples of intergenerational housing, we find a building constructed in 1976 that was initially inhabited exclusively by young people, “but later they decided that it should be intergenerational so the community would be made more interesting through diversity; exchange is encouraged, learning between different generations is more interesting, and the mutual benefit is greater,” explained the expert. In this case, the tenants share the garden, a workshop and an office.
A second example is from 1990, and we find a great variety in types of housing that facilitate the coexistence of young people with older people, some with dependencies. In this case, the property has a large patio that is open to residents, which promotes exchange, as well as an interior garden for members of the project. On the ground floor, there are community services.
The third example that Ana Fernández gave combines housing for young people with physical and mental disabilities and older people. “Before defining the type of housing, we talked with potential residents to find out exactly what would benefit them in their day to day life,” said the architect. Finally, it was decided to install a bar-restaurant that the young people manage and that offers a catering service for the older people. In addition, the housing is flexible and adaptable and encourages young people and the elderly to interact and innovate together.
Another example is that of housing for informal caretakers and people needing care. “The State realises that it is more economical to have this type of housing, where both the informal caregiver, who could be a child, a parent, a sibling… and the person being cared for, who would otherwise pay for professional caregivers, can live. The homes are connected, but everyone lives in their own house,” said Fernandez.
The final example is a project yet to be built, but that will aim to unite older people who have dedicated their lives to farming with young people with disabilities, and facilitating mutual aid. “The elderly will teach how to cultivate the land, or repair bicycles, for example, and the young people will help them do the shopping, go to the doctor … It will work like a time bank, where everyone wins.”
For Fernández, it is very important that architects anticipate trends, understanding the needs of the different groups. “We have to create typologies that can bring together different generations, promote participatory processes,” said the architect, who is currently promoting the intergenerational aflorEM project for people affected by multiple sclerosis in Catalonia, as the closing point to her speech.
The sum of elderly and young people
Gaspar Mayor explained the intergenerational rented housing projects that have been carried out in Alicante. “Older people have a high level of vulnerability and low visibility, and measures were needed to avoid discrimination in housing access,” explained Mayor.
Faced with this reality, they chose to make special homes for the elderly, who also have problems with fear and loneliness, which can only be solved with other people and shared living.
The Lonja de Caballeros home for the elderly started off on the wrong foot. Two of his tenants died soon after the inauguration, and someone named the residence “the funeral home.” Aware that they had to try a different approach, Mayor and his team chose to open the proposal to young people under 35 with social concerns, a commitment to solidarity, and the desire to be a good neighbour, “which is as simple as showing concern for the people around you, who live in the same building.” Now, for every four elderly people, there is one young person, who is the one to respond to any abnormal situation.
“The project is an opportunity. We charge 200 euros a month, with a concierge, and we do not have defaulters,” said Gaspar Mayor. “In addition, it prolongs independence, and prevents isolation, loneliness and fear.”
Society changes, and housing does too
Architect Zaida Muxí began her speech by explaining how society and housing have evolved over the years. “It is worth asking ourselves who our housing is for, as society is becoming increasingly diverse and changing, family groups have changed, and the uses of spaces are also different. Today people work and study at home, and we must keep that in mind when it comes to building the places where these people will live.”
Muxí gave the example of a new neighbourhood created with women in mind, which led to various uses of the same complex, including a shopping area, a day care centre, an educational centre … “All that women might need to be on top of their day to day life and achieve the greatest balance of work and family life “.
The architect concluded: “We have to rethink how we live and how we want our homes, according to vital needs, according to each stage of life. And changing our homes according to these needs is normal.”