As Australians live longer and longer, the retirement phase is now equivalent to a full quarter of our expected lifespan. And we want more from this final quarter of our lives than traditional aged care provides: we want healthier, more vibrant, more connected living.
The Living Quarters project aspires to play a part in this cultural change — and to show how smart design can help Australians live better, longer.
The new model began as a bespoke solution for retiring sisters — the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. This unique group of residents informed the design at every stage. Convent life had accustomed them to a high degree of communality, many aspects of which they wished to retain. But they also wanted to leave the dormitories behind, and transition to a smaller scale of dwelling that better balanced the private and the communal.
To this end, each Living Quarters dwelling is divided into two distinct areas. In the private program of four generous ensuite bedrooms, each resident has their own “quarter” of the house — with views to the common garden area, openable windows and substantial natural light. In the public program, the communal kitchen/ living/ dining, bathroom, laundry, office and prayer room all enjoy framed views to the natural landscape — and across to the neighbouring dwelling.
The collocation of the two dwellings creates a miniature village of eight residents, with diverse outdoor spaces to encourage a variety of social interaction. The centrally-located outdoor dining table becomes the common hearth of the village. Two smaller courtyards serve as a quiet retreat for one or two people. The common garden doubles as the main arrival point, with the potential for personalised garden plots.
Living Quarters’ intrinsic division into smaller built forms allows the surrounding vegetation to weave between the buildings. Sustainability measures — rooftop solar array, rainwater tanks and double-glazed, openable windows — minimise the environmental impact.
A collective effort with the clients (who already lived onsite) — coupled with professional advice from landscape architect, arborist and architect — informed the siting of the two modular pavilions on the property, with minimal impact on native vegetation. The result was an east-west garden corridor to the living spaces, with a serene bush backdrop.
Materials are honest, functional and inviting. Brick construction with timber windows enhance the project’s natural aesthetic and residential character. The approach is authentic and earnest In this respect Ha Architects draw reference from thoughtfully executed, overseas examples of independent living.
The inherently modular Living Quarters design merits further investigation and iteration. Ha Architects envisages future villages of 16, 24 or 32 residents — which still maintain the intimate scale of residential life.
In the context of an ageing population, an opportunity exists to better meet Australia’s residential needs. For those caught between inaccessible housing stock and large scale aged care facilities, Living Quarters represents a hopeful new approach that puts genuine independent living within reach.
Winner — 2022 NSW Architecture Award (Residential Architecture – Multiple Housing).