Aging-in-Place: Universal Design is in Demand (2008 – updated 2021)

by James V. Vitale, AIA, LEED AP

Born in 1947, I am one among 77 million boomers born between 1946 and 1964. A 2008 article in Buildings magazine indicated that we boomers represent almost a trillion dollars in disposable income. As such we represent one of the fastest growing markets for well designed and useable goods and services in the in the U.S.

My now 70 – plus generation is sophisticated, active, independent and with unprecedented buying power. With it our impact on the building products and design industry is far-reaching and filled with opportunity for those who have insight into how to market to this influential crowd. There is truly “green in grey.”

Embracing Aging-in-Place Baby boomers is generating huge demand for products and services; for the building industry, the aging of the baby boomers presents enormous opportunities.

Back in 1990, as we were entering the ‘91 recession, I wrote an article on “niche” marketing for the CCAIA Journal. In it I pointed out the need for small and large firms alike to identify emerging markets for services. Design for Aging is a market that was forecast at that time, but only embraced by a few. Just like schools, the market is growing in proportion to the population. Given its life expectancy, this market has greater opportunities for design creativity and greater “green” revenue potential for us all. Consider the birth of and demand for assisted living facilities as boomers downsize their housing needs. Consider too the specialized solutions for facilities responsive to the needs of diverse users; to this add the new ADU market.

Recent studies show that upwards of 85 percent of people over the age of 65 want to continue living at home, whether that home be a condominium complex, a retirement community, or a private home. Commonly referred to as “aging-in-place,” it means living in one’s own dwelling safely, independently, and comfortably – regardless of age, income, or ability level.

Aging-in-place has the even broader definition of individuals enjoying the pleasures of living in their own familiar environments throughout their maturing years. This design concept means the ability to enjoy familiar daily rituals, thus enriching special events and socialization with friends and family members.

Those of us who seek to age-in-place, require varying degrees of facility modifications to make living spaces more “age-friendly.” Typical modifications to consider in new construction or modernization projects include equipping doors and faucets with easy-to-use levers instead of knobs; installing windows that are easy to open and close; furnishing grab bars and curbless showers in bathrooms; lowering light switches; and raising outlets for easy wheelchair access.

Jumping on the Bandwagon designing a condominium complex, retirement community or retail/entertainment facility that is age-friendly makes good business sense. “Everyone has a connection, we all know someone who can benefit from accessible design.”

This is true and beneficial to all of us, not just boomers and individuals with disabilities. It makes good “cents” for designers and manufacturers. It is a market ripe for innovation.

Aging-in-place is driven by the end-user; just as the public is beginning to understand the value of modernization and universal design, the building and building products communities are also realizing that the cost to design and build a new facility with accessible features is minimal when compared to the cost of traditional assisted living.

Present demand far exceeds supply.

The “Boomer” Mindset; exploring the mindset of baby boomers is critical to understanding their zest for life and their aversion to anything that makes them feel old, including grab bars and other products that feel “institutional.”

Just as we are retooling our entertainment systems for new products, so too will manufacturers retool products to accommodate the needs of in-place agers.


DFA Newsletter Summer 2008 Vitale – The American Institute of Architects. “The challenge for builders and product manufacturers is to remove the stigma and promote [the] convenience that aging-in-place design features play in creating accessible, barrier-free environments,” says Val Rogers, certification and testing project leader at Weather Shield Windows and Doors.

As baby boomers grow older, the demand for universally-designed retirement communities, condominium complexes, and homes is growing exponentially. “Anyone who has the insight to see what is coming down the turnpike is going to be building barrier-free living environments,” he adds.

Boomers represent a new beginning for architects and designers, as they will be followed by ever increasing numbers of Generation X & Yers who will be seeking and expecting even greater design innovations.

James V. Vitale, AIA, LEED AP is an access consultant, adjunct professor (rtd), lecturer and member of the Design for Aging Community You can reach him at: [email protected].


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