National design competition challenges architects to transform residential aged care homes
Designers tasked with trialing draft National Aged Care Design Principles on two hypothetical sites. Image: Canva.
  • National design competition aims to improve aged care homes for older adults.
  • Architects invited to submit proposals for urban and regional development scenarios.
  • While competition spotlights architectural challenges, other issues drive aged care accomodation crisis.

The Department of Health and Aged Care recently announced the Reimagining where we live national design competition to encourage building welcoming, safe, accessible, and dementia-friendly aged care homes.

According to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, under half of residential aged care homes utilise accessible, dementia-friendly design principles, emphasising the competition’s topicality.

Details of the competition

One of the competition’s main objectives is to trial the draft National Aged Care Design Principles and Guidelines document, published in September.

Here, architects and designers are invited to submit design proposals for two hypothetical sites and development scales:

• A 5,000 sqm urban metro development site housing no less than 100 residents.
• A 12,000 sqm regional town development site for 60 residents.

Applying the new aged care principles and guidelines, contestants are expected to show how good design improves the lives and well-being of older adults by giving them a home that affords privacy, control, as well as encouraging stronger bonds with family, friends, and the community.

Contestants can submit proposals for either or both hypothetical sites. Multiple separate entries are allowed.

Furthermore, multidisciplinary design teams led by registered Australian architects or graduates of an Australian-accredited architectural program are eligible to participate in the competition.

The first prize is $50,000; an additional prize of $20,000 may be recommended for exceptional proposals.

Submissions will be judged by an independent expert jury comprising nine distinguished design and aged care sector professionals, together with insights from people living with dementia.

The competition closes on 15 December 2023 at noon AEDT. Minister for Aged Care, Anika Wells, will announce the winners by the end of April 2024.

Peak architectural bodies endorse competition

The Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) have endorsed the design competition.

AIA national president, Stuart Tanner, said his organisation’s support spotlights the urgency of aged care accommodation and the opportunity to make a positive change.

“Extensive research demonstrates that good design and architecture leads to improved liveability,” he said.

The broader issues underlying aged care accommodation crisis

A Victoria-based registered architect, Brad Hooper, told The Property Tribune that while he welcomed the publicity the competition would generate, he worried about the allotted time frame.

“Putting this issue out for discussion and consideration is welcome,” he said.

“A competition is one way to do this and will have value if all the responses are curated and analysed – not just the ‘winners’ – remembering Utzon’s Opera House competition entry was initially binned.”

Brad Hooper, architect

“Unfortunately, the time allowed for the competition is inadequate for entrants to do deep research of the problem.”

Hooper pointed out the tendency for architectural competitions to obscure the broader factors underlying the aged care accommodation crisis.

“Also, architectural competitions will default to built form solutions when bigger societal, economic, cultural and financial issues are driving the aged care accommodation crisis.

“But, having stated that, if the built environment of aged care accommodation can be improved, then promoting ideas to do so is welcome.”

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