The Rise of Vertical Aged Care

The aged care sector as a whole has assets of $28 billion, looks after more than 182,000 residents and contributes more than 38,000 jobs. The Department of Health and Ageing suggests that 74,000 additional places need to be built over the next decade.

At the same time the aged care sector is changing. We are moving to a new model of Ageing in Place. This is driving the demand for centrally located facilities: closer to the city, closer to existing amenities and closer to the families and children of residents.

Building in an area with a higher urban density means thinking vertically. But how easy is it to turn the traditional horizontal aged care model vertically? Is it risky or can it be built economically? And what challenges does it pose?

In reality, a vertical aged care facility is no different to a typical traditional village structure.

Below is a picture of Glengollan Village, a new development but a more traditional approach to aged care. The Operations and Clinics are located at the front of the development. In a vertically stacked approach, this moves to the ground floor. Car parking needs to be located within walking distance of the clinics. This would now be the basement level, easily accessible via lift. Intensive Care needs to be close to the Operations hub and is therefore located on the First Floor. The Assisted/Aided Care rooms are traditionally located further away. These now become the top floors, similar to apartment living.

Differing methods of aged care. Image courtesy Meinhardt

To answer the question is it risky or can it be built economically, consider the case of the Alarm Clock Radio. Here the makers combined existing technologies to create a new product.

In the same way by stacking the traditional aged care model by using high-rise construction approaches and technologies and hospital floor plates as the backbone, we can easily create vertical aged care buildings.

The vertical similarities of high-rise residential are clear. We have parking in the basement, a foyer or even commercial level, the apartments in the higher value upper portions of the building and your services at the top.

Horizontally, as with hospitals, there are wet-area set downs, regular grids, suspended banded slabs, and central access cores, used structural for lateral stability and to provide multiple points of egress

Carlton Wellbeing – Building 5

The Carlton Wellbeing Precinct Project in Melbourne will provide three standalone buildings arranged around a new central public park, and will consist of retirement living, aged and assisted care accommodation and community services. Building 5, which is nearing completion, is an example of how vertical aged care can work successfully.

The consultant team, which included architects dwp/Suters and Jackson Architecture, was given the challenge to provide 75 parking spaces, provide large open spaces common to traditional aged care community rooms and common living spaces, but with additional retail opportunities, future proof the development and ensure significant amounts of natural light to give it a homely feel.

The 2 split level floors of the car park needed to cater for staff, resident and family use. The parking spots have fixed dimensions that could not be modified that are set out in the Australian Standards. However, this was resolved using common transfer structures found in most high-rise developments.

Throughout the rest of the project, the design team worked together to eliminate transfer structures and create a flat plate situation for the slab, thus reducing formwork and manual labour costs. As the most expensive part of a building is labour, having thicker slabs and higher material quantities but a simple build is more cost effective.

By reducing steps and changes in geometry in the slabs it speeds up the cycle time to build suspended floors. This process has reduced costs and allowed more architectural features to remain part of the building post tender, creating a more attractive end product.

To create the open spaces needed, by allowing the core to do the work maximises space on the floor plate that would otherwise be taken up with shear walls and larger columns. It also gives freedom to the architect on the appearance of the façade, amount of light and space at the building edge. Again this is an approach we often take in high-rise construction.

The residential floors also had to be flexible for possible future expansion of the wards and potential operational changes, which may require conversion to apartment space. By designing a flat 3kPa general live load – a common solution to this challenge – the desired flexibility has been achieved.

The final challenge of the architectural brief was to blend the building in with the rest of the development and surrounding residential profile of the neighbourhood. In keeping with the flexibility required the engineering team developed a light weight precast wall system that was load bearing to reduce columns. This is typical of residential towers within and around Melbourne.

Taking models and learnings from other sectors vertical aged care is easily achievable and, indeed, Carlton Wellbeing – Building 5 demonstrates that it can be done very successfully.

As the population continues to age and the model of ageing in place gains further traction, there is no reason we will not see the continued rise of vertical aged care.

This article first appeared on, Meinhardt Australia's blog for new ideas, thought leadership and educational events.

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