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Last updateTue, 31 Mar 2020 12pm

Later Living needs 'Hospitality'

The 'Golden Rule'

In hospitality, there is a golden rule: the customer is always right. This philosophy has underpinned the industry – and the services it provides – for nearly a century. And, in the process, has helped evolve, inform and shape the spaces and services that hospitality offers.

Property Lacks Philosophy

Within the British property industry, there is no such thing as a golden rule. Up to this point, the lack of an underlining philosophy hasn’t been much of a hindrance; homes, towns and cities have been designed, delivered and sustained without following a single, all-encompassing ideal - and these spaces and places continue to flourish to this day.

New Challenges - include Ageing

But times are changing. People are living in different ways, making new demands from the places in which they live, and housing is having to adapt. There are a variety of challenges facing the housebuilding industry - from climate breakdown to affordability - but one challenge that the industry is completely unprepared for is the UK's ageing population, that will mean by 2033, 13 million households will be headed by someone over the retirement age, according to the National Preservation Institute.

International Comparison

Such a dramatic shift will put untold pressures on the housing market, where only one percent of the population currently lives in purpose-built retirement housing. This is a stark comparison to places like Australia and New Zealand, where 14 percent and 15 percent of the population respectively enjoy the benefits of purpose-built retirement housing.

Need for Purpose-Built Housing

The lack of specialist housing has a substantial cost, with the RIBA estimating a cost to the NHS of around £1 billion per year by 2041 due to ill-health and falls. The scarcity of purpose-built housing also has significant knock-on effects further down the market, with housing equity frozen in larger, under-used homes where the elderly residents are unable to downsize due to a lack of viable alternatives. Younger families looking to continue their journey up the housing ladder are being confronted with a shortage of family housing, while elderly homeowners are finding themselves trapped.

Pete Ladhams is managing director at Assael Architecture

Adopt the 'Golden Rule'

To get around this, the UK must reflect on our approach to creating a dedicated, purpose-designed and purpose-built later living sector. And to do this well, we need to adopt hospitality's golden rule that the customer is always king.

Morbidity - or Rhapsody?

By putting the customer first in later living, the industry can navigate the cultural baggage that retirement housing currently carries. It's no doubt that retirement housing invites morbid images of places where people live out their twilight years, lonely and often isolated. And this must be challenged - and eventually transformed - by attentively listening to the customer and adapting the spaces and offering the industry creates.

Independently Connected

From the field research we have conducted at Assael Architecture, we have found that what the customer wants isn't unique to their age bracket. They want to feel connected, be able to remain independent and active, with spaces where loved ones can visit, eat and socialise. By no means is this demographic a homogenous group, but there is a consistent theme around empowerment - being empowered to stay active, get out and about, fill their lives with whatever takes their fancy and, when needed, receive the care that elderly people often require in old age.

Customer-Centric Approach

So, how would this customer-centric approach translate into built form? It would be primarily urban, so residents can benefit from the abundance of public amenity and social infrastructure on offer, it would be aspirational, with a strong service offering that entails community-initiatives, and it would have a care element threaded into the scheme so that it is there when residents need it, but is not front and centre of the offering.


For designers, architectural beauty and the flexibility to bend to the needs of the customer is crucial. Not only must residents find the building design aesthetically pleasing, it must be able to appeal to a wide range of tastes and styles, as well as being open to personalisation. The interiors must be adaptable to the developing needs and care requirements of the residents, integrating wayfinding to help residents navigate the building and incorporating design features that are conscious of illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer's.

Put the Customer FIRST!

Concentrating on the wants and needs of the customer is the only viable way that later living can scale up to the capacity needed in the UK. This is a great - and rare - opportunity to learn. And what we learn as an industry will undoubtedly be transferable, as more and more residential products shift towards a more substantial form of service offering. A successfully scaled-up later living sector will only come about through an understanding that the customer is always right. If we aren't prepared to heed to that golden rule, we will fail to serve the people we design for.

Addressing the Issues

Later Living, New Nesters, Cross-Generational – whatever the sector clearly more new homes are required globally. Making them 'Off-Site' using the latest technology, innovative materials and digitising design stacks up well in terms of making them more economically and cot effectively. Some of the work of architects and surveyors in the process in the Design for Manufacture & Assembly (DfMA) requirement means that housebuilders and contractors can still to incorporate 'Off-Site' into their procedures and processes without necessarily building 'me-too' volumetric boxes (although they have a place). Better still, they can seek partnering arrangements with such manufacturers to gain all-round benefits.


As Off-Site Construction matures into Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) this is clearly at the forefront in turning construction workers into technical deliverer and enablers for such delivery. Additionally, new homes will very soon be 'Smart' in numerous ways, including full incorporation of energy-saving and TIoT (the internet of things) to deliver major components. This is something that 'Off-Site'. DfMA (Design for Manufacture & Assembly) will need to seriously consider as the industry moves forward.

Collaborative Partnering

Greater collaborative 'partnering' between architects, builders and  manufacturers is needed to accomplish this The greater speed, accuracy and quality that can result from manufacturing components in a dry, controlled factory environment, together with the ability tom incorporate (yet to be invented) 'Smart Ware'  gives home builders perhaps the only way of achieving this, together with improved on-site build quality AND controlling costs.

Resistance Disappearing

While resistance to the change to DfMA has been the norm, the wish of most UK Builders to deliver excellent customer service and top-notch homes is now driving an increasing number to choose Off-Site for their developments. Also, as 'OffSite Hub' note, architects and designers are moving toward DfMA, something we have been encouraging for over 20 years. The emergence of LA Developers will only speed up this process.

Easy Timber Frame

To assist them in doing so our "Easy Timber Frame" now offers standard size modular timber-frame elements for them to use as a design base, cutting down on technical design and engineering to produce win-win results.

Better all-round Savings

Our specialist services and CUSTOM homes division deliver the best value and protect the interests of landowners, house-builder developers, professionals and private individuals seeking to build their dream home. Our off-site construction systems also reduce the amount of material that gets wasted on site, helping to avoid landfill, hazardous waste separation and handling, They also deliver better value for you and your customers.

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