The boomer generation is once again blazing its own trail as they’ve always done. This time, they’re turning the senior housing market upside down. In fact, the impact is so significant that a new building type, or typology if you will, has clearly emerged.

This typology has been defined by a variety of names and definitions over the years including senior living, nursing homes, assisted care, assisting living, retirement homes, memory care, skilled nursing, residential care, and convalescent care. Surely, you’ve heard of many of these and have some type of planning and design experience with several. But make no mistake, the market as it exists today is a direct response to the unique needs and attributes being requested by the boomer generation.

The shifts taking place are a direct result of the boomers “coming of age,” intentionally and methodically moving from homes where they raised their families to smaller housing alternatives. In some instances this is a proactive move by choice. In other instances, this move is required either for health or financial reasons.

What’s now becoming a rapidly growing “environments for aging” market is only in its initial phase, and how its built environment solutions will progress is still largely unknown.

The design professionals who are planning, designing, and constructing these environments need to be making informed design decisions. However, a mature research and evidence-based design repository to inform design doesn’t yet exist. So going forward, the need for making informed design decisions requires an interim research process: knowledge-based design.

So what does that mean? When a strong body of research is lacking in a specific area of design or typology, designers utilize knowledge-based experience to achieve the best possible outcomes for a project. This knowledge can be from a specific source or combination of sources including credible research, best practices, case studies, and professional experience.

This process precedes evidence-based design (EBD) and will help inform its development in coming years. It also doesn’t diminish nor replace the importance of EBD; instead, it represents the evolutionary process and importance in developing design research within the industry.

When it comes to environments for aging, EBD has shed light on issues like fall prevention, the need for homelike settings, noise control, and appropriate color and lighting.

However, there’s still much we don’t know. For example, what designs best support aging in place or what models will be most successful for urban living or even how design products can enhance these living spaces? That’s where knowledge-based design can step in.

It’s important to begin to populate a research repository for this new environments for aging typology. And until that can be done, we need to rely on what we know to help push the industry forward and create spaces where more data can be measured and shared.


Gary Vance will speak more on the boomer generation and its implications for healthcare design at the 2015 Healthcare Design Expo & Conference in Washington, D.C. Joined by Sara Marberry, Vance will present the session “Get Ready for Boomer Nation: The Discussion Continues” at 9:45 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 16. For more information, visit