Care home design

How care home design has evolved through the decades

Octopus Real Estate chief executive Benjamin Davis takes a trip through care home design through the decades and shows how digital technology is, and will continue to be, a driving force

The UK’s care sector continues to expand, with the government, investors, and operators working to help our ageing population. From developing funding solutions to delivering homes that truly support people, the focus is on a better, more enhanced experience for residents.

Yet while the industry works towards the future, public perception is often stuck in the past. Lingering negative perceptions, sometime engrained through the generations and the emotive nature of the care industry, means that discussions highlighting the evolution of and developments of the care home industry can sometime be shied away from.

The reality is that there have been many evolutions to how care homes have been designed and operated through the decades. A 1950s care home will be unrecognisable in comparison to a modern, fit for purpose care home in 2020, some of which can be mistaken for luxury hotels.

Modern designs for care homes have introduced a shift towards prolonging independence and quality of life. Much like other industries, technology has enhanced the environment, increasing the capabilities of the real estate and operators.

The climate and ESG (environmental, social and governance) is also firmly on the agenda, and the real estate industry is at the forefront of this. Developments in design have also raised the environmental performance of buildings. Ultimately, the focus of care homes has always been on person-centred care, but

the evolution of design and technology capabilities have improved the real estate that houses the resident. The lives of residents have been positively impacted.

Improving quality of life through design

Over the last 60 years, approaches taken by researchers and policy makers to care homes and their residents have been influenced by social concerns and growth in the fields of psychology and sociology.

Landmark studies such as that conducted by sociologist Peter Townsend for his 1962 survey The Last Refuge, revealed poor conditions in care homes. Meanwhile, the work of figures such as social psychologist Irving Goffman and social theorist Jean-Michel

A 1950s care home will be unrecognisable in comparison to a modern, fit for purpose care home in 2020, some of which can be mistaken for luxury hotels


Foucault built on psychiatric work in the 1950s. Highlighting the impact of institutional living on people including care home residents, this heralded a move towards community-based care. Improvements in care home design were triggered by the introduction of mandatory requirements. Central heating, the need for single room occupancy and ensuite lavatories all increased the quality of resident living, especially in the ability to curb infection should it be necessary.

In subsequent decades, benchmarks for standards of amenity were the ratio of single to shared rooms and the proportion of rooms with an ensuite. In a report published in 2002, health economist William Laing found conditions from the late 1980s to the early 2000s improved to the extent that 80% of rooms were single, and ensuites were included in nearly 50% of bed spaces.

As we approached the millennium, those basic mandatory developments were accompanied by the addition of features such as easy-to-access bathroom equipment, hoists, and electronic lifting chairs. Aside from aiding • July 2020

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