Lifelong Learning: OZ Leaders ID Overlapping Design Themes for Senior Living, Education

At the intersection of higher education and senior living resides what’s called “lifelong learning,” a concept that, according to OZ Architecture’s David Schafer and Jami Mohlenkamp, needs to figure more heavily in how educational spaces for all age groups are designed.

In an article co-authored for College Planning & Management, Schafer, a LEEP-AP and OZ principal who leads the firm’s education practice, and Mohlenkamp, a principal at OZ who leads the firm’s senior living practice, discuss the commonalities between architectural design for education spaces and for older adult communities, and how these commonalities can help to inform how these spaces are designed in order to foster lifelong learning. Among the goals in designing for lifelong learning, they explain, is to create built environments that support greater age diversity in the student population and that emphasize inclusivity via universal design that supports people/students regardless of their physical limitations or acuity level.

In the article, Schafer and Mohlenkamp identify three primary overlapping design values that could apply to both student populations and older adult communities:

  1. Designing for communities. Fresh scientific research suggests that loneliness is a significant issue for younger and older adults alike. Thoughtful design of common spaces such as stairways, elevator lobbies and corridors can help to counter that by encouraging chance encounters and promoting interaction. Common destination amenities such as laundry rooms, common kitchens and game rooms also can be designed specifically to attract and encourage community engagement.
  • Bridging differences. “Design can work to build bridges across different user groups and generations by creating spaces everyone can use, regardless of age or ability,” the authors write. This could be as simple as enhancing the flexibility and usability of a space so it’s more navigable for people with physical or mobility challenges, regardless of age.
  • Fostering lifelong learning. “The motivation to learn new things thrives across generations,” they write. Consider steps such as designing integrated, mixed-use buildings to create lifelong learning opportunities, by including a public library in a 55+ community, for example, or by locating a college’s makerspace near an older adult community to allow retired professionals to tutor students and pass on their knowledge of a trade or craft.

As Schafer and Mohlenkamp note in their article, these principles could apply to virtually any learning environment. “By shifting our own thinking as to which types of spaces belong to which age groups, we can bridge generations in meaningful ways and with meaningful, intentional spaces.”