The Architecture of Care: Part 1. The Importance of Multigenerational Interaction

Image Source: Generations Working Together

In this short series, we will cover the role of architecture in making retirement more ‘hospitable.’ Part 1 sets the stage by looking at the importance of multigenerational interaction. The second part studies the impact of architecture and design on interaction and quality of life. And, finally, Part 3 will cover how design strategies can be used to integrate healthcare technologies into care homes.

Human interaction is a key component to maintaining happiness, hope, and longevity. I have spent the last decade living, and working across four continents with the goal of understanding how architectural design affects the family nucleus. One undeniable recurring theme is that elderly people seem to be more vivacious in countries where living in multigenerational homes is the norm.

These are environments in which the older generation interacts as active members of their families. While this is not always possible or preferred, especially in western cultures, there are things that we should learn from this as we seek to improve and adapt the paradigm of retirement and assisted living facilities.

Multigenerational Home, Vietnam – Binh Thanh House. Image Source: Nishizawa Architects


If you are from Europe or the US, the concept of a multigenerational home may need a little more explaining. While our family nucleus is generally tightened to only two generations of first-degree relatives, parents, and children. Generally, grandparents live alone, in a retirement home, or in an assisted living facility. While this may seem normal to us, it is a very recent way of living and may produce effects that we do not entirely understand due to the short time it has been used. 

The majority of the world outside of the US, Canada, and Europe still live in multigenerational homes. This means that grandparents, parents, and children live in the same home, and take on an active role in the household. This is as much a cultural choice as it may sometimes be an economical decision. Additional family members have the additional space required, and homes are designed to evolve, grow and incorporate additional family groups. Keep an eye out for our next blog to find out more about how architecture and design impact retirement living.

So why are we talking about how many generations are living in one house? The answer is simple. We want the elderly generations to be happy and feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity wrote:

“Contrary to widespread beliefs that older populations consume resources that would otherwise go to youth, there is growing reason to think that older people may be just the resource children need. Older adults are exceptionally suited to meet these needs in part because they welcome meaningful, productive activity and engagement. They seek – and need – purpose in their lives.”

Parker, Clifton B. “Bringing Old and Young Together Benefits Both.” Stanford News, 6 Sept. 2017,

Research and practice have shown that increasing interaction between the oldest and youngest generations can be incredibly beneficial to both parties, So what are the various ways that we can incorporate this into a new model for retirement living and care homes?

Image credit: AOI Care Center


Before continuing, it is important to highlight the unfortunate reality that many families have lost members, leaving a void. A method being used to promote multigenerational interaction that does not rely on direct family members is called Intergenerational Care.

Originating in Japan around the year 1976, this concept is used in select care homes in Japan, the UK, the US, and the Netherlands. The idea is to pair nurseries and primary schools with retirement homes for workshops and events a few times per week.

Workshops might include drawing, reading, or pasta making. These activities are geared toward education and making things, creating new relationships and goals. According to a 2019 article in the Guardian, this has been successful in practice, and the UK is hoping to reach a target of over 500 intergenerational care homes by 2023.


The success of the intergenerational care model gives us hope, but what can we do to take the next step?

Is it possible to create a retirement home that increases multigenerational interaction with direct families as well?

There are a number of vectors to follow including opening a daycare in a retirement home for the families of the tenants. Most of them are steps in the right direction however, we would like to open to door to the potential benefits of combining hospitality and retirement living. If we can integrate retirement living with a nonintrusive family vacation, it may allow the general perception of retirement living to shift into a different light. 

Changing how people view retirement living, and how we interact with our elder generation requires a lot of work. Developing these ideals can not be done without an intricate strategy that operates year-round. Luckily there are a number of ways to navigate the inevitable hurdles. Redefining the spectrum of possibilities for the elderly is worth the research, practice, and much more.

Image Source: The Star


People are happier, and live longer, when they have purpose. Purpose encompasses all driving emotions, and when we remove these from people’s lives, they tend to fade away long before their time. It is clear that multigenerational interaction provides this sense of fulfillment to the elderly and even safeguards the future. Evidence shows that children exhibit improvement in language development, social skills, and reading through this interaction. Not to mention the lessons in compassion empathy and respect that may not have been passed on for any number of reasons. It is important that we take some perspective and observe other ways of living, in order to monitor and improve the way that we develop.

Written By: Keesje Avis

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