Designing for Differences

MP |

mc:t 2015.02.11


Designing for Differences – Young and Old


Spatial constructions in modern architecture focus – for the most part – on segregating segments of society from each other based on differing needs and uses for the space. Some institutions are built into buildings that focus on differences – the sick vs. the healthy, the poor vs. the rich, the educated vs. the uneducated, the religious vs. the non-sectarian factions.  Most recently, with a large segment of the population approaching old-age, there has been a division created between the old and the young. Senior citizens are grouped into old-age homes, separated from society and their kin, and left to live out the rest of their days with little to no contact with society at large.


Historically, the elders of any given tribe or grouping of society were regarded with reverence and bequeathed with honours. Their sage advice was highly sought after, their lives having been lived to the fullest they were assumed to hold the secrets to well-being.  In oral societies, it was elders that were in charge of passing down the necessary medical knowledge, as well as any myths and stories that explained the history of the group.


This dynamic has been turned upside down in modern times. Seniors are regarded as a burden, as childlike, as something to be hidden away and separated from the rest of the more able-bodied.  Without the stories, experiences, and knowledge that the elderly can provide, our society is suffering from a lack of perspective. Youth suffer from a lack of stories that could mitigate their arrival into adulthood, while the elderly feel bitter and neglected. This binary prevents society from cohesively addressing any current issues or problems that need solving.


Instead of focusing on building institutions that separate various social groups, we should be focusing on building an “intergenerational space” that encourages socializing between age groups, communication between different generations, and encourages a dialogue regarding the value of the perspectives and knowledge of the elderly.




This article, Intergenerational Retirement Home, recently published on is finally a start to rectifying this problem – encouraging a relationship between students and seniors.  This idea formulates a mutual benefit, allowing students to reside in a seniors center for free in exchange for their time in helping the senior residents.


This has become a catalyst – a catalyst for opening up dialogues about the elderly, a catalyst to allow the old and the young to integrate themselves with each other, opening up a two-way conversation that will introduce new perspectives to old ones, a catalyst that would encourage story-telling, advice giving, and general mingling of people.


It brings about an opportunity to begin thinking about designing space that encourages a strong and beneficial relationship between the youth and seniors.  Intergenerational mentoring programs are a great foundation for the new way society should view relations with the older population.  In order for a culture to succeed, to grow, and to evolve, the strengths and stories of its independent members must be woven together to build a collective knowledge, a reservoir of myths, stories, and histories that can be referenced in times of need.


These types of stories can benefit the whole, whether they take place during recreational activities, take the form of the arts, are showcased throughout the business world, or translated into life skills taught through storytelling and quality time spent with new friends.


Therefore, architecture and planning – through its design and function – can bring together the old and the young, promote far-reaching social conversations, and mitigate the growing disparity between age groups in our world.



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