Housing for the elderly in the Netherlands is undergoing substantial change. The costs associated with an ageing population have led to radical structural changes, such as the separation of housing and care and the privatisation of care. The political ambition to replace the welfare state with a ‘participation society’ has accelerated the policy of allowing elderly people to live at home for increasingly longer periods. This new political and economic reality is having an influence on housing for the elderly and provides an opportunity to foreground the phenomenon of ageing as a cultural issue.
Designs for housing for the elderly are a tool for researching alternative forms of community and care. This presentation shows that the search for new models is nothing new, but has a rich history. During the course of the twentieth century, charitable organisations, local governments, care institutions, designers and the elderly themselves have pondered the question of housing for the elderly, employing a range of expertise.
In the spring of 2015 architecture-history and art-history students from the VU University in Amsterdam conducted research in the archives of Het Nieuwe Instituut into the development of housing for the elderly in the Netherlands. The archive contains a cross section of designs from the past hundred years. The variety of material shows that housing for the elderly is strongly linked to political and emancipatory processes. Read more
A multifaceted subject
As Western Europe has become more prosperous, average life expectancy has increased and the percentage of pensioners in society is growing. Our ageing population forces us to think about housing for the elderly on a range of levels, from planology, urban planning and landscape design to interior design. During the course of the twentieth century, old age became the subject of study of a range of disciplines, including geriatrics, psychology, sociology and anthropology.
The provision of housing that allows pensioners to live independently stems from the introduction of the Woningwet (Housing Bill) of 1901 and the Invaliditeits- en Ouderdomswet (Disability and Pensions Bill) of 1913/1919, which entitled citizens over the age of seventy to a small pension. This meant that less wealthy elderly people could continue to live independently.
This ideological defence of the importance of community attributes an active role to the elderly within neighbourhoods. The older generation can use their life experience to put conflicts into perspective and can relieve tensions between parents and children. This role presupposes that the elderly continue to live in the community until an advanced age, albeit in special housing with access to communal facilities and support.
The oldest form of collective housing for the elderly is the almshouse. In many towns from the thirteenth century almshouses were built for the elderly and other vulnerable members of society such as widows and unmarried persons. In the twentieth century, collective housing for the elderly took various forms with different names: old-age homes, care homes, rest homes, hospices etc.
The service flat
One example of collective housing for the elderly is the service flat. These are apartments in private residential buildings in which the residents pay for the communal facilities themselves and the rent and care are priced at market level. The first luxury complexes were built in the 1920s and 1930s with comforts such as lifts, central heating, intercom, a restaurant, large apartments and guest rooms.
The nursing home
Nursing homes are a distinct category within housing for the elderly. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries chronically sick elderly people were accommodated in almshouses or mental hospitals. Nursing homes usually have wards or bedrooms on either side of a long corridor plus bathrooms, kitchens, dining rooms and sometimes accommodation for resident personnel.
- E. Feddersen and I. Lüdtke, Living for the Elderly: A Design Manual, Birkhäuser, Basel, 2009
- N. Mens, C. Wagenaar, De architectuur van de ouderenhuisvesting Bouwen voor wonen en zorg, Rotterdam, NAi Uitgevers, 2009
- D. Simpson, Young-Old Urban Utopias of an Aging Society, Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich, 2015
- E. Smit and M. Walda, ‘Het vraagstuk van de huisvesting der bejaarden’, in Wonen zonder zorg(en)? Van zorg met verblijf naar wonen met of zonder zorg. Veldacademie, Rotterdam, 2016
Consult the archive
This presentation stems from archival research into housing for the elderly conducted by art-history and architecture-history students from the VU University in Amsterdam in 2015 as part of the ‘Design and Discourse’ course, led by Minke Walda and Ellen Smit.
With thanks to Romy Bosch, Veerle Driessen, Berber Hoftijzer, Lieske Huits, Dominique Jurgen, Sarah Knigge, Olga Kruisbrink, Roos van Strien, Maaike Taekema, Vincent Visser, Jorne Vriens, Els van Zeggeren and Joanne Zwart. Annelies Wester, also a student at the VU University, turned the results of their research into the material presented here. Architect Evelien van Veen (Van Veen Architecten) has provided a reflection upon the selection of projects.