Blog: Jacqui Rennie explains her role on the European Federation for Living’s accessible housing design competition

Published: 9 May 2016

Jacqui Rennie, CAE Access Advisor and housing standards specialist, blogs on her role as a juror on the European Federation for Living’s accessible housing design competition

Earlier this year, I was really pleased to help judge the European Federation for Living (EFL) accessible housing design competition for architecture students.

With the awards ceremony taking place on 12 May, I’m not going to give anything away about the winners but thought I would share a little about the challenge and the innovative ideas that students from across Europe have submitted.

By 2060, over half of the European population will be over retirement age.

We know that housing will play an increasingly important role in meeting the demands and expectations of older people. So exploring the innovative ideas of the next generation of architects can give us an insight into how they would meet this housing challenge with a fresh approach. Bringing inclusive design and accessibility into the studies of architecture students is an important way to help develop solutions for the future.

At the CAE, I co-lead the accessible housing training courses and I see first-hand the policy and practical issues with increasing the supply of accessible homes in the UK. There is certainly a job to do to convince government, developers, planners and councillors of the need to build to the accessible standards we already have.

So to the competition and the deliberations of the EFL jury.

After the competition closed on 15 January, we were given all the designs to assess ahead of making a final decision at our meeting in Delft, Netherlands on 15 February. There were 31 designs in total from across the participating European countries.

The high calibre of the designs was great to see and made it a difficult decision to choose the winners. The jury had been assembled from across Europe and had diverse and interesting perspectives on what would make a winning design. It was a really good experience to meet with and hear from the other jurors, learning more about different European views on accessible homes and the national policies that underpin housing development.

I feel that my experience as an Occupational Therapist helped to give a broader view on the entries and a slightly different outlook, in the same way as other judges brought their own unique expertise into the decisions

Students addressed the topics of accessibility, health and affordability and explored themes like flexibility, adaptability, ICT technologies and modular development.

Especially pleasing from a CAE point of view is that students not only focussed on the design specification of the homes but also the built environment and landscape outside. The best designs demonstrated how architecture and thoughtful inclusive design can support older people in reducing loneliness, supporting health outcomes, safety and ultimately help independent living.

There was a great deal to discuss and consider but we eventually came to a decision on the winners that will be announced in Helsinki on 12 May.

The winning entries really had taken the brief and creatively brought into question what we mean by accessible housing and homes that will be flexible enough to meet changing needs of people over time. The EFL will be sharing the designs after the conference, so you’ll be able to see what I mean soon.

For me, it’s important that this competition isn’t an end in itself.

Promoting the ideas and getting students of architecture, design and any other related subjects interested and engaged in inclusion and access issues is vital.

I think this competition can be a starting point for a really important debate on how we as individual countries and continents like Europe work to include and better meet the demands of a growing number of disabled and older people.

As we look towards long-term solutions in meeting the challenges of our ageing populations, accessible housing and communities must play a bigger role. This competition proves the skills are there, now decision makers need to choose inclusion and accessibility for all.

You can find out more information on the European Federation for Living accessible housing design competition here: http://www.ef-l.eu/competition/