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How are John Portman & Associates supporting continuing care in China?
Walt Miller, RA, John Portman & Associates

John Portman & Associates is working with Guangnian Investment Co., Ltd on a high-end retirement community in China. While the concept of a retirement community is relatively commonplace in many countries across the world, this is one of the first developments of its kind in China. WAN spoke to Walt Miller, RA, Principal and Design Director at John Portman & Associates to find out why this type of community development is finding a new market in China.

The Continuing Care and Retirement Community is one of the first of its kind in China. Why are there so few developments of this nature?

Traditionally, the elders of the family were cared for by the younger generations. There has been a cultural shift in China, brought on by a number of factors.

China’s one child policy has resulted in smaller family sizes that make it more difficult for the younger generation to care for their elders, as had previously been custom. Now there are only two people to care for four people. Having no siblings to help share the load is a significant challenge.

Additionally, China has become more of a mobile society. Children now may live and work farther away from their parents. The parents may not wish to leave the community that they consider home in order to move in with their children.

Also, as the financial independence of the older generation has increased, so has the desire to live among their peers. It has become a status symbol to have the freedom to choose (and to be able to afford) not to live with one’s children in old age.

All of these factors have come into play to create a change in custom in China. So now there is an increasing demand for Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), that didn’t exist before.

Are there any elements of the design that make this an easier option on an emotional or cultural level for families than, say, looking after ageing relatives at home?

It’s not specific to Chinese families, but rather a universal human desire to see that family members are happy and well-taken care of. A CCRC integrates a number of different components that allow residents to participate in a vibrant, active lifestyle. Keeping their minds and their bodies engaged allows for a happier, healthier


existence. Plus, the multiple levels of independence/care provided bring peace of mind to both the residents and their families as everyone can be assured that if a resident’s needs change, the appropriate level of care is available.

Please can you explain the ‘age-in-place’ approach?

The desire to ‘age-in-place’ is a global phenomenon and does not apply only or specifically to retirement communities. Another term used is Universal Design - designing for a person’s/family’s life cycle so that the living space for parents with young children is suitable as the children grow into young adults, and also as the parents age or take in their own aging parents.

In the case of a CCRC, residents are offered a choice of lifestyle options with differing levels of care provided. They select the one that best suits their current needs, knowing that if those needs change, there are other options available that will allow them to remain part of the community and - thus - ‘age-in-place’.

What elements other than residential units have been enveloped into the design?

The CCRC truly seeks to address many of its residents’ desires and needs. For medical care, the community provides a hospital, medical offices and other health care facilities. To ensure vibrancy and active lifestyles, the CCRC offers retail, restaurants, entertainment facilities and fitness and spa facilities, in addition to club, education and meeting spaces. Medical and health care facilities are included in order to be able to provide the varying levels of care that the residents may require. The other facilities are intended to encourage residents to engage and participate in social interaction. The majority of these socially-oriented facilities are open to the general public, inviting the entire community to visit and residents to entertain friends and family.

What experience does John Portman & Associates have in the design and realisation of residential care communities?

While our current project is the firm’s first foray into this particular design sector, previous work in the hospitality and residential fields has informed our design for the CCRC. This community and the number of people to be accommodated creates a situation with many parallels to the hospitality sector in terms of amenities offered, such as housekeeping, food service, fitness and spa facilities, etc. The design challenges are similar to those in a suite hotel or a hotel with serviced apartments.

Additionally, the Portman design philosophy has always been to design for the people who will be using the space. Understanding people and their response to their environment has helped us and influenced the design for this project. As always, serving people is our primary motivation.

How do you think the global ageing population will affect the architecture industry in the next 10-15 years?

I think there will be a call for more Universal Design in the residential arena. Additionally, I think design in every sector will continue to become more focused on providing


accessibility for all people.

Should the residential market be offering more flexible homes that could be easily adapted as their occupants become elderly? How would this work?

Rather than thinking in terms of adaptability, I think designers may work from the start to provide flexible, smart design that accommodates people of all levels of physical abilities.

Which areas of the world do you think best address the ageing population in terms of supportive facilities?

We have been researching facilities of a similar nature in various countries. They seem to be most prevalent in those countries which have significant elder populations - particularly those in which old-to-young ratios are higher. Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands and other Northern European countries seem to be the most active in developing new building typologies to address an ageing population.

Walt Miller, RA
Principal and Design Director at John Portman & Associates

Walt Miller has been an important member of the John Portman & Associates (Portman) firm since 1987. An accomplished designer and planner, Miller directs the design team in resolving how to implement Portman design philosophy and vision into functional spaces.

He has been a guest lecturer and critic at a number of prestigious schools, including the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture where he oversees administration of the Portman Prize, an award created for the purpose of encouraging the school’s graduate students to develop a holistic design approach that ties the big idea to the small detail.

Prior to joining Portman,Miller was with the firm of Cesar Pelli & Associates, where he became a Senior Designer, responsible for schematic design and design development of major projects such as the World Financial Center/New York; and the Boyer Medical Research Laboratory building at Yale University

John Portman & Associates


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