With some CBD office towers likely to be evacuated after COVID-19 and a growing demand from the baby boomer population for good elderly care according to the royal commission, somewhere there could be the solution to both problems.

The architect Kevin Miles is convinced of it. He has just converted three old Canberra Department of Social Services buildings into a senior housing complex and believes this could be the way forward.

“With our population aging and the location of some underutilized buildings, it makes sense to give them a new senior focus,” said Miles, state managing partner at Gray Puksand architecture firm.

“We need to look for environmentally sustainable options for creating new aged care buildings that preserve the energy of the existing asset. And with the challenges of COVID-19 making working from home a part of everyday life, the need for large CBD offices is decreasing and the scope for their adaptive reuse is increasing. “

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In collaboration with the new geriatric care provider LDK Healthcare – Love, Dignity & Kindness – and the Cromwell Property Group to offer Greenway Views Senior Living, this trend can be observed in different regions of Australia, although there are already some currencies overseas.

The appeal is obvious: many elderly people would prefer to retire somewhere in the city, close to all amenities, rather than in a conventional village in the suburbs.

Office buildings with their large floor slabs, views from above, often in retail below and usually in the middle of CBDs, can be ripe for reinvention.

This render shows an office tower in South Melbourne that has been converted into an elderly care facility.

Charles Fortin, managing director of lifestyle architects CM + A for retirement provision, specialist care and health, says he has seen elderly care developed in city towers in other parts of the world. “I was exposed to one in the US years ago, but that was a five-star hotel in Chicago that was being converted into elderly care,” he said.

“That was a very strong model, and although I haven’t seen any converted office towers, that would make a lot of sense. When people retire they may want a fundamental change first, but later they want to get back to where the action is. In the Swiss capital Bern there is a good example where a retirement home has been built next to a huge stadium in the city center and the people there like to watch what is happening from their balconies. “

At home we have another example where the former headquarters of the Australian unit in South Melbourne is being converted into elderly care next to the vertical retirement village The Grace.

The renovation of the 1970s building at 114 Albert Road poses many challenges as it does not meet the higher standards of residential accommodation and the load-bearing capacity needs to be reassessed and the structure needs to be renewed.

It also has a staircase into the building at the entrance. “The first thing we have to do is lower the entire floor to make it easier to access,” said Lorraine Calder, general manager of Places at Australian Unity and a former architect. “Then we have to thicken the walls and the core that supports the floors to bring them up to standard.

“It’s easier with a more modern office building because they are of higher quality and have paid more attention to the work-life balance. That is why they often have outside terraces and beautiful roof terraces and let in a lot more light. “

For this building, the non-load-bearing partitions will be ripped out, a green wall will be built with one side of the building facing another office building, and voids will be driven in to allow people to see and access other parts of the building.

render_of_new_Australian_Unity_aged_care_tower_2_trquo4The former new headquarters of Australian Unity is being converted into an elderly care facility.

Then new rooms for the 17 people of each “household” will be built on separate floors, windows will be removed on some floors to create outdoor conservatories, and entire floors will be equipped with communal facilities. Since a roof garden is also to be created, the work is expected to be completed by the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023.

For class C assets in particular, and old assets in general, this could mean a whole new life. Phil Cowling, chief sustainability officer of Cromwell Property, says adaptive reuse is such a worthwhile goal instead of wastefully tearing it down and starting over with its huge carbon footprint.

“With the Canberra office buildings [used for Greenway Views]We tried to convert it into an educational or health facility first, but then the joint partners, LDK, came along and we saw that there was a huge and growing need for elderly care, ”said Cowling.

“With our work on the building, we have also set higher performance targets, e. B. 50 percent better energy efficiency. Now heating bills will be much lower for the aging residents who often want to save a few dollars. “

However, the conversions can still be tricky. “You need to upgrade the fabric with glazing and insulation for the roof and walls, divide the floors into multiple rooms and add balconies or outdoor areas if you can, build in bathrooms and really add lots of amenities,” Mr. Miles said.

At the bottom of Greenway Views there is now also a curated retail center with a grocery store, hair salon, mansion, cafe, and restaurant. There is also enough basement space so that residents don’t have to part with so many possessions when they downsize. An old auditorium has been converted into a cinema and meeting room, and there are study rooms and computers.

The interiors were designed in such a way that the usual sterile atmosphere of some elderly care facilities is avoided. Instead of handrails, for example, there is furniture that older residents can lean on.

“We’re already talking to other elderly care providers about this project,” said Miles. “It’s great to be able to reuse existing buildings and use them for a good cause!”

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