Reimagining the senior living residential model

Conrad Gargett is exploring new ‘small household’ models of senior living accommodation that focus on creating homelike environments which in turn foster a greater sense of independence, social inclusion and wellbeing amongst residents.

Globally, the delivery of aged care has been evolving towards an environment that supports person-centred care, personalisation and social inclusion. In Australia, the 2021 Australian Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety’s Final Report listed two items out of 148 recommendations on the environment: item 45, to improve the design of residential care accommodation, and item 46, to provide ‘small household’ models of accommodation.

What are small household models? How do architects and care organisations implement these into practice?

A household model of care is defined as ‘person-centred support – combining health and social care – to older people in specially designed, small, home-like environments‘ (Ahmed et al., 2019). Some of the most common small household models of care include the De Hodeweyk model, Greenhouse model, Eden alternative and Wellspring model.

A small household model typically breaks down a traditional aged care facility into smaller households featuring around 14–20 residents. Each household includes its own living room, dining room, kitchen, and laundry room with access to outdoor areas. These households can be part of the larger residential care facility but operate independently of one another, and the model encourages the residents to participate in ‘chores if and when they wish’.


Figure 1

What are the benefits of small household models?

Research has shown numerous benefits associated with small household models; these include fewer hospitalisations, lower emergency department presentations and better quality of life.

More importantly, the human scale and homelike environment of small household models are relatable and reduce the sense of displacement often associated with residential aged care. The intimate scale of having just 14–20 residents per household creates a community-based socio-spatial environment and promotes better relationships among residents and staff.

How Conrad Gargett has implemented small household models

To create a built environment that is informed and shaped by small household models, the planning breaks away from traditional aged care design through the following design strategies:

– Removal of the fortress-like nurses’ station

– Elimination of double-loaded corridors

– Maximising the mix of homelike activities

– Creating positive outdoor spaces

– Creating high visibility in active spaces

– Providing a socially inclusive design

An example of this model is Bolton Clarke Glendale, located in Townsville, Queensland. The project set out to create two separate households, with 15 residents each. By applying the above design strategies (see figure 1), we have been able to create and mimic a similar cultural environment that is homelike and familiar to the residents.

Vertical Innovations

With over 66% of older Australians living in major cities and inner regional areas of Australia (AIWH 2021), architectural practitioners are looking for ways to improve and enhance elderly living experiences. Conrad Gargett’s monograph of the vertical aged care model (see figure 2) highlights the potential of diverse choices in urban living environments. Integrating home care services, care centre, retirement living, and independent living through to residential aged care within a single vertical typology, addresses the evolving needs of the elderly.



While there is no shortage of residential aged care buildings in vertical typology, the monograph applies the latest evidence-based research in health, care, sustainability, and the successful integration of small household models in vertical towers. The monograph demonstrates the approaches around densification and ageing in place.


Figure 2



As Australia’s ageing population continues to grow, it is important to consider a range of senior living models that seek to improve the quality of life of residents. Through the integration of small household models in senior living accommodation, residents can feel more at home and connected to their community.

Conrad Gargett looks forward to integrating this model of senior living on future projects, following its successful application in the Bolton Clarke Coorparoo project which implemented the ideas and vision behind the monograph including the integration of small household models in residential aged care within a vertical typology. This project is underway and in the development application phase.

Other projects in the pipeline include Ozcare Evelyn Street Development in Newstead and Bolton Clarke Queen Street Village in Southport. Evelyn Street is a premium mixed-use project comprising residential aged care, retirement living, retail, commercial and outdoor community amenities while Queen Street Village is a vertical senior living precinct giving the elderly diverse choices in their care environment including home care services, independent living, retirement living, residential aged care and retail.

The monograph is part of Conrad Gargett’s in-house research, developed by John Flynn, Y E Ng, Andre Camargo and Jacky Chan.