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Juan Echeverria Trueba, Architect and director of the department of Construction, Facilities and Structures of the School of Architecture of the University of Navarra.

Architecture and population aging

The author reflects on the impact of the aging population on architecture and especially on fire prevention instruments.

Tue, 27 Oct 2015 14:16:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Fire Prevention Week, which is being held from October 26 to 30 in Pamplona, is dedicated this year to the impact of the risk of fire on the elderly. According to data contrasted statistics, the average risk of dying in a fire in homes is multiplied by 1.8 between 65 and 74 years old, by 2.5 between 75 and 84 years old and by 3.7 in people over 85 years old. This reality highlights the relationship that the aging of the population has with the built environment, and will be a good argument for reflecting on what the buildings of the near future should be like.
There are two well-known causes of the inevitable aging phenomenon: a very high birth rate leave and an ever-increasing life expectancy. Faced with chilling projections, experts in many fields have long been anticipating the impact that the problem will have on such critical social aspects as healthcare and pensions. Other sectors, however, although aware of the problem, seem to be waiting in the wings for the inevitable onslaught.

Architecture, which organizes people's built environment, still seems to be in this group of timid foresight. And there is no reason for this, because it will have a crucial role to play in the face of a phenomenon that will affect it fully.
It is not only a question of correctly designing appropriate buildings for the people who are now
It is not just a matter of correctly designing appropriate buildings for today's elderly, such as residences, day care centers or hospitals, or of making decisive progress on subject in terms of accessibility, an area that has undergone a remarkable change. It is a matter of anticipating the scenario, as the great architects have always done, foreseeing the real characteristics and needs of this very complex aging society.

What will be the form and functional organization of buildings that will have to provide many more services than those required today, including sanitary, hygienic and food services? How will transportation inside the buildings be, not only vertical by means of elevators, but also horizontal using small electric vehicles?
What will the windows have to be like for people who will have to remain seated or in bed for a large part of the time? What will the floors have to be like, if we know that falls in this group cause many victims?What will leisure centers and meeting be like for a population that wants to remain very active? Will the current relationship between large hospitals and homes make sense or should health care be organized in a more atomized way? How will city streets be filled with elderly people? Will the air we breathe and the water we drink be acceptable for such an aging population? How will climate change, with rising temperatures, affect the elderly? Will the regulations of Building have to change to deal with the problem?
The aging of the population is a gigantic challenge at all levels, but also a great opportunity. Both, challenge and opportunity, seem comparable to those faced and enjoyed by the architects who, almost on the fly, designed the modern cities that welcomed a massive rural exodus.

Opportunities, sometimes mistakenly frowned upon in our society, are the only possible way to face challenges. work opportunities for architecture professionals who are able to anticipate this scenario and respond to it. Opportunities for many companies that develop innovative ideas. Opportunities for developers, public or private, to solve a social problem, but also to respond to the demand of a private market with enormous economic potential. Spain may be called to be the Florida of Europe, attracting an older population that is willing to spend their savings in our country. It has all the characteristics to do so: climate, communications, health services, etc. We may or may not like the idea, after the bitter experience suffered with the brick. Paradoxically, it is a real opportunity to nourish the population pyramid at its base with qualified immigration to provide the innumerable services that will be necessary. At final, more old people to have more young people.

In this work, which should be transversal, the research that is promoted from the Schools of Architecture has a fundamental role. We hope, therefore, that this Fire Prevention Week will serve as a forum to share these concerns, making society aware of their importance.