The Best Of Hong Kong
Lifestyle News
By Yannie Chan | November 11th, 2020

Lawrence Lui is a co-founder of Longevity Design House, a social enterprise dedicated to providing interior design solutions for the elderly and people with physical disabilities. We spoke to him about the importance of sustainable aging design ahead of his lecture at the HKDI Design Thinking for Well-being 2020.

A Little Background

With the lack of space, and sometimes even the absence of a proper elevator in older residential buildings, it’s no surprise that Hong Kong homes are not the most aging-friendly. For many elderly or people with serious illnesses, that means their only option is to stay at a hospital or a special facility.

Lawrence Lui co-founded Longevity Design House in 2015 in order to provide the elderly with the ability to age at home. Their mission is to offer a one-stop home renovation solution for those with accessibility issues, from interior design and home renovation to providing temporary accommodation, applying for elderly grants and offering occupational therapist support .

5 Things You Should Know About Sustainable Aging Design

1. It can be very difficult for sick patients to move back home

My father was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 2013. He didn’t like being in the hospital. He wanted to go to the toilet by himself, for his dignity and self-esteem. But due to the regulations, they didn’t even allow him out of bed. He told us he wanted to spend the last few months of his life back home.

The problem was that we lived in an old building in Shau Kei Wan. It wasn’t very accessible, and he needed to use wheelchair and oxygen devices at the time. The standard procedure to move the patient back home starts with a home visit by an occupational therapist. Then they would give you a report with recommendations on how you should modify your home and a list of equipment that the caregiver should buy. For most cases, the report could take up to 10 months. Our case was more serious, but still it took two weeks to arrange the home visit and another two weeks to receive the report.

The second pain point was that the hospital couldn’t give me the exact brand names of the recommended products. I had to liaise with different furniture suppliers and contraction workers. I spent a lot of effort and money on the renovation, and meanwhile the clock was ticking for my father. It was a lot of additional burden on the caregivers — during those few months, I was really depressed.

After my father passed away, I wondered if it was a problem only I came across or a problem for a larger community. I met with elderly centers, retired people, and then kick-started Longevity Design House along with the co-founders.

2. Most Hong Kong homes are not aging-friendly

The Buildings Department published the barrier-free guidelines only in 2008, and even that applies mostly to public areas. Most old buildings are really not elderly-friendly, especially those over 40 years old. Hong Kong homes are small, and so a lot of spaces are used as storage. There are usually many things and shelves at a typical Hong Kong home. Most toilets have different levels and segmentation. All these add up to a not very accessible space for the elderly.

3. An aging-friendly home is all about accessibility and self-sufficiency

The first key concept when it comes to designing a good home for the elderly and people with disabilities is accessibility. We make sure that they can reach different parts of their homes and that they can use the doors. Because their health condition may change, we need to take that into consideration as well.

The second key concept is encouraging self-sufficiency. It’s common in Hong Kong to have domestic helpers do all the work, but it actually hurts with rehabilitation. We need to think about how to provide space for them so they can complete basic tasks such as cooking, going to the toilet, changing clothes, eating, etc. It also varies case by case. For example, if a client is religious, we need to design a space where they can pray or meditate in the room in their rooms.

An aging-friendly living space in Cheung On Estate by Longevity Design House

4. We encourage people to visualize their lifestyle post-retirement or when they get older

It’s important to think about or have a discussion about how you imagine your life to be after you retire or when your children move out. Many clients may not have thought about that at all. But having that discussion helps us find better products and design solutions for our clients.

For instance, we had a client who suffered a serious stroke and had to use a wheelchair. His own wishes were that he could continue making his own coffee, going out to the balcony to take care of his plants, and eat and watch TV together with his family. We could better design his home and search for furniture according to his needs.

A good aging-friendly home takes into account the residents’ social life. After meeting with a client who’s recently retired, we learned that their grandchildren would not visit their home. They would go out to a restaurant but that’s it. Their home was big but filled with documents, books and lecture notes. And so our renovation focused on better storing these items and creating a room where their grandchildren can stay during the holidays.

5. Empathy and communications skills are key in healthcare design

When it comes to healthcare design, it’s quite unlike other designer roles. It’s not so much about concept and aesthetics, but simplicity, flexibility and practicality. I usually want to know the reason why interviewees want to join this industry — it’s important they have a passion for the job.

In the initial stage, families would meet at our office and discuss what they need. These discussions often become quite intense, and the designer would need to take the lead and moderate the conversation. Another issue is to actively involve the elderly in the process and to help them communicate their wishes clearly.

Looking towards the future?

Covid-19 could change some of the current standards. We’re searching for products with new features, such as for tiles and kitchen setup. For example, some are made with a particular coating so that viruses won’t stay on the surface. We’re also working with a startup to develop robots for elderly homes and residential projects, so that they can better respond to pandemics like Covid-19.

Read more Hot Seat profiles here.