PSFK Speaker Reframes Conventions Around Aging [PSFK 2016]

PSFK Speaker Reframes Conventions Around Aging [PSFK 2016]

Architect Matthias Hollwich will bring a new voice to the conversation around getting old at PSFK flagship conference

  • 26 april 2016

Around the world, getting old is as much a physical transition as a cultural one. Whereas some cultures send aging parents to care facilities, others create multi-generational homes to care for them here. In a culture that promotes a cult of youth, PSFK speaker Matthias Hollwich decided to take on to topic of getting old in his book, New Aging: Live Smarter Now to Live Better Forever. With a background in design and architecture, Hollwich’s book gives fun, illustrated suggestions to reframe how people think about aging.

Before taking to the PSFK stage May 13, we sat down with Hollwich to get a preview of his new book.

What does being an architect have to do with aging?

People are surrounded by architecture 95 percent of their lives. And when we are young our body can compensate for some of the flaws within architecture. From steps & stairs, social spaces, inconvenient proximity to goods and services – we can deal with these things until walking, driving, hearing and talking becomes more difficult. The beauty is, if we design through the lens of older people we create better environments for everybody, eliminating many of the flaws of architecture in the process.


What was the inspiration for your book?

When I turned 38 I did some research into preparation for turning 40. As a curious architect I crunched numbers and realized that I was just about to surpass 50 percent of my life expectancy. With that I mind I further researched and came across a whole industry that is dealing with aging in the most obscene fashion. Retirement communities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes—all outdated offerings that have nothing to do with the wants and desires of its customers. It was evident that most of us are in denial and don’t do anything about it personally or professionally so I wanted to write a book that made the topic approachable in order to spark the dialogue.

The retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes you mentioned have a reputation for being sterile and boring. As we rethink aging, how should we rethink these facilities?

Nursing homes unfortunately are sterile and boring because of cost implications, maintenance requirements and pure ignorance. But the biggest flaw is that we group old people and put them together into one place. The lack of diversity and age segregation is a huge issue. An alternative is reducing the size of nursing homes, distributing them as micro-units throughout cities and ensure that only the people who really need nursing services are there. 50 percent of all inhabitants of nursing homes are there because of social deficits— something that can be changed.

When thinking about the book, what did you learn about aging across cultures?

Historically old people were treasured and embraced. We also used to be “old” when we were 30, since life expectancy was so much shorter. Ultimately aging is a gift that we receive with life—and we are invited to make the most out of it. But not just when we are 70-plus.

Culturally Europe has had a more transparent relationship with aging. Asia has some very positive respect to old age. In America, youth culture is overwhelmingly strong.

How should the lessons from this book impact the way we think about the design of physical spaces?

We have to start to design looking through the lens of older people and make sure environments are safe, social, accessible, inviting, inclusive, convenient, engaging, and so much more. These are all things we enjoy now, and will even more a few years from now when we ourselves are older.

What can we expect from your talk at PSFK 2016?

The start of a revolution—against our own beliefs and fears about aging. My goal is to inspire attendees to think, plan, design differently with our aging population in mind.

To hear Matthias and other thought leaders inspireIdeas That Transform, join us at the PSFK 2016 conference on May 13 in New York City. Check out our events page to see speakers, workshops, and more. Sign up for a PSFK membership at the checkout to save $300 on the total package. Get your tickets today!

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