We don’t suddenly lose all aesthetic sensibilities as we age, but you wouldn’t know it from the environments typically designed for older people. And let’s be honest: needing a little extra assistance shouldn’t mean having to trade away every hint of style, flair, and personality. So why all the gray walls, uninspired furniture, and complete lack of anything fun? Why does accessibility so often amount to an institutional look and feel?
If this new home and work environment in Australia by Sibling Architecture hits like a jolt of electricity, maybe that’s because it reinforces the fact that everybody deserves good design. These interiors were created with aging and disability in mind, but they’re bursting with color, attention to detail, and an energetic feel. It’s especially telling that a result like this feels so rare.
The designers were determined not to get caught up in the tendency to reduce accessibility in architecture to a list of legal requirements like grab bars and standard countertop heights. They didn’t want “Frenches Interiors” to look anything like a medical facility, in fact, so they rethought what meeting those requirements could look like, developing “a different and domestic type of accessibility.”
Taking inspiration from their clients, who help people acquire care and living environments that allow them to retain as much normalcy as possible, the architects transformed the interiors of an existing Melbourne terrace house with furniture and decorative elements that are both functional and beautiful. The overall effect is bold, graphic, fresh, and even youthful.
“The former sitting room is converted to a workplace with the theatrics of curtains that conceal sitting and standard desks,” they explain. “The circular table, which allows for uncomplicated circulation, has deep tubular pockets that hold office pens and plants, or flowers, champagne, and crostini after taking care of business. The rear living room centers around a ‘cake’ couch where slices can be removed in order to include wheelchair-users within the seating arrangement. One slice features pink powder coated handles to assist visitors to get seated.”
“A circular motif is featured in Frenches Interior as a symbol of inclusion and sharing, for example, found in the form of the sturdy terrazzo lazy Susan on the dining table. Other symbols, or totems, also appear in the space, which contain valued objects, such as books and whiskey, of the clients. This project extends Sibling Architecture’s interest in how to design an age-friendly city. Frenches Interior explores the potential of accessibility to be domesticated through highly-spirited gestures where space can be reconfigured according to different needs and desires.”
Sibling Architecture takes an unconventional multidisciplinary approach to just about everything, so it’s no surprise that they were able to pull this off. The firm, consisting of Amelia Borg, Nichola Braun, Jane Caught, Qianyi Lim, and Timothy Moore, prioritizes a sense of community building and never fails to take a risk. Their practice combines architecture, urbanism, graphic design, art, and cultural analysis to respond to social needs of all kinds.
It’s time to discard old ideas about what makes spaces accessible and start designing them so they can be used and enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their cognitive and physical capacities. As Sibling Architecture beautifully demonstrates here, aesthetics are just as crucial to that equation as anything else.