A Design Guide for Older Women’s Housing

  • 2022

  • Design Research

Designed By:

  • Sophie Dyring and Samantha Donnelly

Commissioned By:

Research funded by the Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation and supported by Schored Projects and Monash University XYX Lab

Designed In:


This research aims to provide insights that support the design and construction of quality, affordable housing for older women at risk of homelessness through the voice of lived experience. The Design Guide is a practical document that translates research findings into best-practice strategies for the design of older women’s housing.

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  • In Australia in 2020, 405,000 women aged forty-five years and over were estimated to be at risk of homelessness, and they are the fastest growing population of people experiencing homelessness. As architects, and researchers, we are aware of the lack of a best-practice model for older women’s housing that addresses architectural and landscape design implications that impact their health and wellbeing. Few post-occupancy evaluations of housing for women exist for an Australian context. Through post occupancy evaluation the voices of women with lived experience are represented in the housing designed and developed for them when they guide is implemented.

  • The research proposal was for a post-occupancy study into suitable housing types for older women. The research has expanded to produce the Design Guide for Older Women’s Housing with a range of additional engagement including: A launch of the Design Guide at the Victorian Pride Centre during Melbourne Design Week; a week ‘takeover’ of practice-based research events at the MPavilion with an aligned exhibition titled: Precarious older women’s housing at the M Pavilion”; Presenting the research to an international audience at Open House Worldwide as well as a number of forthcoming commissions for various publications including Australian Feminist Studies Journal.

  • The long-lasting and positive design impact for this research is on older women’s health and wellbeing. This Design Guide will ensure that service providers and architects can future-proof housing for older women that will be designed to meet their needs now and as they age in place. Women’s health and wellbeing will improve because their homes are well-designed, sustainable, affordable, and secure. With the stability provided by well-designed and appropriate housing they can contribute and participate in society. The Design Guide is a best-practice tool that can be used by community housing providers, policy makers and development sectors.

  • Our research used participatory methods to uncover older women’s lived experience in the various housing types revealed desired qualities, unmet needs, and positive attributes women identified in their housing, including links between physical places and atmospheric qualities – they included comfort, connection, independence, noise, personalisation, privacy, and security. The Design Guide is organised around design principles addressing specific locations within a dwelling, illustrated with strategies for applying the principle in different housing types and providing examples of possible spatial arrangements for older women. The Design Guide is intended to assist community housing providers, developers, and specialist agencies to deliver affordable, safe, and sustainable housing specific to the needs of older women. Our findings included: -Many older women stated their housing made it possible for them to work, study, exercise, and create. Before accessing housing, they lacked the space and confidence to do these activities -Safety and privacy are crucial qualities in housing for older women, many of whom have experienced violence -Proximity to public transport is important for older women, who may not drive or have access to a vehicle -Older women are not always keen gardeners but may become active gardeners with access to housing.