“An age-friendly community responds to both the opportunities and challenges of an aging population by creating physical and social environments that support independent and active living and enable older people to continue contributing to all aspects of community life.” – Ontario Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility
As populations age and awareness of the importance of accessibility grows, Ontario legislation and City of Toronto building codes have updated requirements for all new developments. This is most often described as “age-friendly” design for buildings and public spaces.
Ensuring that the new International Estonian Centre (IEC) is “age-friendly” and accessible to older community members is aligned with the project’s goal of having the IEC accessible to all. It is an essential component of how the space will be designed.
During consultations with the Estonian community seniors’ group conducted by the IEC project team, seniors’ representatives stressed the importance of ensuring that their needs are taken into consideration in how the centre is designed and operates.
“This centre will be be safe and comfortable for all age groups,” said project architect Alar Kongats. “It is of utmost importance. Everyone must feel included.”
For IEC, “age-friendly” means easy access into the building, wide hallways that are easy to navigate, accessible outdoor space, washrooms on every floor and well-located and spacious elevators.
The project team also continues to address parking availability, which includes a drop-off zone so that passengers can be safely taken to the entrance of the centre.
“We must ensure that our design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but meets or exceeds required standards,” Alar said. “This starts with well-designed curb transitions and appropriate exterior pedestrian gradients, handrails and guards, and use of non-slip materials through to a variety of readily available seating for those with limited stamina or stability.”
Alar further noted that age-friendly design for the project’s landscape architects also includes matters of outdoor lighting, barrier-free access, protection from both sun and wind as well as other sensory enhancements, such as fragrantly blossoming plants in the rooftop garden.
“Age-friendly”, though, is not only restricted to age. While the descriptions tend to refer to older adults or those with mobility issues, the design considerations also benefit those pushing child strollers.
“Let’s use this once-in-a-generation opportunity of designing a cultural centre for our community to ensure that it is, indeed, purpose built for all”, said Ellen Valter, chair of the project’s steering committee. "By working together, we can address accessibility for everyone to all parts of the building at this design stage. Thank you to all of the user groups, but especially Pensionäride klubi, for your helpful input.”
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