Working toward a universally designed world
New York Times health columnist Jane Brody speaking at the Stanford Center on Longevity. (Monika Weiss photo)
Once dubbed the High Priestess of Health by Time Magazine, Jane Brody, longtime New York Times Personal Health columnist came to the Stanford Center on Longevity early this month as a Distinguished Lecturer to talk to people of certain age on living long and well. Her advice stemmed from both personal experience and the most currently available evidence on how to achieve this. While this was sound and mostly familiar advice for someone who takes health seriously, I found myself thinking that Brody was missing an opportunity to send an important message for future health and well-being out to her peers: how to live safely at home.
For the woman who never “broke the five foot mark,” Brody is a commanding figure when talking about health. She enthralled the audience with some pretty hefty facts, like how processed foods remove 21 nutrients but only replace a measly four. Or that regular physical exercise is the single most important thing we can do for our health followed by the zinger that only 10% of children today could pass a JFK administration fitness test.
But her message went beyond simple diet and fitness. Brody explored the importance of social connectedness as keeping us healthy. It is a social network, she said, that will add to our longevity regardless of our behavior around food and exercise. But once you open the argument to a more comprehensive look at living long and well, you must examine the preventive steps you can take in your home to reduce the risk of injury. Those who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again. We lose 9,500 older Americans a year from falls. Installing grab bars in the bathroom, arranging furniture so that it supports you as you move about the house and removing unnecessary obstacles like cords and throw rugs could all prevent a first fall from occurring.
When I posed the question to her about what she is doing to make sure she can age safely at home, Brody, now in her seventies said she is slowly de-cluttering and has an electric staircase tucked away for the day she may need it as she plans to stay in her multi-story home. While this gives evidence that she has given home safety some thought, including this in her lectures could be equally life extending to her attentive audiences.
Brody described her last book, "Guide to the Great Beyond" (Random House, 2009), as a how to on living long and exiting graciously. As hip fractures are none-too-graceful, hopefully Brody will remember to put home safety on equal footing as diet and exercise.
-- Monika Weiss
An apology is in order (if we were in ancient Japan we'd impale ourselves with our swords, but as 21st Century bloggers, we don't even have a pen to fall on), so here goes: Our website, AFriendlyHouse.com, is being remodeled to make it easier for visitors to navigate. And, as anyone who's ever remodeled a house, or a website, will tell you -- things never go quite according to plan, and on-time schedules are more fantasy than fact.
So, it was, when Monika and I set out last week to report on the International Builders Show in Las Vegas. The site -- being somewhere in internet limbo on its journey from old to new incarnations -- refused to load properly, leaving us to turn to Twitter for hot tidbits and forcing us to save main reporting until the website ceased fluttering around the ether.
We're getting closer and will be sending out alerts when we post new articles and images to either the website or here on the blog.
We ask your indulgence, and, again, apologize for our disappearing act.
It's been like the Bill Murray movie "Ground Hog Day" since June 2011 when we started the farmhouse remodel.
Of course, as you can see from the difference between the house as it was in the "before" image below, the journey was a long one, and though the house looks pretty much like the "after" photo above, with the interior finished except for a stove/fireplace makeover we're still arguing about, the unfinished outdoor areas still to be dealt with make me fear that, if for no other reason than that landscapes are living entities, this remodel will never be entirely completed.
Or, should I say, oh, hell?
Frank Lloyd Wright and my own father were in the middle of construction projects when they died in great old age, so I've no reason to think that's a bad thing. (On the other hand, the "Ground Hog Day" aspect, where we seemingly relived every agonizing moment ad infinitum over the course of months, is hopefully behind us.)
The farmhouse (above) was built about 30 years ago. A single-story ranch-style house, with picture window and texture 1-11 plywood siding, it was common for its time in the neighborhood and nearby small towns.
Indeed, there are still several iterations of the house in the immediate neighborhood. And, truth be known, I prefer the simple ranch style to the phony European villas and mushroom-roofed monsterettes that have been planted lately on 2-acre farmettes hereabouts.
On the other hand, the ubiquitous metal barns and sheds are very much in the vernacular of the area, and so with inspiration from Neill Heath's "Farm Houses: The New Style" (especially the Wagner Residence) and architect Jean Rehkamp Larson's "The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home," especially the chapter called "Farmhouse Gumbo" (beginning on Page 187), I cobbled together what I hoped would be a house that would reflect the vernacular of San Joaquin Valley farmhouses and still be livable in the 21st Century.The Wagner Residence in Ferrisburgh, Vermont; Wagner McCann Studio, architect:
Farmhouse Gumbo in rural Mississippi; Ken Tate, architect:
On the website AFriendlyHouse.com I've detailed the various features we've put in place to make the house more comfortable and safer for us -- and our friends -- as we age. Here, however, are the before and after floor plans, once again.
Farmhouse floor plan before:
Farmhouse floor plan as built:
Dr. Roger Landry, president of Masterpiece Living in Massachusetts, told builders at the 50+ Housing Forum on day two of the Pacific Coast Builders Show, that knowledge of how we age will change how we treat aging. "We can age in another way," he said, because how we age will depend on our lifestyle.
"If the environment isn't right," he said, our aging will be impacted. Centers for healthy aging is achievable, he said, if we go into it with purpose. Designing communities for an aging population, as the MacArthur Foundation has found, includes providing means for residents to stay engaged in life, have a network of friends and share with other living things. Aging well, Landry said, means having a sense of community and having meaning -- a purpose -- in life.
When you're designing communities, he told builders," think of a university. Include growth, growth, growth." Think about what you would want, think of growth, and universities. Think of what George Eliot said: 'It's never too late to become what you might have been'."
(Lynette Evans photo)
The exhibit hall at San Francisco's Moscone Center was busy but not crowded for the opener of the 2012 Pacific Coast Builders Show.
Motivational speaker Sir Ken Robinson pumped up builders at the opening of the Pacific Coast Builders Show with the exhortation to "find your passion." And the truncated (two days) show could use the pep talk.
The author of the best-selling book "The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything" (Penguin/Viking 2009) wasn't simply giving the standard graduation speech; i.e. "do what you love." He was lamenting the fact that we are too often thwarted in the search for those things we would be good at -- and, yes, that we love -- by parents, schools and society as a whole. Many, if not most, of us pass our lives without ever knowing where our best talents lie, he said, and that has created a society facing not only "a crisis of natural resources" but also "a crisis of human resources."
Robinson, an emeritus professor of education at Warwick University in Britain whose 2006 and 2010 TED Conference speeches have been viewed by 200 million people, decried the institutional dumbing down that restricts creativity. "If we design an educational system based on uniformity, compliance, standardization," he said, "that's what you'll get." Such "teaching to the test" stifles creativity.
What does this have to do with the construction industry? Such constraints are not confined to the educational system, he insists, but have pervaded all aspects of society. Recounting the story of his hometown of Liverpool, England, that was bombed during World War II and "finished off" by developers who "lost sight of the organic nature of human life," he called for building that "accommodates and houses people" but that also nurtures community, culture, etc. "We contain and restrain rather than allowing people and communities to flourish," he said.
And, while we cannot know what's going to happen, he said, dissuading a child from trying out her passion will surely prevent that child from discovering what she's good at, equally importantly, what she will love doing. So, too, communities may not become utopias by builders who open up their thinking toward nurturing the organic nature of human life, but continuing to lock into the traditional building box will ensure that we won't find out.
Bookending Robinson's keynote address, Dana Cho, partner at IDEO, and Kate Lydon, design strategist & project lead at the Palo Alto design firm, wrapped up the daylong Consumer Insights Forum by showing builders how to see homes and their surroundings holistically.
"Home is never set in stone," Cho told the builders, but the roles of houses evolve as do lives, and builders should look at "How might you create a home that adapts to new conditions and needs?" Outside (or maybe inside) the home "Network is the new neighborhood" and builders must look at "What's the role of the physical home in the new networks" where we strangers have become "important influences"?
Lydon elaborated on the need to see homes from a holistic angle elucidating a set of values and worklife roles that include the current trends to "own less, share more" and "creation over consumption." and wondering aloud "How might houses enable healthy habits and rituals."
"Work is a lifestyle decision," she said, and if "work is no longer monolithic, why should home be?"
Words for builders -- and everyone else -- to chew on.
On the lookout for accessible products
We spent the middle part of the day (when we weren't at Jillian's sports bar taking in the semi-finals of the European soccer matches -- a nail-biter in which Spain bested Portugal 4-2 in the penalty kick phase following double overtime to face the winner of tomorrow's Germany-Italy match) searching for building products that accommodate people with physical disabilities and the challenges of aging.
We were impressed with the touch-on kitchen faucets by Delta and Briza and the soon-to-be-introduced MotionSense kitchen faucets (see them in the Gallery section of the website: www.afriendlyhouse.com, and we were literally "walked through" the ThyssenKrupp's stair climber, a lift that helps one walk up and down stairs that has been introduced in Europe but not yet in the United States. (We're showing it below, but I'm not sure how popular this fixture, whose $10,000 or so pricetag is far above the average $3,500 cost of a for a chair-type lift, will be for home use.)