Stanford Longevity Design Challenge 2021/22

“Longevity-Ready Environments: Rethinking Physical Spaces for Century-Long Lives

So is the Stanford Center on Longevity theme for this ninth year of the Longevity Design Challenge 2021/22. The open call for design submissions begins in mid-September with teams of finalists announced this coming January and winners chosen sometime in April 2022.

Every year since 2013, I have had fun trying to pick the winners while at the same time gaining insights on the technology design process and the diversity of ideas that are meant to, as Stanford says, “improve well-being across the lifespan.”

Certainly this theme picks up on a topic that has become even more pronounced over this past year and a half of the COVID world – our changing needs, uses and multiple relationships with physical spaces. One obvious space, near and dear to all of us, is our own home. We have spent more time there confined due to public health measures. And we were further exposed to the fact that the need for safe physical space for homeless people in urban areas was even more critical.  

Further still, with that in mind, we have to ponder on what the promise or hope of “century-long lives” looks like for those around the world, homeless and/or in mass migration. In that sense, even for those of us more fortunate to have a home, our relationship with physical space means more than four walls and a roof. Urban spaces around and to and from the home – work places, community centres, parks, shopping centres and more are all part of the mix.  

In the preamble to the 2021/22 Design Challenge, the composers of this year’s theme have taken a broader view to consider all of the factors that make for rethinking our urban spaces:

“We challenge student design teams around the world to examine the physical environments in their communities and identify opportunities to design for an environment that supports long lives. Students are encouraged to consider all aspects of their physical environments including public spaces, indoor spaces, and urban design.”

The Design Challenge suggests that student teams consider such concerns such as public infrastructure, including housing and transportation, and mitigation of weather extremes and climate change. What makes this theme even more relevant is that it ties into the WHO Age-Friendly Cities network, (launched in 2007), and it also coincides with the recently announced UN 2021-2030 Decade of healthy Ageing.  

So all in all a Design Challenge theme that arrives at a dynamic time when urban lives, potentially century-long, and well beyond our own times, are at a critical moment, where public health, public space and private space are set for a revolution in thinking. Creating design solutions for communities must be age-inclusive and in that spirit, I hope in their consultations, the student teams engage a wide range of people who are at varied points in their life course.

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