The power of eternity

Welcome to the Longevity Industry or L.I.

Image: Phillippe Leone - Unsplash

Forty! Look back 150 years and that was the average lifespan of a typical human. Today, some scientists predict that by 2050 the average lifespan will be around 120. This is where the Longevity Industry or L.I. comes in. In its infancy in Australia, L.I is set to be one of the most complex industries in global history. As an architect working in the eldersphere, I am curious about how L.I. will impact on what experiences and possibilities we can expect from our built ‘care’ environments.

Not so long ago, this discussion would have been pushed sideways into experimental sci-fi, pharma marketing or (by confusion) a cryogenics debate. However, the complex energy around longevity occurs not only through biotechnology and biomedicine. Longevity mashes Geroscience, Biomedicine, Age -Tech and Finance into one consolidated and large retail consumer experience. To meet expectations within this growing and convergent economy we need to take a pro-active not reactive attitude to health and associated financial investment. Of old, the L.I industry was about maintenance of life. Clinical application dominated. Focusing ahead, the L.I industry looks to build and extend life through design, choice and opportunity.

If L.I. continues current growth trajectories, it will need to question how advanced bio and preventive medicine will navigate and impact on multiple systems, such as: health, insurance, political, financial and the technological. In this ecosystem, architectural design offers a unique marketing possibility. L.I acknowledges both promise and risk. This thinking is the necessary groundwork we need to do in order to stabilise Australia for the often referred ‘silver tsunami’ and to sophisticate ‘pre-tirement’ arrangements.

Propositionally, longevity will generate new typologies and urban strategies through empathetic design. As the needs of our population shift, we must take an approach to place that prioritises longevity. Ambitiously, it will activate ‘design for encounter’ & ‘intentional neighbouring’ to foster an entirely new urban design care genome. It could (and should) replace our current design guidelines. Imagine a longevity architecture where performance measures connect positive mental health design with community happiness?

We are living longer. The allure of extended health and wealth puts the prospect of being a long-term citizen now firmly into the mainstream and is now often popularised in consumer media. Longer living is now profiled. If architecture is a cultural expression, it needs to catch up. Our current built environment still largely operates on use-by dates based on disposability and fit-for-(limited)-purpose. Architecture needs to learn that longevity won’t stay for long in the shadows of the wellbeing industry. It is closely entangled with brand loyalty and personalised retail experiences. Dystopian? No.

There is another perspective. Longevity challenges mainstream awareness of loneliness, mental health issues and isolation in our society as we become more aware of, and accept, the longevity wealth that comes from reflection and the experience of time. Long term thinking absorbed into short term behavioural change propels mental health and access to amenity into the longevity discourse.

It is an exciting proposition to consider replacing the word ‘sustainability’ with ‘longevity’. Health experts lead the charge, but tech giants are investing and making the biggest bets on escalated life expectancy.Furthest from market readiness but by far the most relevant to L.I are the bio-medical mechanisms slowing the process of ageing and extending control. This shifts attention away from blockbuster drugs towards increasingly personalised, precise, preventive and participatory treatments. The mantra of ‘personalized, precise, preventative and participatory’ is equally relevant to how and where we live as it is to residential models of care. To quote Brian Eno ‘We live in different sizes of here’.

In care environments, our architecture already supports AI health technologies, techniques and protocols. Do we have it right? Probably not. One future of AI within L.I. will be the support and blend of non-medical data factors such as financial, psychological and social wellness that actively impact on the quality of life and the functionality of our eldersphere machine learnt from pattern.

Consider the vast amounts of life data and information already collected in most developed nations. Artificial intelligence, big data and predictive analytical techniques already use this type of data to create personalised recommendations. It is in the now future, that citizens can optimise their lifestyles and behaviours to achieve a high degree of wellness, stability, happiness, social involvement and activity to achieve a minimum-sick existence over time. What happened?

In Australia, many grew up with the slogan ‘slip slop slap’. We were unaware (and sometimes resistant) at the time, but we have been anti-aging our skin since we were young.

A shift in attention from health treatment to prevention has led to an expectation of being able to calibrate and control the environment around us. This has swayed us to focus on the impact and emotion surrounding the experience of time and ageing. Anti-ageing is no longer skin deep.

‘Slip slop slap’ was an alarm bell for an unrealistic expectation of no returns or consequence. The unachievable risk-free tan. When we think about integrating business into an Australian society saturated with age-related technology, we should get ahead of the alarm. Embracing a future but present thinking, we must expect and plan for a product offer and architecture that is culturally, spatially and environmentally tuned to our individual potential.

If we don’t question, we face the real possibility of yet invented financial models that will adversely affect our longevity experience. How, because they, the large financial institutions, manage to neutralize the economic issues of an aging population by manifesting the opportunities in Healthy Longevity, and simultaneously entering and merging new markets with Age and Wealth Tech. This is increasingly commercially attractive because there is a about one billion people surfing pre-tirement globally who face a discrepancy between their life expectancy and their health adjusted economic planning.

Our homes are already wellbeing lifestyle appliances. Smart home technology and IoT (Internet of Things) devices are mainstream and everywhere. As we live longer, performance needs from our ‘home’ will become increasingly managed and escalated. Better yet, let’s ask, no, let’s demand that good design and architecture enhance and improve our neuroplasticity and support our social connectedness. Why, because good design promotes curiosity and engagement through learning.

In the film ‘Ground Hog Day’, Bill Murray was a character trapped in a dystopian longevity disaster movie. Some see it as Buddhist masterpiece. Whatever, the question prevails: Who wants immortality if we are not happy? As an architect working in the eldersphere I ask; Why don’t we don’t ask the same question from our built environment, every day?

[Source: Simon Drysdale, Group Director Seniors Living, Thomson Adsett,]