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Sheltered Housing for Harlow s Elderly Population

Part 2 Project 1999
Thomas Hupe
University of Westminster | UK
The project began with a study of Harlow New Town which recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

The town, originally christened 'pram town' by the national press, was developed around a grid of primary schools each supporting a community of 7000 people and establishing a series of 'neighbourhood units'.

Closer inspection of Harlow revealed that the 'Harlow model' has long been studied on a worldwide scale. Specifically, officials from the various Japanese Prefectures have visited the town on a regular basis from the mid 1970's onwards with a view to implementing planning concepts from the Harlow model in Japan.

Through participation in one such visit and the mapping of visits from 1980 onwards, it was seen that the study of the 'neighbourhood units' has been gradually replaced by the study of Harlow's elderly community. The 'pram town' is now said to lead the country in elderly care facilities.

The project addresses the social issues raised by an increase in the elderly population through establishing a planning code and a scheme designed to support an elderly community.

Thomas Hupe

This year the Unit studied Harlow New Town some fifty years after its founding. Students were inevitably drawn to the social programmes of this continuing experiment and to the transformations the town has undergone.

Tom’s project operates at a number of different layers. His initial studies into parallel forms of urbanism to Harlow uncovered mysterious links to Japan. Harlow’s plan was deeply influential in the development of Japanese urbanism. Moreover Tom discovered that Japanese experts were still visiting Harlow on a regular basis. Following them, Tom discovered that they now came to study Harlow’s pioneering treatment of the elderly. Pram Town had become Wrinkly Town. Tom began to study the impact of ageing on Harlow both at an urban scale and the scale of sheltered housing. This led to testing the flexibility of Harlow’s housing stock and to the reorientation of specific neighbourhoods to what he called ‘reality orientation’. Reality Orientation is a new process whereby mental frailty in the elderly is tackled by confronting them with their immediate environment and personal histories. My name is...Today is...The month is....and so on. Tom began to construct this environment with an installation based around an interactive fireplace and window. He designed housing units and a neighbourhood formed around a landscape of controlled seasonal change.

The project is serious and without sentimentality yet extremely human. We have enjoyed Tom’s mastery of the architectural and urban consequences of the taboo subject of ageing.

Nicholas Boyarsky

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