Legible, Traversable, Diverse, Aesthetic, and Interconnected

Five characteristics of Supportive Care Home Buildings

Two architectural researchers from the BESiDE team spent many months observing care homes in use.  These observations were notated and submitted to a rigorous process of analysis.  Using the ‘five ways to wellbeing’ as a guide, we observed activities which have the potential to improve resident’s wellbeing.  We studied the interactions with the buildings that set the context for these activities.

We have identified five qualities of the built environment that help enable resident activities. We believe these qualities deserve specific attention during the management, specification, and design of care environments.  


Legible - easy to understand

How easy a building is to understand helps residents locate themselves, and understand appropriate activity within a particular space.  Useful cues such as landmarks and signage can help them to move through, identify, and remember hallways and rooms.  Temporary cues such as light levels or open doors can help suggest current activities and the time of the day.  When buildings give inappropriate messages this can confuse users.

For example: A door with a large D shaped handle sent the message it was to be pulled but as it was in fact a push door this confused someone trying to use it.  

Traversable - easy to move through

How easy it is to move through a building is affected by the obstacles and aids it offers.  How wide hallways are and how easy doors are to use make it easier or more difficult to get around the building.  How the building is arranged can cause some areas to become congested.

For Example:  A corridor that is narrow at a junction resulted in congestion and problems getting past other people.  Nearby seats allowed people to take a rest, or get out of the way whilst waiting for someone else.  

Interconnected - aids communication

How well connected the communal spaces of a care home are enables social interactions and makes seeking help and providing support easier.   Connections can be within open plan spaces or through doors or windows. Careful planning of routes around a home can promote chance encounters.  Connections between staff areas and resident areas enable staff to engage with residents socially whilst performing routine tasks. 

For Example: A open plan room with a variety of spaces allowed for a member of staff to be on hand if needed whilst also completing paperwork and for a group of residents to observe and take interest in the activity of others.  

Aesthetic - interesting, beautiful, and pleasing

The decor of a space can affect the interaction with it.  Items of interest and a connection with outside provide focal points for attention. An interesting environment provides prompts to activity, sparks to conversation and opportunities for taking notice of our surroundings.  Appropriate styling and scale of spaces create atmospheres with a suitable level of homeliness.

For Example: A panoramic view provided interest and a topic of conversation for one group of visitors and residents; whereas, another resident was sitting comfortably in front of the fireplace watching television.  

Diverse - offers variety and choice

The variety of spaces enables  a care home to meet the many demands put on it by the busy care home day.   A choice of rooms facilitates options of activity or company.  A variety between different atmospheres, lighting, or facilities provides a choice to allow for a match to current activity, mood, or personal preference.  Flexibility in furniture allows for adaptation to suit individual and momentary needs.  

For Example: A second smaller lounge furnished differently and with music instead of tv gave residents a choice in who they wanted to sit with and how they wanted to spend their time and provided the setting for a small family group visiting.


For more details please see our publication in ArchNET IJAR.