Sarah Ernst

Sarah Ernst, who is currently studying at the University of Sheffield, UK (RIBA Part 1), entered the Architects for Health’s First Student Health Design Award (2007) with the following submission. For contact please email:

A retirement community, Newfield Green, Gleadless Valley, Sheffield

Offering an alternative for older people

A brief

The brief was to design a site specific retirement community which addresses the new challenge for the profession and society at large of an ageing population. It required research into the needs; health and current accommodation of older people, and revealed the positive impacts of activity, exercise and stimulation on physical and mental well-being. The research generated a discussion on the nature of a retirement community and the implications of designing one as an entity in itself, or an element of a greater community.

A site

The inclusion of a site into the discussion had the potential to influence the brief and direction of the project. The site is Newfield Green in Gleadless Valley in the southwest of Sheffield, an area on the outskirts of the city, with the majority of its housing stock dating back to the 1960s. The existing housing typologies, amenities and landscape of the site surroundings influenced the brief. The brief evolved to focus on the design of a housing scheme for older residents within the Newfield Green area to enable them to remain living within their existing neighbourhood in a sheltered environment until they needed a greater level of care.

A proposal

The design is a scheme that is sensitive to the local environment, encouraging interaction with the landscape and creating a connection to the existing community. The buildings are spread across the landscape, responding to the slope of the land and respecting the existing trees. The key reason behind this approach was to encourage residents to circulate through the landscape for physical and mental health benefits.

The scheme includes accommodation, residents’ facilities, a café and a community centre. The residents’ facility provides social spaces, educational resources and an alternative therapy room while the community centre complements existing local amenities to benefit the wider community as well as residents. It offers multifunctional spaces to accommodate exercise classes, childcare, community cinema and meetings. The design of the community centre and residents’ facilities evolved as a series of layers of activity with varying degrees of enclosure determined by changes in materiality. The transition from public to private is marked by a series of thresholds as the materiality and connection to the ground changes.

Research into housing typologies suggested that terraced housing was environmentally and socially sustainable in terms of heat loss and promoting interaction and a sense of community. The accommodation is organised in two terraces, 6 units of serviced apartments which are closer to the residents’ facility and 12 independent accommodation units. The independent housing is organised as a staggered terrace in groups of two and four living units with shared sunspaces in between. Each unit has a south facing view of the valley, and shares an entry porch with their neighbour. The terrace minimises heat loss and the rammed earth construction acts as thermal mass absorbing heat during the day time and releasing it in the evening.

The Architects for Health
First Student Health Design Award
was sponsored by


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