We’ve pictured a very specific demographic living in our home since we first pitched House by Northwestern to the Solar Decathlon in 2015, and this vision has informed every step of our design process. More than being the most energy-efficient building on Northwestern’s campus and one of the most energy-efficient homes in Evanston, HBN will ultimately be a home to a very real family.
We want to take this opportunity to formally introduce you to the people who (though fictional) we created using findings and evidence from our extensive user research and who represent the potential future occupants of our home after the competition.
Meet Michael and Lisa, a recent empty-nester couple who has lived in Evanston, the city just north of Chicago, for their entire married life. Michael is 55 and Lisa is 53, and both are at the later end of the Baby Boomer generation. They have two children: one is in college, and the other lives with his fiancé in St. Louis. Michael works at a banking firm in Chicago and commutes downtown every day. Lisa is a graphic designer and generally works from home. They both expect to retire in 10 to 15 years.
Since their children have left the house, Michael and Lisa have been thinking about downsizing and are looking for a smaller home in Evanston. They want a house that’s easy to maintain, comfortable, versatile and a place they could see themselves living in for the rest of their lives.
It needs to be something that can accommodate their current, very active lifestyles: a place they won’t worry about maintaining as they travel more, a place that has space to host dinner parties and holiday gatherings, a house that allows for cooking, gardening and other projects… But both also know they need a place they can call home when age catches up to them resulting in changes to their mobility and activity. Both Michael and Lisa have had to take care of parents late in life, and want a home that is “future proof” and secure for them as they themselves age. After Lisa’s mom broke her hip in her late 70’s while living alone in her large house, she moved into a retirement community. While her mother has liked the support she receives in the home, Lisa does not like the idea of moving into one herself and has noticed her mother is much less active. When Michael’s parents got older and his dad began displaying signs of dementia, Michael’s parents moved in with the family until his father’s death a few years ago. Knowing this, Michael and Lisa hope to find a home that can also accommodate a wheelchair or a potential live-in caretaker.
In their search, they haven’t found anything that fits this need – many homes in Evanston are very old and large and require significant maintenance. In fact, this problem isn’t unique to Michael and Lisa – only about 1 percent of the U.S. housing market is suitable for people to age in place – the other 99% lacks accessibility features. That’s where HBN comes in.
Our home has everything Michael and Lisa need – from special night lights to prevent falls to grab bars that look like typical towel racks, the couple will be able to age in a place that doesn’t feel any different from a home they’d live in as active middle-aged adults. Michael and Lisa have finally found a home that doesn’t force them to adjust their needs to fit the house but rather is designed to accommodate them.