As Ireland’s population increases and ages, we’re acutely aware of the changing housing needs of this growing demographic. Great Northern Haven at Barrack Street was a project designed to help to tackle this: to create sensor-enabled, sustainable, independent homes for older persons.

We proposed the project in answer to a question prompted by a 2005 article in Architectural Digest: How can technology be incorporated into the home in a sensitive way as an enabler, without looking clinical?

Representing a unique collaboration between partners in academia, the HSE, Louth local authorities and social entrepreneurship, this development was the first of its kind in Ireland, in which we led the integrated design team in this Dundalk, Co. Louth project, completed in 2009.

Comprising sixteen intelligent, sustainable housing units, a warden’s apartment and a network centre, it enables people, as they get older or infirm, to live independently in their homes for as long as possible, redirecting care as they age from an institutional setting to a home and community setting.

These intelligent homes are universally accessible, wholly sustainable from an energy conservation standpoint, and have sensor technology built in, allowing the older person to remain independent for longer and to remotely activate outside help if and when they need it. A Fall Detection System not only raises an alarm in the event of the occupant falling, but also simultaneously shuts down the gas mains and running water until the safety of the resident is ensured.

The design took lifecycle cost considerations into account and introduced measures which included maximising passive solar gain and urban density, and constructing the units using sustainable materials and providing a very high standard of insulation. The units are designed to provide spacious and flexible - but above all universally accessible - layouts for the residents.

Research outputs from the Great Northern Haven project will help influence the quality of new housing provision at a national level, the adaptation of existing homes for aging-in-place, and more effective, integrated delivery of services to older people in their homes. The model can also be applied to other target groups such as those with physical or intellectual disabilities. The Barrack Street Housing project will ultimately increase our ability to support those with higher dependency needs within the community, and closer to home.

A partnership project between M.CO, Dundalk Town Council, the Centre for Affective Solutions for Ambient Living Awareness (CASALA) at Dundalk Institute of Technology, the Health Services Executive (Dublin Northeast Area), the National Centre for Sensor Research at Dublin City University, and the University of Ulster, Great Northern Haven was made possible with funding from the Department of the Environment, Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, and Atlantic Philanthropies.

This is a flagship project for Co. Louth as Ireland's first 'Age-Friendly' County and will inform national policy in relation to services for older people, and has commercial applications in the assisted living and healthcare sector.

The first ever International Conference on Age-Friendly Cities featured a site visit to Barrack Street – as an international exemplar in design for ageing-in-place. The event was organised by the World Health Organisation, the International Federation on Ageing and Ireland's Age Friendly County Programme.