Where We Grow Older

A trio of films produced by the CCA points the way towards an architecture of peace and care that requires us all to share.

Alí Bei, designed by Pau Vidal and Vivas Arquitectos, is one of 20 seniors’ apartment buildings funded by the city of Barcelona. Still from Where We Grow Older, 2023. © CCA

Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) strives to “make people think” about architecture as a public concern. One way they do this is by commissioning, screening—and even producing—films. 

The CCA’s cinematic strength shines in Where We Grow Older, the culminating segment of a trio of housing documentaries directed by Daniel Schwartz, whose prior housing hits include The Disappearance of Robin Hood and Torre David. Conceived by CCA Director Giovanna Borasi, this new film trilogy explores housing innovations in cities around the world. Beyond sharing great projects, these films help viewers to see and to empathize with people who need an architecture of care and those working to provide it.

The first film, What it Takes to Make a Home (2019), shares what led to Star Apartments, an iconic supportive housing project for the chronically homeless designed by Michael Maltzan in Los Angeles (where the homeless population exceeds 75,000), and an even more inclusive mixed-use co-housing project in Vienna called VinziRast-mittendrin, by Gaupenraub+/- architects, which brings university students, workshops, and a restaurant into the homeless housing mix. In both cases, quality architecture centers, and protects vulnerable people, defending their right to the city, and to good design.

The second film, When We Live Alone (2020) peeks at people living solo in Tokyo, where, squeezed for money, time and space, individuals balance intimate solitude with urban adventures. As the film reveals, however, a society of individuals is possible only in communities with generous public spaces, parks, libraries, affordable restaurants, and cafés, where social life is risked and shared.

Where We Grow Older (2023) hits a homerun, with seniors’ housing success stories in Barcelona and Baltimore. Now playing internationally, the film screened recently at Winnipeg’s Architecture + Design Film Festival. The film features elders happy to have quality housing and care, seniors keen to access it, and a chorus of thoughtful architects, community advocates, and support staff. A tale of two cities, the film compares successful municipally funded projects like Alí Bei, in Barcelona, a city rich in innovative housing and social infrastructure, with the soon to be built Carehaus, an intergenerational co-housing project in a neglected neighborhood of Baltimore.

Designed by Pau Vidal and Vivas Arquitectos, Alí Bei (completed in 2020) is one of 20 seniors’ apartment buildings in Barcelona funded and managed by the city. The growing network aims to provide housing and care for hundreds—perhaps thousands—of low-income seniors, allowing them longer lives in their own neighborhoods. Generous courtyards, terraces and balconies, overlook lively social amenities, like market squares and sporting fields, bringing a mix of people and activities together.

In Baltimore, Carehaus is an ambitious intergenerational co-housing project, aiming to integrate professional caregivers and their families with elderly tenants they care for together in the building. Co-designed by community-based artist Marisa Morán Jahn, architect Rafi Segal, and affordable housing developer Ernst Valery, the project is a promising pilot. If expanded, and more fully funded, it could profoundly reverse patterns of isolation and neglect that have damaged and divided people around the world.

These three CCA films on housing—and the people and projects they gather—show us how and why change might yet be achieved. 

Based in Toronto, architectural teacher and critic Ted Landrum was co-curator of Winnipeg’s annual Architecture+Design Film Festival for 10 years. Support their festival by visiting adff.ca

As appeared in the June 2024 issue of Canadian Architect magazine