Imagined bodies: Architects and their constructions of later life

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This article comprises a sociological analysis of how architects imagine the ageing body when designing residential care homes for later life and the extent to which they engage empathetically with users. Drawing on interviews with architectural professionals based in the United Kingdom, we offer insight into the ways in which architects envisage the bodies of those who they anticipate will populate their buildings. Deploying the notions of 'body work' and 'the body multiple', our analysis reveals how architects imagined a variety of bodies in nuanced ways. These imagined bodies emerge as they talked through the practicalities of the design process. Moreover, their conceptions of bodies were also permeated by prevailing ideologies of caring: Although we found that they sought to resist dominant discourses of ageing, they nevertheless reproduced these discourses. Architects' constructions of bodies are complicated by the collaborative nature of the design process, where we find an incessant juggling between the competing demands of multiple stakeholders, each of whom anticipate other imagined bodies and seek to shape the design of buildings to meet their requirements. Our findings extend a nascent sociological literature on architecture and social care by revealing how architects participate in the shaping of care for later life as 'body workers', but also how their empathic aspirations can be muted by other imperatives driving the marketisation of care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1435-1457
Number of pages23
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number7
Early online date19 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

© Cambridge University Press 2016.


  • Architects
  • body work
  • imagined bodies
  • later life
  • residential care home design

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