Prime Location

3.19.2012

By Jerry Portwood

A gay retirement community to show how antiquated our concept of aging is.

The architect Matthias Hollwich is honest when he broaches a taboo subject. “I’m officially old,” he says without a trace of irony. “I’m 40, and I know that I’ve surpassed 50% of my life expectancy.” As Hollwich explains, it shouldn’t be such a troubling fact. “We’re still attractive, but not like the hot youngsters,” he says. “Our focus is changing. We ask ourselves, ‘Now what?’ ”

Hollwich and his design partner at HWKN, Marc Kushner, have answered that potential existential predicament with BOOM, a progressive retirement community that’s light-years away from the limbo of Lysol-scented Shady Pines. The idea grew from Hollwich’s own anxiety that he couldn’t find a place where he’d want to live as he got older. So the firm used its extensive contacts (Kushner and Hollwich also cofounded Architizer, the popular social networking site for architects) and received designs by 18 top firms sensitive to queer issues. The first BOOM community is set to open in gay mecca Palm Springs as soon as 2014. The buildings range from modern, flat-roofed modular homes to leggy concrete spectacles. The second phase is planned for a relaxed, sunny spot in Spain’s Costa del Sol, and a third is slated for an undetermined New York City high-rise.

Hollwich describes BOOM as an intoxicating utopia that sounds more like a disco than an old-folks home: where gay men and women would live in harmony, growing old together, with strong bonds to family and friends, while remaining vital conduits in the larger world. So don’t call it a retirement community.

“We have to eliminate the idea of retirement,” Hollwich explains. “I think those in the gay community are mavericks. We can make the biggest change most graphically: a new way in how we engage aging as a society.”

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