AARP and RISD Present Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Concepts at the Rhode Island State House

January 25, 2024

RISD Student Designs on Display on January 25

PROVIDENCE, RI – January 25, 2024 – AARP Rhode Island and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) today showcased Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) designs created by 10 RISD student teams in the Library of the Rhode Island State House.

The concepts were developed following a prompt that AARP RI posed to Interior Architecture students in November, challenging them to develop creative ADU concepts that would showcase the range of benefits this important housing option can offer for people to age in their communities. Members of the Rhode Island General Assembly behind the ADU Initiative gathered at RISD at that time to view and vote on the thoughtful, well-considered designs, with the final culmination being the student presentations of the concepts at today’s public event, which was attended by legislators, state officials, municipal planners, affordable housing advocates and others from across the state.

“You see here today some truly innovative ADU concepts,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor. “The RISD Interior Architecture students have earned our admiration for both their creativity and their clear understanding of the housing needs of older adults. We thank the RISD faculty members – led by Wolfgang Max Rudorf and Elizabeth Debs – who embraced this project with such generosity and enthusiasm.   

“People thinking of downsizing, hoping to be near families and caregivers, or wanting to stay in a familiar community as they grow older, are very interested in ADUs as flexible and affordable housing options.

“The inspiring work by these talented RISD students will help raise awareness of the many ways ADUs can be designed to meet the needs of older Rhode Islanders and their families,” Taylor said. “We’re delighted to display these exciting designs at the State House so that lawmakers and their constituents can see for themselves why ADUs make so much sense.”
“In the Interior Architecture department at RISD, we look for opportunities to use design as a way to explore pressing community needs with collaborators who are experts in their fields,” noted faculty member Elizabeth Debs. “AARP has been stellar to work with – in only a few days, students quickly learned important strategies for aging in place, as well as universal design approaches they will be able to use throughout their careers. The sophisticated and nuanced proposals showed an understanding of designing for a range of populations and abilities, and created sensitive, barrier-free designs that focused on well-being. The students really absorbed the important issues presented by AARP and demonstrated empathy for the different populations that need ADUs through the designs.”
RISD Interior Architecture faculty encouraged student teams to create designs with an overall goal of thoughtfully increasing the production of ADUs that support aging in place. Criteria included:
Siting Consider the relationship to primary structure and neighboring lots through design to enhance privacy and a balance between independence, safety, and support. When siting the structure consider paths of access, solar orientation, view lines, impact to the site/landscape, and access to vehicles. 

Diverse family and household types Accommodate the needs of older adults, disabled persons, caregivers, and renters. 

Age-Friendly Design for aging-in-place by incorporating age-friendly features. The size and use of these dwellings will require that they be single story, and reachable via a graded entry. Proposals should include universal design features and be adaptable over time. 

Affordability Encourage designs that are lower-cost to construct and maintain to make them financially accessible to households with the widest possible range of incomes. 

Sustainability Plan for long-term environmental impacts, including initial construction, life cycle considerations, material selection, energy and resource conservation. 
Innovative construction methods Support new construction and delivery methods, such as panelized, modular or pre-fabricated homes. 

At a minimum, the ADU designs were expected to include facilities for food preparation and eating, bathing and toileting, sleeping, recreation, storage, utilities and outdoor use. The building size may vary from a minimum of 350 square feet to a maximum of 900 square feet.

In a 2023 AARP Vital Voices Survey, 53% of Rhode Islanders ages 45 and older said they would consider building an ADU. In fact, 5 percent said they have already added an ADU. And a strong majority (79%) support town ordinances that make it easier for property owners to create an ADU.

AARP’s 2023 Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Scorecard ranks Rhode Island 51st, or dead last, in the country for housing for older adults. 
And AARP’s 2023 Livability Index gave Rhode Island an overall housing score of 40. The national average is 48.

“The AARP Livability Index shows that all communities have room to improve to ensure that residents of all ages are active, engaged and supported, particularly when it comes to affordable housing options,” said Rodney Harrell, PhD, AARP Vice President of Family, Home and Community. “Everyone has a role to play – from community members to researchers, to local advocates and policymakers – to help fill the gaps between what people want and need and what their communities provide, so more older adults can live independently.”

“We must reframe how we think about housing as we grow older, and ADUs are part of the equation,” added Taylor. “Aging in community is possible if homes can be modified to accommodate changing needs. Our cities and towns must have housing options that are suitable for differing incomes, ages and life stages. ADUs are one way to accomplish this goal.”

About AARP
AARP is the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With a nationwide presence, AARP strengthens communities and advocates for what matters most to the more than 100 million Americans 50-plus and their families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment. AARP also produces the nation’s largest circulation publications: AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin. To learn more, visit,ñol or follow @AARP, @AARPenEspañol and @AARPadvocates on social media.

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) is a creative community founded in 1877 in Providence, Rhode Island. Today, we enroll 2,538 students hailing from 60 countries. Led by a committed faculty, they are engaged in 44 full-time bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and supported by a worldwide network of over 31,000 alumni who demonstrate the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society.

Beyond facts and figures, what is the spirit of this community? Through a cross-disciplinary curriculum of studio-based learning and rigorous study in the liberal arts, RISD students are encouraged to develop their own personal creative processes, but they are united by one guiding principle: in order to create, one must question. In cultivating expansive and elastic thinking, RISD seeks to activate a critical exchange that empowers artists, designers and scholars to generate and challenge the ideas that shape our world. RISD’s mission, at both the college and museum, is not only to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, but to transmit that knowledge and make global contributions. Visit to learn more.

About RISD Interior Architecture

At the intersection of architecture, conservation and design, RISD Interior Architecture takes an innovative approach to the reuse and transformation of existing buildings. Studios focused on adaptive reuse are central to both the undergraduate and graduate programs. And unlike interior design and decoration, Interior Architecture aims to understand the design of buildings from inside out.

Jaime Marland
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John Martin