Architecture and Aging

The Depiction of Home in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her


  • Annmarie Adams McGill University
  • Sally Chivers Trent University



Our paper focuses on Sarah Polley’s flm Away from Her as a commentary on places purposely constructed for care. We draw on cultural and architectural analysis to uncover the flm’s reassertion and yet subtle critique of the troubling association of aging with decline, to which dementia provides a shortcut. We analyze the flm’s architectural nod to themes of “home,” the importance of natural light, and the depiction of circulation spaces as a means to further understand the association of old age with darkness and disorientation. The paper shows how the flm’s projection of typologies of “home” is indicative of the continuities and ruptures experienced by residents with dementia and their family members. We demonstrate how Polley’s flm uses real-life architecture as a set, such that her characters (who are not yet elderly but who are experiencing what the general public understands to be disorders of old age) navigate the apparently dark and confusing interiors of long-term care, bathed in profuse natural light. While the flm is a drama about illness and love, the conficts about where to live, how to care, and what comprises fdelity, the role of long-term care architecture in Away from Her shows how twenty-frst-century lived experiences of dementia play out away from “home".

Author Biographies

Annmarie Adams, McGill University

is former Director and William C. Macdonald Professor at the School of Architecture, McGill University, Montreal. She is the author of Architecture in the Family Way: Doctors, Houses, and Women, 1870-
1900 (McGill-Queens University Press, 1996), Medicine by Design: The Architect and the Modern Hospital, 1893-1943 (University of Minnesota Press, 2008) and coauthor of Designing Women: Gender and the Architectural Profession (University of Toronto Press, 2000). Readers may write to Annmarie
Adams at

Sally Chivers, Trent University

is Professor of English Literature and Founding Executive Member of the Trent Centre for Aging and Society at Trent University. She is the author of From Old Woman to Older Women: Contemporary Culture
and Women’s Narratives and The Silvering Screen: Old Age and Disability in Cinema, as well as journal articles and book chapters on representations of aging and disability in Canada and beyond. She is also the coeditor of The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film. Readers may write to Sally Chivers at 


Adams, Annmarie, and Sally Chivers. “Home Pages: Domesticity and Duplicity in Images of Architecture for Ageing.” Seachange (2013): 81–102. Web. 13 May 2014.

Alder, Mike, Jillian Follert, and Rob O’Flanagan. “Situation Critical: A Metroland Special Report.” 16 June 2010. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

Axmaker, Sean. “Poignant Away Paints a Painful Portrait of Loss.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer 10 May 2007. Web. 5 Feb. 2013.

Basting, Anne Davis. Forget Memory: Creating Better Lives for People with Dementia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2009. Kindle. Location 527.

Burns, Sean. “Now Comes the Night.” Philadelphia Weekly 16 May 2007. Web. 5 Feb. 2013.

Caouette, Elaine. “The Image of Nursing Homes and Its Impact on the Meaning of Home for Elders.” Home and Identity in Late Life Ed. Graham D. Rowles and Habib Chaudhury. New York: Springer, 2005. 251–78.

Chaudhury, Habib. Remembering Home: Rediscovering the Self in Dementia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008. Web. 15 July 2013.

Chaudhury, Habib, and Graham D. Rowles. “Between the Shores of Recollection and Imagination: Self, Aging, and Home.” Home and Identity in Late Life. Ed. Graham D. Rowles and Habib Chaudhury. New York: Springer, 2005. 3-20.

Chivers, Sally. Silvering Screen: Old Age and Disability in Cinema. U of Toronto P, 2011.

Franklin, Mark. “Handled with Care.” Canadian Architect 45.11 (2000): 30–35.

“Freeport Hospital Health Care Village.” Canadian Architect (1990): 28–32.

Gullette, Margaret Morganroth. Aged by Culture. 1st ed. U of Chicago P, 2004.

Katz, Stephen. “What Is Age Studies?” Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1 (2014): Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Kellaher, Leonie. “Shaping Everyday Life: Beyond Design.” Inclusive Housing in an Ageing Society: Innovative Approaches. Ed. Sheila Peace and Caroline Holland. Bristol: Policy, 2001. 215–234.

Krasner, James. “Accumulated Lives: Metaphor, Materiality, and the Homes of the Elderly.” Literature and Medicine 24.2 (2005): 209–30. Web. 8 June 2011.

Lamster, Mark. Architecture and Film. Princeton: Princeton Architectural P, 2000.

Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007 - O. Reg. 79/10. Web. 25 July 2011.

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Long-Term Care Home Design Manual. 2009.

Munro, Alice. “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” Fiction. The New Yorker 27 Dec 1999. Web. 5 Feb 2013. Rpt. in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001. 275-315.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. “In Situ: Lived Space in Architecture and Cinema.” Web. 6 June 2014.

—. “Monster in the Maze: The Architecture of The Shining.” The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema. Helsinki: Rakennustieto, 2001. 93–115.

—. “Stairways of the Mind.” International Forum of Psychoanalysis 9.1-2 (2000): 7–18. Taylor and Francis+NEJM. Web. 8 Feb. 2014.

Pevere, Geoff. “Away from Her: A Marriage Adrift.” Toronto Star, 4 May 2007. Web. 5 Feb 2013.

Polley, Sarah, dir. Away From Her. Capri, 2006. Film.

—. “Away from Her: Script Notes” Pulling Focus Pictures Inc., 2006. Web. 5 Oct 2011.

Rubinstein, Robert, and Kate de Medeiros. “Home, Self, and Identity.” Home and Identity in Late Life. Ed. Graham D. Rowles and Habib Chaudhury. New York: Springer, 2005. 47–62.

Sandoval-Strausz, Andrew K. Hotel: An American History. Yale UP, 2007.

Struthers, James. “‘A Nice Homelike Atmosphere’: State Alternatives to Family Care for the Aged in Post-World War II Ontario.” Family Matters: Papers in Post-Confederation Canadian Family History. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press, 1998. 335–51.

Walterfedy. “Award-Winning Work.” Web. 8 Sept. 2011.

Wilson, Chris, and Paul Groth. Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson. Berkeley: U of California, 2003.

Zeilig, Hannah. “The Critical Use of Narrative and Literature in Gerontology.” International Journal of Ageing and Later Life. 6.2 (2012): 7-37. Web. 5 Feb 2013.

—. “Dementia as a Cultural Metaphor.” Gerontologist 54.2 (2014): 258-67. Epub (2013).

Zeisel, John, and Martha M. Tyson. “Alzheimer’s Treatment Gardens.” Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations. Ed. Clare Cooper Marcus. John Wiley & Sons, 1999. 437–504.




How to Cite

Adams, A., and S. . Chivers. “Architecture and Aging: The Depiction of Home in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, Jan. 2015, pp. 131-57, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v2i.130741.