As the sun sets on 2017, senior housing architecture and design is evolving to help providers meet today’s challenges while pushing the industry toward a bolder, more innovative future.
Several leading architecture and design firms are putting a premium on better spaces for staff, both as a way to attract and retain talent, and to motivate workers to provide top-quality care. On the tech front, more sophisticated lighting systems are an area of focus. Other key trends for 2018 include breaking down the silos between care levels, building adjacent to retail and figuring out smart designs for urban and dense suburban locations.
To see how some senior living projects are bringing these and other cutting-edge ideas to life, check out the recently announced nominees for the 2017 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards, listed at the bottom of this article.
Jeff Anderzhon, Senior Planner/Design Architect, Eppstein Uhen Architects:
A trend that is becoming more evident is the increasing size of health care (assisted living, skilled nursing) rooms. Many continuing care retirement community (CCRC) providers think the size of assisted living apartments should be no smaller than their smallest independent living apartment. The view is becoming more and more that health care rooms are simply another “apartment” option which happens to come with a level of care provision.
Another trend is the location of independent living unit apartment developments in urban areas. They are attractive to seniors wanting to live “where the action is” and where there are multiple amenities readily accessible. Additionally, seniors are increasingly reluctant to live in an age-segregated community. They want to mix with all ages of the community.
Elisabeth Borden, Principal, The Highland Group:
Design needs to have a stronger focus on the needs of staff. Staff spaces have traditionally been given a low priority in all types of seniors housing and care communities, yet staff is the lifeblood of the community and should be treated like royalty.
Most properties that are struggling to obtain high levels of occupancy cite staff shortages as a major reason for slower absorption. Thoughtfully designed and plentiful staff spaces demonstrate that management values its staff and understands what is needed to get the work done. Good design allows staff to work more efficiently and comfortably, including better work stations, storage and housekeeping spaces adjacent to where they are needed, and well-equipped maintenance shops. Also, hard-working staff need better break and relaxation spaces with comfortable seating, kitchenette, restrooms, windows and access to outdoors. No more tiny window-less breakrooms in the back of house by the laundry!
Dan Cinelli, Managing Principal and Board Director, and other principals, Perkins Eastman:
Top trends include:
*Hybrid buildings of four to six apartments per floor in two- to four-story independent living buildings over parking. Short corridors, elevator close to your door, two to three outside corners on apartments, giving more of a one-story house feel.
*Plugs for electric cars, and premium locations in parking lots for hybrids. Use of Zipcar and Uber/Lyft.
*Spaces for the performing and cultural arts. Potential partnerships with galleries and performing art colleges. Creation of “third places” for seniors, and partnerships/relationships/exchanges with non-senior living organizations, as well as community integrated options/programs.
*Real experiences such as: real connections between residents and staff, residents and families, intergenerational relationships, maybe residents volunteering in the business of the organization; real connections to cities (for those who want that lifestyle), and neighboring restaurants, colleges; real connections to the natural environment – real weather (seniors should be allowed to experience it), real sights, sounds, smells, real animals (Alzheimer’s courtyards for all weather experience); real food prepared by real people (that the residents have a relationship with), made from real ingredients, that really responds to their desires.
Convergence: Density is a trend which we have all studied (if not lived) for the past 10 years. Integrating seniors into the urban fabric, keeping them close to their families and the amenities and activities is key to the vitality of our communities. We see (and are responsible for!) a proliferation of taller buildings for seniors in urban and highly populated suburban districts across the country. Another advantage of convergence, of density, of going up, is the reduced number of footsteps demanded of staff and, more importantly, of residents. Build a smaller footprint, the fewer the steps. It is as simple as that. The economics of land cost apply pressure to go vertical as well. In the end, architecture is “manufactured land.” If you can build it for less than you can buy the dirt itself on a square foot basis, adding floors — convergence — makes sense.
Divergence: Paradoxically, we see owners and developers unbundling their offering or “product line” for the marketplace at an accelerating pace. The popularity of pocket neighborhoods, for example, continues to grow, both on the periphery of CCRCs as well as in free-standing, active adult developments. Hospice facilities are starting to stand alone. Assisted living and memory care communities are still (to my surprise) flying off the drawing boards. Recently, we see an uptick the demand for free-standing independent living communities. You can call it diversification. I see it as divergence.
Manny Gonzalez, Principal, KTGY Architecture + Planning:
I think you will be seeing more repurposing of buildings to senior living in desirable areas as land becomes more of an issue. You will also see senior living become a component of retail centers as their owners look for other ways to generate revenue with the challenges facing brick and mortar stores.
Dean Maddalena, President, studioSIX5:
*Use of adaptable LED lighting that aligns with residents’ circadian rhythm.
*Integrated technology is no longer a trend in senior living but comes standard in all communities.
*Designing for more than just the residents of a community. Architects and designers must also consider the staff, caregivers, families and the community at large when designing these communities.
What we learned from the “Great Recession” was the more flexible and nimble the senior housing options are, from units to corridors to the amenities spaces, the more useful the building will be to serve the ever-changing and current market needs. We are designing and building IL and AL less and less as “silos” much more integrated, especially when the services are so integrated already. —Eric Krull, Executive Vice President
With the advancement of tunable light technology, one of the hot wellness topics for AL and memory care will be using design strategies, both natural and tunable light, that support circadian rhythm wellness. —Lorraine Enwright, Director of Design
Outdoor wellness areas are popular, featuring wellness trails wide enough for walking groups for socialization, outdoor fitness and exercise stations, distance markers along trails, Fitbit connections, Tai Chi and yoga in multi-use lawns. Communities are utilizing rooftop spaces for green roofs (pictured above) and social areas with artificial turf lawns to create open space, shade structures for comfortable conditions, landscape areas, raised planters and fire pits. —Thomas G. Bartlett, Senior Landscape Architect
We believe we are back at the same position we were during post-WWII… not seeking a response to a trend, nor a search for a style. It’s a multi-layered solution to a very complex service/math-problem… We are at a ground-zero position. In the non-stop research we have done over the past 20-plus years, it’s now up to us to help define much of what “could be” the foundation of our future. It’s a great time for “reinventing.” —Carlos N. Moreno, Managing Director/San Antonio Healthcare Division Leader
Senior Housing News