They were connected to a commons structure, lined with socialization and support areas.  Generally, they tended to feel very institutional in nature.

During the past 20 years, we have witnessed an incredible evolution of this typology to the point where the modern CCRC has been perfected and sends a universal message – resort!!  Starting with a proud and readily identifiable entry canopy, today’s solutions are flanked by highly articulated multi-story residential wings and feature an attractive, upscale activity pavilion.  The person-centered, long term care environments are tucked neatly out of sight away from the front door in order to maintain the true resort effect.  Its hallmarks, much like a Disney theme park, are interior and exterior homogeneity, control, and consistency.  Whether patterned after Tuscany,Key West, Williamsburg or a Mountain Lodge, the message is clear – safety, security and comfort!

However, as we look to serving future generations of seniors, should “resort” be the only alternative our industry has to offer?

Let’s think about what the expectations of future generations could possibly be.  They are more sophisticated, less formal, more social, health conscious, and interested in life-long learning experiences.  In short, like many Americans today, no matter what generation they might identify with, they live an active, interconnected lifestyle.  Is there another kind of building typology that might support this undeniable trend?

Though we all love to take vacations at themed resorts for a period of time, I would maintain we all like coming back to our “messy” everyday lives.  When we want to participate in the interactive lifestyles many of us seek to live, we find ourselves drawn to the vitality of “walkable urban environments.”  The historic village where the AG office is located is a prime example, and every community in America has one or is in search of one. We find ourselves drawn to the:

  • Human-scale
  • Randomness / Asymmetry
  • Diverse building types
  • Indoor / Outdoor feel
  • Authenticity
  • Patina of history
  • Visual stimulation of adaptive reuse

In short, we are attracted to the sense of place these communities have to offer.  They are the best examples of places where people eat, socialize, shop, relax, work and most importantly – LIVE!  Isn’t that exactly what a senior living community is?

So, I respectfully suggest as we construct new communities as well as reposition existing ones, we should endeavor to apply the following “walkable urbanism” design principles to senior living design:

  • Think “street” instead of corridor
  • Make the feel of each major street unique and distinct
  • Link the streets to significant “destinations”
  • Create “clusters” of distinct activities
  • Create a significant exterior town square
  • Celebrate “eating” in a variety of venues
  • Create surprises
  • Encourage an indoor/outdoor feel
  • Create “stop spaces” to encourage socialization
  • Create intimate spaces to sit and watch the action
  • Incorporate “old and existing” if possible
  • Consider opportunities for adaptive reuse
  • Avoid a homogenous exterior at all costs

We are currently exploring solutions that follow these ideas and are receiving positive feedback from our clients.  It’s time to create another alternative to the all too familiar resort!

Watch for upcoming posts on how these concepts have been integrated in design solutions for Edgewater, Miralea and Smith Crossing Phase II.