Designing For Independence

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DESIGNING FOR INDEPENDENCE


The senior population has been one of the most impacted demographics by the Coronavirus global pandemic. The communities that house high-risk populations have had to adapt and pivot operations to serve and protect the residents. As leading senior living designers, we have learned a valuable lesson: our communities need to be designed to handle unexpected situations that come their way. The pandemic has reminded us about the importance of designing for independence and with flexibility in mind.   Nine fundamental design principles are outlined here to create a community that can adapt quickly when un-planned events that require adjustments to operations and resident life occur. These principles reflect a focus on fostering independence that will work for the present and well into the future. They also serve as a reminder that when we design for independence and flexibility, we design for the health and well-being of residents.


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PRINCIPLES OF

DESIGNING FOR INDEPENDENCE

1/ BUILDING SEGMENTATION 2/ HIERARCHY OF SPACE 3/ MICRO-AMENITIES 4/ INTERIOR-EXTERIOR CONNECTIONS 5/ OUTDOOR ROOMS 6/ DOUBLE FACING AMENITIES 7/ MULTI-PLATFORM TECHNOLOGY 8/ HOUSEHOLD DESIGN 9/ UNIT DESIGN


1

BUILDING SEGMENTATION INTO SMALLER WINGS

⊲ Reduce internal

walking distance to and from apartments

⊲ Disperse elevators to

serve smaller building populations

⊲ Localize mailboxes

at building entries to serve residents within wings


The fragmentation of residential buildings into smaller wings helps create architectural diversity. Allowing direct access to the street from apartment building wings promotes resident independence. These multiple residential access points alleviate pedestrian traffic at the main community entrance and reduce travel through long corridors typical of traditional Life Plan Communities. Each building entrance is equipped with an airlock vestibule, mailboxes, and an elevator, constituting smaller segments or wings within each building.  In existing buildings with a single main entrance, first floor residential lounges or exterior stair access doors can be modified to create multiple residential access points. 


2

HIERARCHY OF SPACE

PUBLIC | SEMI-PUBLIC | SEMI-PRIVATE | PRIVATE

⊲ Clarify public and

private zones

⊲ Invest in a flexible

security system

PUBLIC SPACE COMMUNITY SPACE

PUBLIC

SEMI-PUBLIC

RESIDENTS’ CONNECTOR FLOOR COMMON RESIDENTS’ UNITS

SEMI-PRIVATE

PRIVATE


Wireless security systems create a delineation between private and public space with more transparency and fewer visible barriers. Programmable security systems are effective in fulfilling the need to have a secure home, while providing flexibility in the enforcement of stricter protocols when desired. Security privileges to visitors, staff and residents can be adjusted to assist in times of crisis, preventing access to some parts of the community when needed. Fob activated entry points coupled with careful design allow for public/private thresholds to be modified.   In existing buildings, flexible security systems can be added to the community access points such as building entrances, elevators, amenities or exterior egress stair doors.


3

MICRO-AMENITIES

DESIGNING FOR MULTI-USES AT ELEVATOR LOBBIES AND FLOOR LOUNGES

⊲ Provide amenities

closer to apartments

⊲ Encourage socialization

in smaller groups

⊲ Offer built-in

kitchenette/pantry with sink, water and microwave

⊲ Use flexible furniture STREET

STREET

RESIDENTS’ LOBBY

RESIDENTS’ LOBBY

COURTYARD

COURTYARD


Floor lounges, separated from the corridors with glass walls, help bring amenities closer to residential apartments. These micro-amenities, usually designed as card rooms and small activity spaces, have the flexibility to be utilized as visitation rooms and temporary gathering rooms for small groups. Located near elevators, they can become a flexible micro-amenity for each floor.  In existing buildings, with the addition of a kitchenette and flexible furniture, floor lounges can be made into micro-amenities near residential apartments.


4

REINFORCING INTERIOR-EXTERIOR CONNECTIONS

⊲ Create opportunities

for multiple areas for direct exterior access

⊲ Provide views and

access to the exterior at floor lounges

⊲ Integrate balconies

within each unit

STREET

RESIDENTS’ LOBBY

STREET

COURTYARD

RESIDENTS’ LOBBY

COURTYARD


Site design, building layouts and access are key factors in enhancing residents’ wellbeing and connectivity to the outdoors. Courtyards nestled between building wings provide ground floor outdoor spaces accessible by a short elevator ride. Floor lounges located strategically in the building play a major role in experiencing the outdoors, whether through views of the city or of nature. Operable windows, individual balconies and terraces reduce isolation due to emergency confinement or limited mobility and become key contributors to resident wellbeing. 


5

PURPOSEFUL PROGRAMMING OF

OUTDOOR ROOMS

⊲ Create a variety of

outdoor activities for broad appeal

⊲ Make outdoor spaces

accessible and usable by people with all abilities

⊲ Provide appropriate

sun shading


“Outdoor rooms” built into a project landscape design are best located directly accessible from independent living buildings and assisted living households. Such outdoor spaces designed to accommodate larger or smaller groups may include contemplative or active landscaping or offer simple walks in nature, presenting residents and staff with safe outdoor gathering spaces throughout the year. A memory garden with a meandering path; a recreation lawn with an outdoor kitchen and picnic tables; raised planting beds and ball courts; a large water feature and accessible walking paths, all are examples of programmed outdoor rooms that could be integrated in a project’s site design. Dedicated courtyards or terraces for memory support, designed with specialized plant materials, provide an enriching sensory experience to residents and allow for safe and secure independent access to the exterior.   Meaningful landscape design, outdoor rooms or allseason spaces such as sunrooms can be added to existing communities with careful consideration to orientation, sun shading, and access.


6

DOUBLE FACING AMENITIES SHOWCASE ACTIVE ZONES

⊲ Activate building street

fronts

⊲ Allows dual access,

from interior and exterior

RESTAURANT

⊲ Promotes multi-

generational interactions

FITNESS GROCERY / CLINIC / HAIR SALON

BAKERY


Aiming to facilitate connectivity with the surrounding community and foster multigenerational interaction, public-facing amenities can play an important role in generating broader community engagement. Placed at street level with direct access to the exterior, a wide variety of amenities and programs such as restaurants, fitness and arts centers, hair salons, community learning centers, elder law attorneys, pet spas and daycare services can foster connectivity with the outside community and allow indoor and outdoor use. Restaurants and cafÊs with direct access to a shaded patio for outdoor dining are valued amenities. Layered shading devises provide visual interest and allow lunch and dinner to take place outside throughout the warmer months. 


7

MULTI-PLATFORM

TECHNOLOGY

⊲ Provide intuitive multi-

platform technology

⊲ Integrate discrete

electronic check-in areas

⊲ Automate building

access systems


Intuitive multi-platform technologies have become a necessity for all senior communities. By promoting independence and choice, they connect seniors internally – amongst residents and building management - and the outside community. Applications range from simple enhancements for resident convenience, such as the ability to book dining tables and amenity rooms, to systems providing ultimate resident independence with advanced integrated building automation options utilizing eye-gaze control technology. When designed to be an eco-system, multi-platform technologies integrating web and web-based services become essential, like water and electricity. A fully integrated technology platform becomes available through all devices and adaptable to seniors’ needs.


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HOUSEHOLD DESIGN FOR HIGHER ACUITY

HOUSEHOLD 1

HOUSEHOLD 2

⊲ Create smaller homes

based on people’s abilities / culture / preferences

LIVING

DINING

⊲ Promote choice and

LIVING

PATIO

DINING

AMENITIES

independence

⊲ Allow for small group

socialization while maintaining safer isolation

⊲ Build in flexibility for

live-in staff

CIRCULATION

DEN

KITCHEN

SUPPORT

SUPPORT

AMENITIES

KITCHEN

DEN


Higher acuity senior housing such as assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing designed as small households of 10-12 residents aims to provide dignity and independence to residents and offer safe and personalized environments. Flexibility is integral to the model, which includes private bedrooms and bathrooms, allowing for temporary isolation whether required due to a resident’s individual need, or in response to an emergency such as a pandemic. Dedicated staff become part of the household providing safe and familiar caregiving.


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UNIT DESIGN

BASED ON MULTI-FAMILY DESIGN

⊲ Minimize barriers and

corridors with open concept Living/Dining/ Kitchen

HVAC

⊲ Create Universal

Design for all abilities   HVAC

⊲ Provide individual

balconies and patios

⊲ Incorporate

OPEN PLAN

individualized HVAC systems

BALCONY EXHAUST

INTAKE

EXHAUST

INTAKE


Balancing the construction cost of housing and the well-being of residents is a considerable challenge for senior living design. Air quality, adaptability, and outdoor access are three essential elements for healthy residential multi-unit buildings. The selection of HVAC systems that increase fresh air and improve ventilation is important and could include individualized systems with direct intake and exhaust through mini-ERV (energy recovery ventilation) units. These strategies can be achieved for lower cost when they are integrated in the design from the start. 



Want to discuss how this can apply to your community? CONTACT US: Diane Dooley, AIA LEED AP Principal ddooley@dimellashaffer.com 617-778-0104 Philippe Saad, AIA LEED AP Associate Principal psaad@dimellashaffer.com 617-778-0168

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