Which 4 current design trends would you include in a must-have list for the newest CCRCs?  We love architecture and believe in the strength of good architectural design.  A well-designed Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) is likely an indicator of the community’s future success as the design has a daily impact on the residents’ and employees’ quality of life. Therefore the CCRC’s design is an important criterion in our community evaluations.

Much like tracking the failures and successes of mutual fund managers, we believe tracking the most successful CCRC developers, owners, management teams and architects will be a strong indicator of future success.

4 Current Design Trends in Continuing Care Retirement Community Design

The learning curve for designers is steep because there are so many competing requirements and objectives. A successful CCRC design is more than just a multi-family apartment. There are unique requirements for the intended used and market.  Obvious ones include the continuum of health care and the hospitality services that define a Continuing Care Community.  The sensitivity of the developer, owner, management, and architect to the special needs of the residents and employees shows in the final design. Good design tends to speed initial sales and drive long-term occupancy and value. The best communities make regular re-investments to update design and stay current.

How do we go about evaluating this design sensitivity?  Well, it goes beyond the selection of current color schemes or updated floor plans.  Good architectural design for a CCRC must encourage residents to continue with an engaged, active lifestyle while also easing the extra burdens aging might add.  We’ve summarized a few emerging architectural design trends we’re tracking in our community evaluations.  Look for these in your next CCRC tour.  Watch to see if residents are actively engaged or if they “making do” with dated facility features.  Obvious maintenance lapses are a warning. If there are problems you can see, there are worse issues that are unrecognized liabilities against the CCRC’s balance sheet. To maintain occupancy, these issues must eventually be addressed and improvements cost money.

We ask:

  • Does the design reflect current best practices, especially addressing the unique needs of the elderly?
  • Is the design stuck in time or is it continuing to evolve?
  • Is deferred maintenance detracting from the original vision?
  • Does the design encourage a social community and support an active lifestyle?

We also pay attention to current trends, including the following:

1.  Technology: 4 Current Design Trends

Advancing technology is a driver of changing design. Previously high-speed internet may have required wiring every apartment and public space with coaxial or Cat-5 cable. Today,  technology enhancements can be added to any older facility for a relatively minimal expense.  WiFi access points are becoming the norm. Here are few items to look for in a forward-thinking, technology-current CCRC.

  • Device charging stations and outlets in common areas to ensure that residents and guests can conveniently charge electronic devices.

A CCRC focused on creating and enhancing a vibrant active community will provide the tools to encourage this development.  The simple addition of convenience outlets that allow easy plug-ins where needed without crouching or hunting.  Advancing age does not mean technology phobic. At the CCRC price point, residents were frequently early adopters in their professional life and remain engaged with their technology. Add the assistive technology for health and mobility and the demand for convenient plug-ins should be obvious, but is often overlooked by inexperienced developers or designers.

  • WiFi throughout the common areas (including health care center).
4 Current Design Trends

4 current design trends

Again, a forward-thinking CCRC will encourage making the commons spaces usable for all residents without requiring a return to individual apartments to access the internet. Socializing happens in public spaces. Community-wide WiFi builds social interactions internally. (SMS, “Are you coming down for dinner?”) WiFi enhances external connections to the wider world. (Skype with the grandkids.)

  • RFID keyless entries to allow residents to enter and exit their suites without carrying keys.

Gone are the days when residents should be required to carry around a set of keys whenever leaving their apartment.  RFID wristbands provide residents key-less entry into their suites while reducing the number of keys floating around. This is an example of wearable technology. Add-in memory-loss and the advantages in both improved security and reduced stress are obvious.

2.  CCRC Site Plan: 4 Current Design Trends

There are several new emerging design themes in the CCRC master site planning.  A few of the more popular changes originated in other architectural movements for different target markets:  Urban site plans, Pocket Neighborhoods and the Green House Project.

  • “Urban” site plans  
4 Current Design Trends

4 current design trends: Urban high-rise Continuing Care Communities provide a connection to a vibrant downtown community

Urban high-rise condos remain popular for multi-family developments in dense urban centers. The typical urban site plan includes a “downtown” street front with small urban retail shops and restaurants. These public spaces face outward into the community and provide the main gathering spaces. The urban center location offers easy access to civic events and public transportation. Cars become less essential for urban dwellers. What works for a high rise condo translates remarkably well to an urban high rise CCRC. Street level shops/gathering spaces provide a vibrant and active interface with the entire downtown community. Residents aren’t cut-off from the world, it’s right downstairs. We recently toured Chicago’s The Admiral at the Lake, a Kendal community, on the North Shore and were impressed with the 32-story tower. Downtown living isn’t for everyone, but we expect more urban center high rise CCRCs. For those that love downtown, retirement living no longer requires a move to the suburbs.

  • “Pocket Neighborhood” site plans

CCRC site plans were once merely multi-family apartment site plans overlaid with a special use like an attached health center or nursing home. Today, CCRC site plans are evolving to reflect the special uses and needs of older residents.  Compact scale and detail favor declining endurance. Site plans are evolving to consciously create smaller, walkable neighborhoods offering interaction with friends and nature and exercise in easy doses.

Pocket Neighborhoods evolved from a “scale-down movement” popularized by architect Sarah Susanka and expanded by  Ross Chapin.  Susanka’s residential architecture movement to smaller, more efficient, and joy-filled designs began in 1998 when she published  “The Not So Big House” book.  Susanka popularized the idea that more space is not necessarily better, rather more thoughtful detail in smaller spaces is both more efficient and more emotionally engaging. Chapin continued the theme and expanded the movement into multi-family site planning with matching cottage architecture.  Chapin defines the pocket neighborhood as “a pattern of housing that fosters a strong sense of community among nearby neighbors, while preserving their need for privacy.”  The pocket neighborhood concept in a CCRC creates a series of defined neighborhoods through the grouping of cottages, residential units, and even the rooms within the nursing care center.  These neighborhoods encourage socialization and a sense of belonging to a distinctive  “family” of individuals within a much larger community.

Rose Villa in Portland, Oregon is an example of a CCRC using the “Pocket Neighborhood” concept.

The more living patterns there are in a thing—a room, a building, or a town—the more it comes to life as an entirety, the more it glows, the more it has this self-maintaining fire, which is the quality without a name.
—Christopher Alexander

  • Green House Project and Site Plan

The Green House Project is a movement replacing large nursing homes with small, homelike facilities for 10 to 12 residents.  This movement began in 2000 with a research grant to improve nursing care.  The research resulted in suggested programming changes to enhance the human-scale and humanizing activities and interactions within a typical nursing home. It is a movement impacting the future of nursing homes and we will return to this concept in the near future with more a detailed review.  But it should be obvious that the human scale and natural social neighborhoods are close cousins to Susanka’s and Chapin’s work, applied in the specific context of nursing care. Add-in patient-directed care concepts from health care reform and you’ve got the principles of the Green House Project. We are mentioning it here as an emerging trend.  We think this concept will dramatically influence future CCRC design especially for the associated health centers. We plan to seek out, tour and interview communities focused on The Green House Project.

3.  Assisted Living as Programming — Not Site Planning: 4 Current Design Trends

There is an emerging trend to move away from CCRC’s Assisted Living as separate brick-and-mortar residential units.  Rather, with the exception of specialized dementia or memory care facilities, assisted living is being delivered to residents within their apartment or through a temporary rehabilitation room with follow-up care in the apartment.  Assisted Living is a programming offer with temporary rehabilitation support if needed rather than a relocation to an entirely new living unit.  This trend will likely impact the facility design through the addition of  OT/physical therapy equipment and spaces, concierge services, etc. to support the new programming.  How is the need for assistance detected?  Who detects it and when?  Assistance as a programming feature rather than a relocation requirement should come when the need is detected rather than waiting for a larger, consistent visibility of need.

4.  Dining Rooms: 4 Current Design Trends

The dining choices for residents are changing  Seniors demand quality and enjoy variety in their choice of food. They also want a variety of venues for dining.  Rather than just a single, cavernous main dining room, many newer communities offer multiple eateries with different menus and levels of formality. The Nursing Center dining rooms are likewise evolving into neighborhood, residential-style dining rooms designed to accommodate smaller groups (10-16).  These dining rooms can define the “neighborhoods” and personalities of these groups of residents within the Nursing Center. More intimate scale with high-quality service and multiple cuisines in different venues seems to be the new standard. The kitchen may be the same but the residents enjoy the variety as the spice of life.

See : Hospitality Innovations Cross Over to Senior Living by Senior Housing News

 “In many ways, the senior housing and care business is more hospitality than health care, at least on the lower end of the continuum.” — Brooke Hollis (Associate Director of Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures)

4 Current Design Trends in Continuing Care Retirement Community Design

The Nursing Center dining is likewise evolving into neighborhood, residential-style dining rooms, designed to accommodate smaller groups (10-16).  These dining rooms can define the “neighborhoods” and personalities of these groups of residents within the Nursing Center. More intimate scale with high-quality service and multiple cuisines in different venues seems to be the new standard. The kitchen may be the same but the residents enjoy the variety as the spice of life.

Related articles and CCRC websites referenced above:

Leading Age: “From Drab to Vibrant: Restoring the Bloom With Pocket Neighborhoods”

Rose Villa Senior Living

The Admiral at the Lake

The Cottages at Cedar Run