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Renovations rule in DESIGN 2009

March 1, 2009
by root
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Privacy, personal space, lighting, households, resident independence stressed in Citation Award winners

What trends did you identify in this year's entries? Any improvements or regressions compared to previous competitions you've judged?

Wilson: It seems like we had more renovations and new designs focused on culture change and creating neighborhoods. In spite of this, there were still some entries that had the traditional long corridors and large nurses' stations associated with nursing homes.

Steinhauer: Having to judge projects of such magnitude has remained the trend in the four years I have participated. I have to remind myself that these entries are not the average assisted living or nursing home building or renovation project in America these days. These are well-funded, well-capitalized, high-end projects that will not be accommodating the bulk of the baby boomer residential room needs in the very near future. These projects are generally out of the financial reach of most folks. I had hoped that there would have been more subsidized housing entries and inner-city projects as we have seen on occasion.

Gregory: I agree with both comments. The projects we reviewed in our group were a mix of senior apartments, assisted living facilities, and skilled nursing homes and in one case, a temporary housing complex for abused elder persons. So it was a challenge for me to be sure I was not trying to demand more out of the program than was appropriate for the type of project I was reviewing. We did see at least one private/public partnership facility but not as many of the affordable income projects as we have seen in the past. I was especially excited about the renovation projects we reviewed because it showed what can be done to an existing facility working within the confines of an antiquated structure to bring about changes that support neighborhoods. If the initiative toward a more homelike environment is to continue, successful renovations of existing structures must continue to be recognized and celebrated.

Brown: Following up on what Skip said about renovating existing structures, our group reviewed several such projects this year, more than we did last year. I, too, expect this trend will continue and the best and most innovative are likely to be submitted to DESIGN for judging. These projects are costly. Personally, I would like to see designers marry their passion for restoring landmark structures with clearer visions of how these buildings can enhance the functionality and quality of life of resident seniors. Converting a landmark building to destination retail or hospitality or apartments is challenging enough. But making that building barrier-free while providing meaningful social spaces that enhance the structure's significance to the residents is another level of design sophistication. It would help us judge historic renovations if the designers would address the link that exists between residents and their project. (An historic “look back” here would be useful.) Unless told otherwise by the design team, we see these projects through the words of their marketing staff which makes us ask, ‘Why weren't the concerns of the users addressed during the predesign phase?’ Regarding senior apartments, I would like to see designers ask why seniors would pick their project over all others in their marketplace. The answer in the past was that eventually-needed services are discretely adjacent. But that will not be reason enough in the future because of the rapid decentralization of healthcare service delivery. I think the projects that will rise to the top in their respective markets are those that offer meaningful lifelong residency, where residents can direct the care they wish to receive for as long as they wish to do so. As for regressions, I noticed less attention paid to the site and the wealth of opportunities sites present to the project design team. But I was pleasantly surprised by complex and farsighted design goals, such as creating caregiving opportunities for residents to continue their commitments to community, the use of adaptable design elements for future building transformations, and the focused use of art-especially sculpture-to define a project's symbolic center. In all cases, these contributed to creating a real sense of place.

Johnson: My organizational work in aging environments helped to uncover polarized approaches to the designs submitted this year. Most of the projects that were submitted as “new construction” suffered from a lack of hindsight. There were few environmental moves made to redefine the way that care has typically been provided to an aging clientele (i.e., centralized dining, double-loaded corridors, many residents per unit.) The jury is aware that, often, the designer is not in the driver's seat. To this end, I am disappointed in the amount of “homework” many organizations appear to be doing regarding assessing current trends in care, aging initiatives, organizational development, and staff retention/development. Alternatively, many of the renovations/additions that were submitted had thoughtful design solutions that had obviously been informed by an organization taking a look inward at its current clientele and outward in anticipation of upcoming consumers. I was pleased to see decentralized services accommodating smaller groups of clients. These clients were also being afforded a more homelike experience and autonomy through the gradation of privacy within the households (i.e., dining/living areas upon entering the household with bedrooms farther back.) Staffing patterns would obviously have to change from a typical care model to that of person-centered care. The resources available for environmental/organizational development in aging care are numerous. I implore more designers and providers to take advantage of these prior to an environmental investment of this magnitude.

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