Senior Living Design That Engages

Wellness is the most important factor in designing for 50+ residents

By Greg Hunteman

Designing communities for active seniors is impossible without putting wellness front and center. This needs to be part of the community’s culture and integrated in private and common rooms, indoor and outdoor spaces, and dining and recreational experiences. For today’s active seniors, who are living through a pandemic and know all too well the importance of good health and quality of life for the whole person, wellness needs to be a central element of design and the heartbeat of the community.

For today’s active seniors, who are living through a pandemic and know all too well the importance of good health and quality of life for the whole person, wellness needs to be a central element of design and the heartbeat of the community.”

Community design for active seniors should address and embrace seven dimensions of whole-person wellness:

Physical. Many physical elements of wellness can be consolidated in one convenient location without disrupting the flow of the community. For instance, the North Star Georgetown Community in Georgetown, TX, has a centrally located clubhouse design that encourages a holistic wellness-centered lifestyle. Clubhouse amenities include an exercise room, yoga studio, community kitchen, dining, and theater/lounge. Today’s active seniors are more competitive than their predecessors. In addition to activities like pickleball and billiards, consider outdoor space for community Olympics and intramural activities. 

Emotional. People want to feel positive and enthusiastic about themselves and their lives. In senior living design, this means convenience, comfort, and stress-free functionality. Spaces should enable residents to either social or spend time alone, depending on their emotional needs. Private units should be extremely functional with shelving, countertops, and appliances that are easy to reach. Grab bars and other supports in the bathroom should be blended in as part of the design. Nature provides an emotional lift, so consider incorporating biophilic design principles. Windows that open and bring light in and rooms that open onto patios and courtyards are also important. 

Intellectual. Expect to see a growing demand for office spaces, Zoom/meeting rooms, and high-end tech capabilities for residents’ work and volunteer activities. They also want the ability to enjoy “tech toys” and gaming, so watch for outlets, broadband/wifi, and charging ports throughout the community. A library where residents can read or write in peace and quiet will appeal to literary residents. 

Social. This will be the hot ticket post pandemic when residents are hungry for engagement and interaction with friends and family. To start, main areas with features such as indoor great rooms and outdoor courtyards will prompt and enable social opportunities. As alternatives to theaters and dining halls, watch for a range of bistros, walk up windows, outdoor cafes, and outdoor spaces with screens, sound, and stages for entertainment. At Georgetown, for instance, the plaza overlooks a courtyard pool deck and outdoor dining; and residents can grill or picnic poolside. The center of the courtyard has the potential for a stage setup to host performances. Outdoor activities such as horseshoes/bocce ball at the game court and golf on the putting green all encourage spontaneous gatherings. 

Spiritual. A chapel that residents of all denominations can use will provide a spiritual heart for a community, but don’t underestimate the value of quiet, beautiful outdoor spaces for meditation, yoga, and prayer. Outdoor spaces such as meditation or butterfly gardens, community flower/vegetable gardens, and orchards will also be appealing. 

Occupational. As mentioned earlier, more seniors are continuing to work into their 70s and even 80s. They will want features such as office suites, a fully equipped hotel-style business center, and a conference room with cutting-edge audio and video. Creative seniors will want art studios, workshops, and craft rooms with great lighting, storage space, and all the latest amenities and supplies.

Environmental. This is more than beautiful gardens, a safe and scenic walking path, and patios, decks, and courtyards with flowers and lush greenery. For instance, Georgetown emulates a historic downtown aesthetic inspired by the town in which it’s located. Clean lines, classic brick materials, and accents in darker tones create a familiar nostalgic feel that is comforting as well as beautiful. Elsewhere, biophilic design, featuring a seamless connection with nature and outdoor spaces, encourages residents to have a relationship with the world around them. Finally, don’t forget the value of influential color schemes, comfortable but elegant furnishings, and flooring, walls, and ceilings that minimize noise.

Flexibility is the key to successful whole-person wellness that addresses all of these elements and enhances and integrates the best of indoor and outdoor spaces to feed the body, mind, and spirit. Take the time to think through the use of the spaces with the most gain for the seven dimensions of wellness. Consider working with a landscape architect to creatively assist with retrofitting an existing space or take a new development and incorporate a flexible design. In the end, incorporate whole-person wellness elements throughout your community and residents will embrace them and thrive. 

Greg Hunteman, AIA, is president of Pi Architects. He focuses on the integration of architectural, landscape, and interior spaces designed specifically for senior adults.

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