Best of 2014 Independent Living Design: Bringing The Outside World In

It may sound simple, but stressing community can make all the difference in building a new senior living campus.

From amenities and spaces that are accessible to non-residents to fine architectural details that position the community as a fixture among its upstate New York landscape, Shaker Pointe at Carondelet has fostered a community look and feel from the onset. Since it opened its doors to welcoming its first residents in 2012, those residents are taking note.

Originally planned in 2007, the community was envisioned to launch around that time — on the cusp of the Great Recession. Revisions to the plan broke financing and construction into three phases, the third of which is currently underway and ahead of schedule.

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The vision began with The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet to provide for the ‘Dear Neighbor’ through an independent living community for adults ages 55 and older.

Today, the community, with two phases now complete, offers different options to residents: attached apartment units and individual cottage units. They are all designed in the Shaker style and to fit in with the surrounding architecture and design.

Incorporating those elements as well as services, shared spaces and amenities that can be enjoyed by residents of Shaker Pointe and members of the surrounding community, the near-final product has earned the 2014 SHN Design and Architecture award for independent living.

The Concept

The entire concept for Shaker Pointe at Carondelet hinges on community and the Shaker style in which the community has been constructed. Shaker style known for the traditional Shaker values of simplicity, utility and craftsmanship. In that vein, order and neatness are reflected in the clean lines and shapes, and lack of ornamentation in design.

Now with two project phases completed for the entrance-fee independent living community, including a series of 36 cottages and several apartment buildings attached by walkways, the community is themed around, well, community. That means both the residents, and the non-residents.

“The community common spaces and amenities were perfectly designed to offer a stunning and extensive community center to the public, as well as an extensive private common amenity area that is for its own residents,” says Elisabeth Borden, principal with The Highland Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based research, planning and marketing firm for 55+ housing and care communities, and who served on the awards judges’ panel.

At its core is Shaker Pointe’s Round Barn — built in the image of the original Shaker Round Barn in Hancock, Mass. — which houses the community’s main restaurant.

The restaurant is one of several amenities on-site that non-residents can enjoy. This was part of the original project plans conceived by the Sisters and their development consultant, Alchester Development Group, which worked with the organization before an architecture firm was selected.

“The development consultant was a unique thinker in terms of bringing the idea into fruition,” says David Danton, principal for Voorhees, N.J.-based KDA Architects, which designed the community plans. “Out of the synergy between the Sisters, their mission and development consultant, they were really pushing the envelope about how the community would relate to the surrounding community.”

Strategic partnerships include a hospital system, a health care clinic, and three colleges and universities. Public-private services and amenities include a public restaurant that serves beer and wine, a convenient store, barber shop and bistro, with plans for a senior-oriented fitness club and physical therapy including water-based therapies accessible to associate members.

“It really brings a vibrancy to a campus that is pretty exciting,” Danton says. “Research is showing it is going to be the wave of the future.”

The community aspects and design specifics garnered the attention of judges in this year’s architecture and design awards.

“If not always true, it’s close: Every great work of architecture has a governing metaphor – one central idea – upon which all design decisions, large and small, are based,” says David Dillard, president of Dallas-based D2 Architecture and of of the judges for this year’s awards competition. “In the case of SPC that metaphor is clear, and I mean clear: the regional Shaker villages. These forms, and clusters of forms, and in particular the radically iconic round stone barn, are respectfully recast in Watervliet where they “arrive” carrying all of the wonderful impressions of the Shaker communities far and near.”

The Construction

With two project phases now complete and one more under way, Shaker Pointe at Carondelet has been many years in the making from concept to completion. The approvals process began in 2007, when the organization was incorporated—just before the housing crash and Great Recession in 2008.

“It was both a blessing and a challenge,” recalls Sister Lauren Van Dermark, part of Shaker Pointe’s executive team. “We had to do some replanning and looking at financing because we were planning to build all at once. That was original intent.”

The project team reworked its plans to take a three-phased approach, and would gain financing for each phase independently. Like many projects of its time, this gave investors confidence and broke the project into more manageable parts.

After securing bank loans and bond financing for Phase 1, the project construction was underway. From 2010 to 2012, Phase 1 included 38 units spanning cottages, courtyards and some shared spaces.

As second phase began in 2012 and was completed in 2013 to include a community building and 68 more apartment units.

Additional challenges were encountered by the site itself. Situated in Watervliet, N.Y., abutting the Hudson River in Albany County, the construction site included wetlands and a stream running through its center. There were parcels of buildable ground and non-buildable ground, so KDA worked around the natural constraints to situate the different buildings: The main apartment buildings are on the largest parcel of land with other structures located on the other pieces of land. It was both a challenge and an opportunity, Danton says.

“Environmental constraints can also be an incredible setting for a building complex,” Danton says. “We see the beauty in building in these little pockets.”

The executive team also had to improvise slightly to encourage move-ins after Phase 1, before all of the community’s common areas were completed, including the central “Pointe” building.

The team decided to use one of the cottages, designed to be a residence, but available at the time, as a community room. Recreation and fitness amenities were still offered despite not all of the buildings being completed.

“As people were moving in, the space became more and more occupied,” says Sister Kay Ryan, also of the executive team. “We had about two years of trying to negotiate how to provide the amenities we promised, and we did a great job of doing so. The residents were phenomenal.”

The Completion

The successful completion of phases one and two led to a groundbreaking for phase three that is ahead of schedule and is anticipated to be completed in summer, 2015. To date, there are 106 completed units that house 141 residents.

The final phase will include 56 residences and an office space.

All of the buildings with public amenities and services are oriented to a public street, to prevent the feel of driving into a gated community.

“It’s a little like having a town center shared by all the neighbors,” Danton says.

And the neighbors and residents have responded favorably. Activities abound for residents and associate community members.

“The No. 1 complaint is too many activities,” Ryan says.

The activities as well as the amenities offer an appeal, but also represent the true mission of the Sisters and the community.

That means a design that ultimately hinges on the community’s core: Shaker design.

“The project team spent a lot of time looking at the Shaker architecture and design. Shakers were famous for architecture,” Van Dermark says. “The way they designed was to keep everyone connected. Our porches, bridge and walkways, are all very much in tune with what the shakers wanted to do.”

The design team agrees.

“In the end, I think the Shaker approach was a great decision,” Danton says. “There are so many campuses that have artificially applied details that in the end, don’t mean much. It was a good decision to have something so straightforward.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker