SHN Awards: Fierce Competition for Younger Residents Drives Senior Living Designs

From adding sub-acute capacity to converting campuses to win over younger retirees, many senior housing providers are turning to innovative design in order to compete in today’s market.

Gain insight into these and other trends in architecture and design in this Q&A series leading up to the 2015 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Awards, exclusively sponsored by KwaluSHN recently asked returning judge Jeffrey Anderzhon his thoughts on trending topics in senior housing design this past year.

SHN: What are the top trends you’ve seen in senior housing in 2015?


JA: We’ve seen many care providers add to or increase their sub-acute skilled nursing capacity. While there is a demonstrable need for these services, too often providers view the gross revenues involved without full comprehension of the cost of services, the competition or the on-going need to fill the beds along with the relationship building with acute care providers necessary. The conversion to sub-acute, short-term care is certainly a trend, but should not be delved into blindly.

There is a trend of established continuing care campuses toward “repositioning.” Competition has become fierce for younger retirees, and those campuses designed for the “Greatest Generation” are now finding it difficult to attract boomers.

Adding a variety of amenities, broader care choices, venues for community-wide cultural events and spaces for creative marketing techniques are all a part of these repositionings. In addition, updating health centers on campus to be less institutional with a more residential aesthetic serves to ease the advent of transferring from independent living.


New construction is moving rapidly to a more contemporary aesthetic. Designers are dealing with clients who recognize the importance of original design rather than replication of palates from the past. This also allows more design freedom in exploring spatial relationships which tend to aide in marketing efforts.

Waiting lists are being turned into “club” memberships. We have seen more clients request the inclusion of spaces where non-campus residents, but members of the campus “club,” can meet, can “test-drive” campus living and can become integrated into the campus community prior to actually moving onto campus.

SHN: Where is senior housing design and architecture falling short in comparison to other industries?

JA: We’re seeing the line between dedicated senior living and market rate multi-family blurring considerably. Seniors want the same apartment and common space amenities, the same level of finishes and the same social interaction that is available in market rate apartments. The neighborhood or campus vitality and “action” marketed for millennials also works for seniors who want to be a part of community.

Sub-acute, short term nursing is increasingly being designed toward the hospitality model. Residents are more focused on being comfortable and pampered and going home than in deep-dive socialization with fellow residents. Attracting these residents requires not only quality care, but quality environment with personal choice.

SHN: What’s your favorite new technology that’s specific to the senior housing industry and why?

JA: Technology continues to advance in senior living in two ways: assisting the care provider in actually providing care, and assisting the resident in remaining connected to their long established community of friends and family.

These technologies have been around a while but are gaining both more accessibility and more acceptance. The advent of mandatory EHR will undoubtedly allow more “hands-on” direct care. The level of resident knowledge of technology will undoubtedly break down the physical barriers that surround senior communities.

SHN: How can operators design communities that are not only relevant now, but will continue to be relevant in the future?

JA: Versatility is critical in designing today’s senior living communities, not only for aging in place, but for anticipated changes in demographic and socio-economic shifts.

Designers need to address the possibility of skilled nursing bed requirements declining and assisted living requirements increasing. Designers need to consider the decreasing retirement wealth of seniors and need for affordability, but no lessening desire for a wide variety of amenities. The trend for campus repositioning is demonstrably an indication of this need for versatility.

SHN: If money were no object, what is the one thing you would include in every senior housing design this year?

JA: Ready access for every resident, regardless of care level, to secure exterior space that is well designed and essentially provides another room or space for the resident. These spaces are often value-engineered out of designs in order to meet budgetary requirements, but are certainly as important as any interior space. Humans do not live completely inside buildings and require the connection to the exterior for circadian rhythms as well as full connection to nature.


vdiD-Gl-Jeffrey is the Senior Planning & Design Architect of Eppstein Uhen Architects based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jeffrey has a passion for creating environments for the elderly that encourage connection and maintaining a tie to community. He is an internationally renowned speaker and author who focuses on creating homes, not housing. He is passionate not only about design but also about sharing his expertise with clients so they are able to make informed decisions that will positively affect their staff and residents. Jeffrey is passionate about creating environments which can truly make a difference in the lives of humans and help everyone see the positive side of living and aging.

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