SHN Awards: ‘Man Caves,’ Rooftop Dining and Other Hot Senior Housing Designs

It’s more important than ever for communities to be on the cutting edge of design. Gain insight from award-winning experts on the latest trends in architecture and design in this ongoing Q&A series brought to you by Kwalu, the exclusive sponsor of the 2015 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Awards.

SHN recently talked to Raymond Yancey, Principal of Myhre Group Architects, which was awarded the 2014 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Award for Assisted Living for its work on Waterford Grand in Eugene, Oregon.

SHN: What are the biggest trends you predict to see in senior housing design and architecture in the next 5 years?


RY: An increase in common amenities square footage and offerings such as telehealth, wine bars, expanded flexible theater rooms with dining capability, auditoriums, woodshops and catalyst space, health/juice bars, ‘man’ caves, and rooftop terraces. An additional increase in leveraging the outdoor spaces as purpose-built active places that add to the resident experience.

SHN: What design elements are today’s communities lacking that they need to have?

RY: I’d say energy efficient concepts, catalyst spaces and active outdoor rooms.


It’s been pretty holistic across the industry in the way these energy efficient designs have been added to communities. We’re seeing better heat recovery on outside air. Since senior living tends to have relatively high turnover on air for mechanical systems, having heat transfer systems that recover the heat is a big energy saver. 

DRS (diagnostic/retrieval) systems take the ambient energy from the air and pull that into the system. What’s nice about that in senior living, is it allows for the energy to be shared around the building. For example, if one part of the building is in the sun in the morning, it may need cooling. These energy efficient systems allow for the heat to be moved from that area of the building elsewhere that may need heating.


These systems are much more efficient, but require a higher initial cost. Senior living costs are high anyway, so for developers and operators, installing these systems saves money in the long run and these systems have lower operating costs.

Catalyst spaces are kind of new on the horizon. These are community spaces that allow for a variety of activities to occur. In the old days, they would build a woodshop, which was of interest for only a few people, so you have this expensive purpose-built space that nobody can use. 

Catalyst spaces are areas that can flex and change as the community does, and can continually have life. For example, one catalyst space could be used for residents to make their own wine in the fall, or have beer brewing workshops, and then other times be used as a craft-oriented space for painting or robotics.

The most important part of creating catalyst spaces is having a champion in the community, likely the operator, to support it. These spaces can’t just be put in and expected to work, they have to be supported by the
community and residents who can schedule activities and bring ideas to the table. It isn’t a simple plug-and-play kind of thing.

As for active outdoor rooms, many communities lack purpose-built active rooms that invite residents outdoors. A lot of senior living spaces are very pastoral, with grass, trees and walkways. These spaces are very zen-like but residents can’t engage with or utilize them.

For example, we’ve built bubblers at Waterford Grand. What’s neat about that is we included LED lighting so that the space could become a fountain focal point for dining, but during the day grandkids could run through it. Residents could have intergenerational activities at the bubbler and play with their grandkids and family.

Other ideas include places that allow for farmers markets to occur so that residents can have fresh vegetables and fruit from local farmers. We’re considering creating a space like that for a project. Instead of having a large parking lot with no sense of space, we could re-allocate parking to create a great room outside that would allow for activities to occur. It could be a space that could convert to a stage for a band to come and play, or have dancing or farmers markets. By including a grassy area, residents could put down a blanket and have a picnic or watch a movie or concert. Creating places like that and making sure there is the power and water necessary for those things to occur could really be successful.

SHN: What are the top three changes you have seen in senior housing design and architecture in the last year?

RY: I’d say double to single occupancy conversions, assisted living to memory care conversions and a variety of dining options.

There are a lot of older properties that had double occupancy, but now people are wanting single occupancy private units. Since communities have to maintain their bed count, they are having to add onto those projects in order to accommodate the conversion. We’re seeing overall growth in people’s expectations for private units and an increase in people not willing to share apartments.

We see that there are some assisted living models that were build that are inefficient. A lot of developers are converting them to memory care. Due to their size, converting assisted living to memory care allows them to operate more cost effectively. Some assisted living communities are 16-24 units, and with the increasing demand for memory care they are just converting those units over.

Depending on the size of the community, a lot of projects are including all or a number of dining options such as formal, private, casual, chef’s table, exhibition, rooftop, bistros, bars, and grab & go options. Formal and private are pretty typical in communities. Now what we are seeing is restaurant style food delivery where residents don’t necessarily have to show up between 11-1 and that’s when they have to have lunch. It isn’t a “get what you get” type of dining experience.

The Chef’s table is kind of a specialty thing we’re starting to see. It’s essentially a private dining menu and connects residents to the exhibition kitchen. The exhibition kitchen is basically turning the kitchen outward. Residents can watch the pizza being made, see the fire in the brick oven, and watch the chefs prepare and cook meals.

SHN: Are chefs embracing being more in the limelight?

RY: There has been some resistance from chefs, as they have to re-think through how they do things because now they’re on stage. When people who are actually going to be eating the food are watching, it’s a different process that requires some theater.  This also can require additional cost and equipment that some communities may not have.

SHN: And you mentioned rooftop dining?

RY: Rooftop dining is becoming popular in senior living. As seniors want more urban settings, rooftops are being evaluated as a viable place for residents to occupy. Residents love the great views since usually dining areas are at ground level looking out at a parking lot. Giving the opportunity to be in a rooftop space is an attractive idea, but creates challenges depending on how extensive that is.

Some communities have rooftop wine bars where they serve pub-style food. Others bring the entire kitchen and dining experience to the rooftop level where outdoor seating spills out and there are beautiful panoramic views from the rooftop. Clients see this as a huge selling point and it’s also great for residents to have another venue and place to experience their surroundings.

SHN: What kind of recognition did your company receive after accepting the award for Best of Assisted Living Design in 2014?

RY: We did receive a number of inquiries for our work, and continue to showcase our recognition in a variety of marketing efforts.

SHN: Why apply for the 2015 SHN Awards?

RY: We believe it is a great conduit to express our innovations in senior living communities to a wide variety of potential clients.


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