SHN Awards: Why Non-Traditional Senior Living Options Are Taking Off

In an evolving, competitive senior housing market, business-as-usual isn’t going to cut it. Innovative senior living projects are moving the industry forward, and some of the architecture and design leaders behind these communities are sharing insights in this ongoing Q&A series from  Kwalu, the exclusive sponsor of the 2015 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Awards.

SHN recently spoke with David Danton, AIA, Principal of KDA Architects, which was awarded the 2014 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Award for Independent Living for its work on Shaker Pointe at Cardonelet in Watervliet, New York.

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


DD: One of the biggest trends will be a growth in nontraditional senior living arrangements. Currently, there are stand-alone, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and independent living, yet there seems to be a combination of mixes between sites with independent and assisted living, or CCRC, and all are on a scale of 200 to 300 units. Much of senior housing in America are markets that are too small to support that kind of scale. The new consumers – the boomers – are not sure they’re interested in moving into enclaves. There is pressure between the two.

We might begin to see smaller products that would fit more integrally with villages and communities. We recently did a small satellite in Albany, which caused us to pause and think about the possibility of a “mothership” with small satellites scattered around the community.

Potential clients seem interested in the idea, and now we’re just waiting to test it in the marketplace. The dynamic of senior living is going to be changing quickly as boomers come into play. There are going to be things that haven’t been thought of yet that will get legs and be successful.


In addition to these smaller products, there needs to be additional health care services brought to independent living. I’m currently in the situation where my parents are in a retirement community, and traditionally there has been a movement to try to move from independent living into another type of care, and many communities do that pretty aggressively. There is a comfort for residents to stay in their apartments and many couples can function independently as a team. The possibility of small independent living projects can allow for home and community based services to support aging in place more literally.

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

DD: Many of today’s existing senior living communities are enclaves for the wealthy. They lack integration with their surrounding communities.

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

DD: I’d say an increased discussion about housing and care alternatives, home- and community-based services for those without resources, and urban or mixed-use settings.

In terms of an increased discussion about housing and care alternatives, there should be some alternatives available because of the demand by consumers to be able to age in their own communities gracefully.

As for home and community-based services for those without resources, there’s a program called PACE which provides a care management team for people who are still living in their homes. Most of my clients are doing home care services. There a couple of clients who have gotten approval to do without walls programs and CCRC without walls programs. People who are part of those programs get care management, access to activities,  as well as transportation without actually having to leave their homes or their communities.

SHN: And urban or mixed-use settings?

DD: There is a push towards a more village-oriented setting. People often don’t want to move out of town because they have things like their barbershops and favorite restaurants where they have roots in their community, but then are usually forced to go to an adjoining town to find senior housing. There is a pressure to look at different models that allow for people to age where they live and where their roots are so they can continue to participate in their community.

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

DD: The project team knew all along that the Shaker Pointe project was something special. The team wanted to tell the world, and the Senior Housing News award was the vehicle to do it. The story was picked up by the local media. For KDA, the ‘award-winning’ recognition enhances our ability to take our long-term clients and prospective clients on a tour of the campus.

SHN: Why apply for the 2015 SHN Awards?

It is important for the senior living industry to share new ideas and successes. The SHN awards are an incubator for new ideas and trends in the industry. The judges are well-respected design leaders in the senior living industry, so their opinions are meaningful to fellow designers.


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