Best of International Design 2016: Berwick by the Sea Angles for Local Feel

Upon first glance, Berwick by the Sea in Campbell River, British Columbia might be mistaken for a local fisherman’s lodge. You won’t find weatherworn anglers inside the building, though—unless, of course, they’re retired.

Berwick by the Sea is, in fact, a senior living community situated along the water on the east side of Vancouver Island that pays tribute to the long-standing history of this fishing and logging community in its intricate design. It draws from local seniors’ desire to remain close to family and close to home and takes design cues from all that the seaside town has to offer.

Berwick Retirement Communities currently has six properties, five of which are located on Vancouver Island, with one on the mainland. Berwick by the Sea is the company’s latest installment in its portfolio, and it was named the 2016 Senior Housing News Design Award winner for “Best International Design” largely due to the special attention paid to Campbell River’s geography and culture.

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“It really had a sense of place and was respectful to that,” says Dan Cinelli, a managing principal with Perkins Eastman who judged the contest. “You can do a more modern-looking building, but you would lose the connection with the town.”

The Concept

Berwick by the Sea began as an attempt to grow the company’s brand by bringing it to areas not serviced by senior living. Campbell River was experiencing a period of growth and development when the idea for Berwick by the Sea really began to take shape, making the timing right for the city in terms of being able to support a new senior living project. What’s more, before Berwick by the Sea, there were no true independent living options available in the area.

At the same time, Berwick wanted to adhere to what the town is known for and weave the community into its surroundings. Since Campbell River is a seaside community with plenty of tourism and industry around fishery and logging, Berwick by the Sea incorporates design elements internally and externally that complement that.

“We tried to leverage that feeling of small-town, close-knit community that Campbell River has,” says Lena Foran, director of sales and marketing for Berwick Retirement Communities. “Rather than coming in and saying, ‘This is the one building design we have,’ we really do approach it from the very beginning to incorporate and bring out the uniqueness of each of the communities that we go into.”

That’s an area where Berwick by the Sea succeeded, according to Cinelli. The approach is definitely to the benefit of those who live at the community.

“The more you can borrow from the local vernacular, the more you can make the residents feel really comfy,” Cinelli says.

It also sought to provide local seniors with an opportunity to stay in the place where they grew up and continue to live where they had their whole lives, rather than move to nearby, bigger cities. The facility is located on the water near a ferry terminal, with grocery stores and other amenities close by, so residents have the ability to go about life as they please.

“Having something like this not three miles from town, but being in town, really meets the needs of a lot of seniors,” Cinelli says. “It’s so clever in terms of the location of it.”

The Construction

When it came to erecting the community, there was nothing out of the ordinary, as the development ended up being on budget and on time, Foran says. However, greater due diligence was necessary given the location of the property near the water. There was a greater risk of erosion, so architects needed to ensure the building’s foundation was on solid ground.

That’s typical of a building near a body of water, though, Foran says. And even with additional assessments, the community was constructed in 18 months, as planned, and standard conventional financing was secured.

The overarching goal in the building’s design and construction was to reflect the town of Campbell River in a nautical and natural way, says Tracy Higgins, a registered interior designer with Higgins Group Interior Design. This meant incorporating a lot of local plant species. For example, most of the paneling throughout the community consists of Douglas fir, which is a wood native to the area, and plenty of beam work was integrated into the structure to mirror a fishing lodge.

“When you tie in local elements such as the use of natural wood very extensively and very well done, that helps diminish the ‘transfer trauma’ that a lot of seniors living residents tend to have,” says Jeff Anderzhon, a senior planner/design architect with Eppstein Uhen Architects who also judged the awards. “This ties into what they’ve been used to seeing in other areas of that part of the world.”

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In another nod to the Campbell River community, Berwick by the Sea boasts a room deemed the Tyee Lounge. Given that Campbell River is renowned as the salmon and tyee capital of the world, the space celebrates fishing for “tyee”—that is, Chinook or spring salmon that weigh 30 pounds or more. A historic row boat was hung from the beam work in the ceiling here, and the corridor to this room was filled with historic photos of fishing in the community, Higgins says. Plus, it features “spectacular” views of the coast and water.

“The exterior views and the location—they’re calming,” Anderzhon says. “I’d really love to have a house myself in that location.”

Most of the units similarly look out over the water, allowing residents to view boats coming and going. The private dining room continues the nautical motif in its lighting and use of copper, with a detailing of a cruise ship over the fireplace. And even the exercise area plays off the marine theme, as it’s named the Riptide Room Fitness Center and has an array of otter images on one wall.

The exterior is where Berwick by the Sea truly builds off its surroundings, with what seems to be a shanty lounge surrounded by water in front and landscaping that makes the patio appear as though it’s a boat dock on the water. The rails on unit balconies are even reminiscent of a cruise ship, Cinelli says, and views of the water make it feel as though the community is a boat itself, floating on the sea.

Overall, the site is used to its fullest extent, Anderzhon says, with the building opening the interior to the exterior and taking into account the site and surrounding visual amenities.

The Completion

Berwick by the Sea was completed within budget and on time, and it has already met the company’s return on investment objective, according to Foran. The community opened in January 2015.

Filling up the community went according to plan as well. The community reached a stable occupancy of 95% within Berwick’s 18 to 24 month timeframe. The building has a total of 131 individual suites, including one- and two-bedroom units, studios, and one penthouse. The majority are considered independent living, but upwards of 30 units are registered for assisted living.

And since a lot of people who live at Berwick by the Sea are from the area, the finished product instills a sense of pride for where they live and where they’re from.

“I think this one was very successful in that, [residents] aren’t just moving into something that is sterile and staged,” Higgins says. “[Berwick by the Sea] is a community that has history and a soul.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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