Best Assisted Living Design 2017: An Ultra-Niche Community Near Seattle

Aegis Gardens of Newcastle is unique in many ways.

First, the new assisted living community in Newcastle, Washington, was built specifically to appeal to older Chinese Americans. Second, it was constructed on a site that would not have been suitable if not for a great deal of geographic modifications. Third, it’s the 2017 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Award winner in the “Best Assisted Living” category.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the minds behind the 131-unit, 128,521-square-foot community on Newcastle’s Lake Boren are hoping it will ultimately become much more than simply a retirement destination for people with Asian heritage when it opens in February.

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“The real goal of this property is to become the epicenter of the Chinese life in the Northwest,” Aegis Living founder and CEO Dwayne Clark tells Senior Housing News. The community’s cultural activity center is poised to help the project get there.

The Concept

The idea to build Aegis Gardens of Newcastle first materialized six years ago—which means the project has been in the works roughly two-and-a-half years longer than typical Aegis communities, Clark says.

And, at first, Aegis Gardens of Newcastle wasn’t going to necessarily be a “niche” community.

In fact, Aegis identified the eventual project site first, before deciding that its forthcoming community should specifically target Chinese Americans.

“When we found this site and we started doing the demographics, we found that 32,000 Chinese Americans lived nearby,” Clark explains.

The choice to design a community for this particular group wasn’t an especially risky one for the Bellevue, Washington-based senior housing provider. Aegis, after all, has already successfully done it elsewhere.

“We were the first private company in the U.S. to do an all-Chinese retirement community in San Francisco 15 years ago,” Clark says. “We used that community as a laboratory for this property in the Newcastle area.”

The demographics are supportive of Aegis’ decision.

There are, after all, 90,000 Chinese Americans in Seattle, according to Clark. Portland, Oregon—which is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Seattle—is home to 50,000 Chinese Americans, and nearby Vancouver, British Columbia, has approximately 450,000 people of Chinese heritage.

Plus, word about Aegis Gardens of Newcastle seems to have spread much farther than the Northwestern U.S.

“People from all over the world are asking for tours,” Clark says. “This project is getting worldwide attention.”

The Construction

Despite clear demand, construction on the 128,521-square-foot project hasn’t been a walk in the park.

Aegis faced “lots and lots of challenges” during the community’s construction, according to Clark. The foremost involved physically rerouting a stream that originally ran through the project site.

“We had to move a stream that was in the middle of the property—which was extraordinarily excruciating—so that was extremely time intensive and extremely costly,” Clark says.

These hardships appear to have been worth it, though.

“You can’t beat the location,” Jeff Anderzhon, senior planner and design architect at Eppstein Uhen Architects and a 2017 SHN Architecture & Design Awards judge, tells SHN.

Erik Krull, executive vice president of THW Design and another Architecture & Design Awards judge, agrees.

“Just the fact that [Aegis Gardens of Newcastle] is oriented on the water, and there’s forestry around, is very nice,” Krull tells SHN.

All the while, it’s been difficult for Aegis stick to the community’s planned $52 million budget.

“I like to stick to budget. That’s my goal. But it’s going to be over budget because construction is going crazy in Seattle,” Clark explains.

When it came to the overall look of Aegis Gardens of Newcastle, the project’s architect and interior designer—Ankrom Moisan Architects—embraced “very Northwestern craftsmanship” Krull notes, adding that the materials and the interior design still manage to have “a very authentic Asian feel.”

Aegis accomplished this by borrowing—quite literally—from Chinese culture.

“We took multiple trips to China and sourced everything from antiques to artwork to furnishings,” Clark says. “We brought back boxcars full of things.”

Among Aegis’ findings is a “header with a Chinese scroll on it that used to be on the gate of a Chinese village,” which is now on display at the community. Aegis borrowed from Chinese culture in other ways, too; the community has a wall with live plants, a koi pond, a 30-foot dragon that drapes from the ceiling in the community’s theater and Bruce Lee memorabilia in the exercise room.

The provider also designed the community’s memory care wing to resemble row housing that was popular in 18th century Shanghai.

The Completion

The 131-unit community and the separate cultural activity center are scheduled to officially open to residents on Feb. 8. Though Clark is unwilling to reveal the community’s likely initial occupancy, he seems pleasantly surprised by what’s expected.

“We only projected to open at 10% occupancy, and we’re well ahead of that,” he says. “I can tell you we’ve had well over 500 inquiries.”

When residents do pull up to the community for the first time, they’ll be greeted by employees who are fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, as well as an exterior design that’s refreshingly contemporary.

Passersby who are not moving into Aegis Gardens of Newcastle may, in fact, mistake the assisted living community for multifamily housing—and that may be to Aegis’ benefit.

“If people drive by and say, ‘That’s a market-rate apartment,’ or ‘That’s a condominium,’ that psychologically integrates Aegis Gardens of Newcastle into the community,” Anderzhon says.

Aegis hopes that Newcastle locals who are Chinese and don’t have friends or loved ones as Aegis Gardens residents will regularly visit the community.

“We have a whole community center that will have an intergenerational Chinese preschool in it,” Clark says. “We’ll also host Chinese cultural events in that building—weddings, anniversaries, parties, and so on.”

An outdoor amphitheater with seating for 80 to 90 people will host lectures, political events and more. There’s an area for ping-pong tournaments, a mahjong gambling room, and a family cooking area with “huge woks” that can accommodate 30 to 40 people, Clark says.

“[Aegis] is very conscious of creating a home and creating a center for the residents of the community and the broader community itself,” Anderzhon concludes.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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