Senior Living Communities That Have Raised the Bar on Design

Today’s senior housing communities look much different than they did a few years ago—and for good reason.

Nowadays, most residents are older, with greater health needs. Their adult children have high expectations of senior housing providers, and care staff are difficult to keep around, especially in work environments that feel institutional and outdated. For these reasons, many senior housing developers and providers have made it their mission to build top-of-the-line communities that are attractive as well as functional—and they’re paving the way for the future of senior housing design.

Here’s what impressed a group of judges most about last year’s Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Award winners:

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Building high.

Sun City Kobe Tower

“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, it’s on such a large scale, it can have everything. Unlike a lot of properties that have to make compromises about what kinds of common space, or what to do outside, or how much they can afford to spend on landscaping … this is a property on such a large scale that it seemed able to incorporate every kind of amenity and luxury that anyone could.” — Elisabeth Borden, principal of The Highland Group, on the 35-story “Best CCRC” and “Best International Design” winner, Sun City Kobe Tower  

“There are people that live in Philadelphia who might not want to live in the suburbs, but you can live in an urban environment at Willow Valley. It’s the best of both worlds.” — Dan Cinelli, principal and director at Perkins Eastman, said of the five-story “Best Independent Living” winner, Willow Valley Communities

Thinking small.

The Mooring on Foreside

“A lot of times I’ve got to deal with buildings that are 38 to 48 units, and they may want it under one roof. It’s hard to take 48 units … or even 24 to 26 and create a residential-scale environment, because at some point form follows the function of moving people down corridors to programs and staff bringing services to those residents.” — Eric Krull, executive vice president at THW Design, on the 12-unit “Best Standalone Memory Care” winner, The Mooring on Foreside

Playing to a niche.

“[Aegis] is very conscious of creating a home and creating a center for the residents of the community and the broader community itself.” — Jeff Anderzhon, senior planner and design architect at Eppstein Uhen Architects, on the Chinese culture-inspired “Best Assisted Living” winner, Aegis Gardens of Newcastle

Looking to millennials for design inspiration.

“The interior spaces have a lot of drama and character to them, I think it’s really great—it’s a place where a millennial would like to live.” — Manny Gonzalez, principal at KTGY Architects, on the “Best Affordable Housing” winner, Kreider Commons

“These guys were like, ‘we’re not going to give them sleepy. That’s why I love this one. This isn’t your grandma’s retirement community.” — Cinelli on the tech-heavy Student Exhibition winner from the University of Kansas

In its repositioning, LCS’ Kingswood Senior Living Community “went from dull 1970s to pretty-darn-good contemporary.” — David Dillard, principal at D2 Architecture, on the “Best Renovation/Repositioning” winner, The Kingswood Senior Living Community

Incorporating regional design elements.

Willow Valley Communities

“The reflection, feels, colors of the landscape, and that type of Spanish Colonial revival architecture tells me I live in Tucson, and I either used to ride those horses that they showed in the pictures or I lived on a ranch. Even if I was in the urban neighborhoods, if I drive outside the city, I’m going to be driving right past those kind of shapes and forms. That kind of reflectivity fits right into people’s memories and history. When I’m 80 years old there in long-term care, I can connect the dots and I can feel safe and comfortable.” — Krull on the “Best Skilled Nursing and Post-Acute” winner, The Springs at Hacienda at the River

“What really blew me away about the design of the barn building was that it’s in context to the rural vernacular that probably was there 50 years ago. By recreating it and making it a statement on the campus, it reflects the history of the area.” — Cinelli on the “Best Independent Living” winner, Willow Valley Communities

Bringing the outdoors in.

Sun City Kobe Tower

“I thought the most impressive thing was their decision to place the building on the corner of the site and create these amazing gardens and meandering walkways and courtyards … The outdoor spaces seem to flow in and out of the building. You don’t typically see that luxurious outdoor space to move around in when you’re in that urban environment. I think that was a really great design decision. It offers something you rarely see in an urban building.” — Borden on the “Best CCRC” and “Best International Design” winner, Sun City Kobe Tower

The 2018 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards is opening for submissions on Tuesday, June 11.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson