Pandemic Accelerates Wellness-Related Senior Living Design Trends

Covid-19 is accelerating several trends in senior living architecture and design, which could make development projects more costly going forward — but, future residents very well might pay a premium to live in these next-generation, wellness-focused communities.

That’s according to Manny Gonzalez, managing principal for the 55-plus practice group at architecture firm KTGY. In this role, he has a broad perspective on the market, given that KTGY has designed more than 125 55-plus projects.

“What I’m thinking about a lot right now is, a lot of what’s going on with Covid does nothing more than accelerate what was going to happen anyway,” he told Senior Housing News.

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Technology to enable touchless operation of doors, elevators and other building features is one example of a design element that was already gaining popularity and now is more quickly becoming standard due to the pandemic. Monitoring devices that discreetly check people’s body temperature, to flag individuals who have a fever, is another technology that he sees catching on.

Indoor/outdoor space is now seen as a crucial element in senior living and multifamily buildings alike, he said. That goes for having balcony or patio access from living units, as well as having more outdoor common space, such as the ability to expand a yoga studio for outdoor classes or expanding dining for al fresco service.

“We went out to dinner, and it was outdoor dining, and my wife said, ‘Who would ever design a restaurant going forward that doesn’t have an outdoor dining area?’” he said.

Cutting-edge air filtration systems are another feature in high demand. Having WELL certification or a similar certification showing that a building meets high standards for environmental wellness likely will become a must in the age-qualified and service-enriched senior living sector, Gonzalez believes.

Another senior living design trend could be the addition of dedicated spaces where family visitation can occur and outside health care providers can render services, according to Gonzalez. This might even take the form of a small satellite building that is not physically attached to the main residential building. 

The confluence of these trends does create some potential questions about how future projects will pencil out, as some of these new elements add square footage without necessarily creating revenue-generating spaces.

“It’ll be challenging,” Gonzalez said.

However, he also thinks that future consumers will be willing to pay more to live in a community that supports their health and wellness.

“I think you’re selling that wellness,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s going to be tough to get a little bit of a premium for having that new community that has all of those amenities.”

Furthermore, trying to retrofit an existing building with all of these new design features could be difficult and expensive, which could make ground-up construction all the more appealing in the coming years.

“I think there’s probably a good reason to do something that is fresh and new and clean and healthy,” he said.

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