The first-ring Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois has become a hotbed of real estate development in recent years. One of the town’s newest developments is a 17-story building for active seniors, located near the heart of its downtown core.
Avidor Evanston, a 17-story, 169-unit apartment building for residents ages 55 and up, rises from a triangular-shaped infill site, glazed glass accentuating the site’s perimeter and shape. The building also contains nearly 12,000 square-feet of amenity space, including a rooftop deck with clear sightlines of downtown and Chicago to the south.
Building on the site presented challenges that the developer and architect, resulting in a unique design that earned Avidor Evanston top honors in the 2020 Senior Housing New Architecture & Design Awards “Best Active Adult” category.
Avidor Evanston is the third development from Avidor Living, an active adult brand launched in 2019 by St. Louis-based operator Allegro Senior Living and its development partner High Street Residential, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dallas-based real estate developer and service provider Trammell Crow. In addition to Evanston, Avidor has communities in the north Chicago suburb of Glenview; Edina and Minnetonka, Minnesota; and Omaha, Nebraska.
Downtown Evanston, an epicenter of the “hipsturbia” trend gaining popularity in senior housing, had a perfect confluence of demographics, density and nightlife to attract residents, High Street Residential Senior Associate Mary Boehmler told Senior Housing News.
The building is situated on a 0.81-acre infill site, walking distance from Evanston’s central business district, public transportation, shopping, restaurants and nightlife, and Northwestern University.
“We knew we had a more urban site we were working with. So that led to a little bit more urban type of interior design as well.ESG Architecture & Design Senior Interior Designer Sage Roshau
Avidor communities are designed with a maintenance-free, lock-and-leave lifestyle in mind. The buildings are designed around the active senior lifestyle, and residents inform much of the programs and amenities. Common amenities include a business center, a dog run and park, a pet spa, an activity center and club room, a modern fitness center and yoga studio,, a demonstration chef’s kitchen and separate catering kitchen, and a theater.
A highlight of the amenities package is the rooftop deck featuring a pool, fire pits, outdoor kitchen, a lawn for yard games, and unobstructed views of the downtown Chicago skyline to the south. Residents also have access to private lockers and a full-time activities director. Those who still drive can take advantage of climate-controlled indoor parking, and a guest suite is available for visitors.
Resident units feature stainless steel kitchen appliances, in-unit washer/dryer combos, granite countertops and kitchen islands. Master bedrooms are equipped with ceiling fan lighting and walk-in closets. Master bathrooms are designed with tile floors and built-in seating in the showers. All units have private balconies.
“We targeted Evanston as a wonderful community to provide this type of housing for that 72- to 74-year-old looking to potentially downsize from their home, still wanting to stay in the community, but still be surrounded by folks that are the same age and have that socialization and community right at their fingertips,” Boehmler said.
Avidor Evanston was also built with sustainability and energy efficiency in mind. The building achieved LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building’s Council. And 10% of the building’s units – 17 – are set aside as affordable housing for seniors.
The infill site’s triangular shape provided some immediate challenges, but it also opened up opportunities to be unique with design, Elness Swenson Graham (ESG) Architecture & Design Vice President & Partner Christopher Willette told SHN.
“It forced us to put on our design hats and dig into creating something completely new and different,” he said.
ESG let the lot’s shape dictate the design. The top of the lot was set aside for the dog run and park and street level. The east side of the lot is where parking and bike storage was situated. Building mechanicals, as well as entrance to parking, were set on the south side of the lot, and the building entrance, along with dining rooms, mail room, bistro and other amenities, are on the west side.
The result is an exterior that is fully presentable to visitors, while concealing the building’s inner workings. The use of glazed glass and steel also complements the existing surrounding architecture, creating a “window wall” effect, as well as accentuating the shape of the lot.
To make that work, ESG was very intentional about the placement of Avidor Evanston’s structural columns, so those window wall components could be incorporated into the design.
“When you look at night views, we can let the interior light of the building come through and really give it that dynamic nature and liveliness that just shows the neighborhood, ‘Hey, this building’s occupied, people are here and living and enjoying the space,” Willette said.
The site shape also presented challenges to designing common areas and living spaces, ESG Senior Interior Designer Sage Roshau told SHN. This was made easier, however, by concentrating the bulk of the amenities on the ground floor and rooftop.
“[Dedicating] the first and top floors to amenities helped to make it more efficient and ensure that we were able to make those critical destination points within the building,” he said.
High Street and Allegro were flexible in allowing ESG to center the amenities to two floors, treating the attractions outside the building as an amenity, as well as how to program interior space.
“We knew we had a more urban site we were working with. So that led to a little bit more urban type of interior design as well,” Roshau said.
Avidor Evanston opened last June, as the industry entered the management phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Because the building was complete and ready to accept its first move-ins, it is still too early to determine how the virus will impact future active adult developments.
“The jury’s still out as to whether there’s a broader change in amenities and space design, as a result of [Covid-19],” Willette said.
What is not in doubt is the development team’s success planning a high-rise residential development in a tiny infill location, Manny Gonzalez, principal at KTGY Architecture and one of this year’s judges, told SHN. He was impressed with how HIgh Street and ESG brought a unique building to an odd-shaped site.
“They did a wonderful job of making it work, and getting an awful lot of programming into that odd shape,” he said.
Gonzalez was especially impressed with the top floor amenity package, which takes advantage of the site’s angles and sight lines to incorporate the programming and views of downtown Evanston and the Chicago skyline.
“They were able to create spectacular spaces that do what you would almost see in a ground floor fitness center,” he said. “It was funny to see the shuffleboard kind of go into the point of the triangle where it narrowed down.”
The odd site stood out for another judge, Belmont Village Director of Interior Design Danielle Lavallee, who is currently designing a 17-story building for the Houston-based operator.
“When you’re building tall, you have the ability to create an architecture that stands out,” she said. “You have a lot of space to cover, so you have this opportunity to do some really cool things with glass and with shapes and with colors.”
The judges also noted how Avidor Evanston’s exterior informed some of the interior design elements, such as the use of linear lighting to create a connection between inside and outside. Meanwhile, common space furnishings and finishes, such as using chairs with arms or hard surfaces with touches of color, serve as wayfinding tools without standing out as such.
“It created this nice relationship, which I think is important when you’re doing architecture and interior design,” Lavallee said. “They really should work together and be as one.”
The result is a building that reflects the modern tastes of today’s – and tomorrow’s – senior living resident that will last longer without needed to be replaced, unlike in traditional multifamily environments. Gonzalez noted that Avidor Evanston may look like any other apartment building to a casual observer, but because the average resident age is older, the amenities will not need to be refreshed as frequently as in a standard apartment tower, because of less wear and tear.
“[Seniors] want to feel like [where they live] still has a more contemporary look,” he said. “And the edgier look helps them feel like they’re in a younger community than they may actually be.”