Best CCRC Design of 2021: Senior Housing Meets Campus Living in Arizona

On Arizona State University’s Tempe, Arizona campus sits the latest evolution of university-based senior living.

The project, Mirabella at ASU, is an effort from Pacific Retirement Services to push the boundaries of senior living highrise design. It is the third community in Medford, Oregon-based owner/operator’s growing Mirabella brand.

The 20-story continuing care retirement community (CCRC) at the heart of the most populated university in the United States is also an experiment in blending senior living services with college life and amenities, with shared amenity spaces where older adults and students alike can mingle.

The community was designed with Arizona’s hot climate in mind and includes features meant to keep residents active while also sheltering them from the desert sun.

PRS currently manages a portfolio of 12 life plan communities and 25 affordable housing communities across Arizona, California, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

ASU Mirabella’s design and innovative concept earned top honors in the CCRC/Life Plan Community category of the 2021 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards.

The concept

Pacific Retirement Services had always rooted its Mirabella brand in creating spacious, upscale communities for senior living residents in urban markets. But with the Mirabella at ASU concept, the operator added college-based lifelong learning to the mix.

From the beginning, it was clear the community and the campus would be fully integrated. During the planning process, the operator worked on a design with University Realty, a subsidiary of ASU; and Ankrom Moisan, which collaborated on the Mirabella communities in Portland and Seattle and has worked with PRS for more than 20 years.

Ankrom Moisan Managing Design Principal Micheal Great said he and his colleagues spent time talking to potential residents even before landing on a final design. At top of mind was mitigating Arizona’s harsh summers.

“I realized … if we’re going to make this a habitable place for seniors that they can enjoy, we’re going to have to pay attention to how we shape the exterior from the very beginning,” Great told SHN.

The community includes several design features meant to keep residents cool and comfortable, such as apartments with views angled away from the sun, cantilevered balconies providing shade, and heat-absorbing panels on the building’s exterior.

The project’s designers were also thoughtful about giving residents space to venture outside when the weather was not as oppressive.

“There are certain times of the year, like winter and early spring, where it’s really great to be outside,” Great said. “So, we wanted to, from the beginning, set a foundation that created those outdoor spaces.”

The community’s exterior design also includes cladding materials that represent the surrounding Tempe area, such as sand-colored masonry at the base, orange and red metal panels, and a mirror-like facade with tints of blue and green.

During planning, the project’s architecture and interior design teams worked with PRS on the integration of interior spaces like decks with the building’s exterior, according to Ankrom Moisan Principal of Interior Design Darla Esnard.

“We didn’t want people to feel like they were stuck in a building all of the time,” Esnard told SHN.

The integration between the community and the college campus goes far beyond the maroon and gold colors of ASU. For instance, one of the community’s four dining venues is meant to evoke images of the Arizona sky when the moon rises. The bar also houses ASU’s meteorite collection.

The community also borrows heavily from existing Mirabella communities, which the designers used as a reference to determine the features that matter most to residents.

The final design included materials that are loved aesthetically by PRS residents — such as quartz and porcelain — along with carpet and hardwood floors, personalized lighting controls, soundproofing, and alcoves in resident apartments with personalized built-in storage and display areas.

The construction

By late 2017, PRS had closed on $250 million in bonds, paving the way for the community’s construction to begin in the early part of 2018.

PRS tapped McCarthy Building Companies, a firm that does a significant amount of construction on ASU projects, to build the project.

Like most other senior living construction projects underway when the pandemic hit in 2020, PRS did encounter some challenges as Mirabella at ASU came together.

To help with social distancing, the project was modified with exterior elevators. PRS’ construction manager also relocated to Arizona to better watch and manage the project — something the operator’s leaders do not typically do for other similar projects.

Still, the pandemic led to delays in the end, according to PRS President and CEO Eric Sholty. Originally, Mirabella ASU was scheduled to open to residents in August 2020, but the first residents moved in toward the end of that year.

“We worked through it,” Sholty said. “I’ve been developing senior living communities for the vast part of my career, and I’ve never seen anything like Covid and the impacts that it had on us.”

In the end, project costs registered at about $252 million.

The completion

As of January, Mirabella at ASU is more than half full and gaining occupancy.

The community’s amenities include four hospitality-style dining venues, two kitchens, a fitness area, pool, auditorium, library, areas to make crafts or play games, and a physical therapy space. Other amenities are shared with the campus and centered around interests held by both residents and students, such as an art gallery, woodshop, beauty salon, and bistro. 

To PRS CEO Sholty, not only is the community’s design noteworthy, but also its programming. For example, the community is also home to ASU student musicians who perform in the dining room and bar.

“I think our state-of-the-art [accomplishment] is our programming,” he told SHN. “It’s what’s happening in those venues. It’s happening in those wellness centers. It’s happening with our connection base.”

Mirabella ASU is an integrated part of the ASU campus, and the community now has both professors and students living in the building. SHN Design Awards judges praised the project for its connections among residents, students, and faculty.

“This project invites the students and residents to engage and is truly inspiring,” said John Cronin, principal at AG Architecture and a judge on this year’s awards program.

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