This article is sponsored by Lantz-Boggio. This article is based on a Senior Housing News discussion with David Fik, President at Lantz-Boggio. The discussion took place on November 9, 2022 during the SHN BUILD Conference in Chicago. The article below has been edited for length and clarity.
Senior Housing News: Lantz-Boggio is an architecture firm with senior living projects in 36 states. They include Heartis Buckhead with Caddis, and the Reserve at Kensington with Solera Senior Living. We’re going to talk a little bit about senior living design today. David, I just want to start with a scene setter. What do you see happening? What are the big trends that you see in senior living design today?
David Fik: Let me ask it this way, and I want to ask a question to you, what do you think is the most important aspect of architecture?
SHN: To me it’s efficiency in design for the staff and maybe trying to foster personal connections between residents in a way that’s natural so that people aren’t being placed here and here and here, so that they’ll socialize. Those would be two big ones for me.
Fik: Those are good answers. I’m sure other answers might be dining, or maybe it’s fitness and wellness or it could be the outdoor spaces. Those are the top three things that people are looking for when they’re moving in. Maybe it’s the residences themself. I would like to say that it’s marketing. I think that should be in every building, what we should be thinking of is when you are designing it, that marketing should be leading it because what’s your biggest impact that you’re looking for? It’s the next resident.
Everything that’s being designed in a building, if the architecture can help support sales, it’s going to help to occupy. What we see is the opportunity to design a building without needing to pass many residential doors. Every step of the way as you approach the building, it’s these wild moments. I almost think of it as when you look at Disney World, and parents say, “Hey,” and the kids think, “What’s over there?” They’re pulling the parent to see what’s next. I think our buildings can have that same strategy. To implement a building that’s based on marketing.
SHN: Earlier I mentioned efficiency and staffing in design. That to me is a big one, obviously due to the staffing issues in our industry. I want to ask you about that directly. Do you have any strategies for addressing that directly in architecture and design that efficiency piece?
Fik: Interesting because in architecture we’re problem solvers. We’re constantly trying to find out ways that we can help everybody whether it’s residents, whether it’s guests, but also staff. When we hear about what’s happening in the industry of trying to find ways to attract talent, what can architecture do?
I’m actually involved with a college that teaches dementia care caregivers and the alumni and the staff are meeting monthly. I get to sit in and ask questions and find out what they’re looking for. It’s interesting to hear their responses. I’m going to give you a quick story. My mom, who next month would’ve turned 98 years old, her funeral was last week. It was out west of Chicago here in Aurora. Her caregivers got to know her quite well.
My mom in dementia care had a baby doll and she’d bring the doll to her face and rub noses and sing to it and the caregivers loved that. My mom was there for 12 or 13 years. They get to know their residents and the impact that is on them when their friend is lost. As much as they don’t want to get involved, they do. Through these different groups that I’ve been involved with, another one is a minority group in California that deals with low income and middle income residents, and their job is to understand what the caregivers are looking for. When you go through an experience when my mom passed, they need a way to escape and it’s almost a getaway room. As much as we think that the employee break room is sufficient, it’s not necessarily true.
I hear that when staff has their choice of the political TV on, others can’t escape it when they’re in their employee break room. If you’re on one side or the other, as we’re all going through that over the last 24 hours, it actually makes the staff want to quit and some do quit just over something simple like that. They need a place to get away. What I’m learning is that the getaway room needs to almost have all the characteristics of an actual resident room. They need to have a place that’s serene, a view, quiet, a place that just doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of everything that’s going on so that they can just get away. That’s just one example of things that I’m learning.
Another example that I’ll give real quick is that something simple, a lot of single mothers are part of our staff. Just by providing a computer with a printer is something that will allow them to coordinate with their child that comes home from school. They need to print something out. They don’t have ink, they don’t have paper, whatever it is, they’re saying, “Hey, mom, what am I going to do? I’m going to fail this class if I don’t hand in my report.” At least having something simple like that will actually provide this opportunity. It shows that you’re caring for the staff as well.
SHN: Thanks for sharing those examples. I want to switch gears here a little bit. We’ve been hearing over the past many months, I think, that there’s perhaps an economic downturn on the way, possible recession. I think still the cards are out, at least according to the latest jobs report, but I do keep hearing about this. How is Lantz-Boggio Architects setting up to weather that storm if there is a downturn?
Fik: We have two offices, one’s in Denver, Colorado and the other is in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We have five new partners. At of the beginning of this year, the firm has actually changed course and each one of the partners are well versed in senior living, but I think what’s most important is to understand what is happening out there and what we are hearing and what we’re seeing.
During COVID there was this time of, “what’s going to happen with our industry?” Is it going to even exist? What we learned is to weather the storm and to get through it and when you get through it, there is that pent-up demand. What we’re seeing is that people looking at more of those high barrier to entry markets, so that as that lull happens, their entitlement process times out with it, as well as even producing the documentation side of it so that when you do come out of the other side, you’re ready to start building.
What we’ve seen is that when there was that pause for a year and a half or two years during COVID, that pent-up demand caused an influx on the design side of it, and everybody wants to cut off a month or two months in order to get it designed in order to get it built even sooner. We’re seeing a lot of people taking the strategy of, let’s design it. Let’s put the set of drawings on the shelf and be ready to permit.
SHN: As you look ahead especially to the new year, what do you see on the horizon? What gets you really excited?
Fik: Well, the opportunity with the infill design, a lot more of that happening, we’re working with Sunrise just as an example, infill does not mean it has to be in an urban setting. It can be in a smaller town but having a property that’s located very close to the small town. In an urban setting, my experience over the years was doing some high-rises and things like that, and infill just naturally says it’s a smaller site so you take a large three-story building, and you squeeze it down and it turns into a vertical building. For many years I thought, “Well, once I start doing senior living, I’ll probably do less high rises,” but we’re seeing more of that. That’s a fun and exciting thing.
The other thing too is I want to just touch on interior design, is that interior design is where our residents actually experience the space. Interior design is ultimately the most important. As an architect maybe I shouldn’t be saying that out loud, but it is extremely important because our residents experience that every single day of their life and that’s exciting to see what we can do for their experience.
SHN: Going from the interior design now to the outdoors, something else that I’ve heard about, something I’m personally excited about is all of the different ways now that operators, architects, designers, are connecting residents with those outdoor spaces. Obviously, though that seems like it can be tough, do you have any thoughts on how to connect residents to the outdoors?
Fik: Yes, and it’s treating it like the indoors. It’s actually treating each area outside and creating rooms. You should be thinking of each area that you can size it appropriately for people to feel welcomed. If it’s a large vacuous space, if there are only two or three of us in this space, it would be a little uncomfortable. We’d whisper and things like that. If you can break down the spaces into pods, maybe there’s an area for a fire pit and another one for an outdoor kitchen.
Secondly, is that many times we design the outdoor spaces right off the dining area. Great idea and that is important because you should be able to spill outside, but if it’s not next to an active area as well, what’ll happen is when people go to dining, they eat, they’re done with dining, and they don’t want to go outside then because they’re going to feel like they’re in a fishbowl. Everybody else is eating and watching them as they’re outside. Having it next to, or adjacent to some kind of activity area, a living room where people will be sitting there and say, “Wow, I’d like to go out there. I see a squirrel running. I see birds, flowers,” and that makes them want to engage in the outdoors.
SHN: We’ve seen some companies take the approach of adapting older buildings into senior living communities, maybe the best example being a hotel, turning that into a senior living community. That also seems like something that can be an opportunity if you do it right, also can be tough to do depending on the project. Do you have any thoughts on the best way to do that from a design perspective?
Fik: I’d be very cautious. Every building is different. I think that what you need to do first is understand when it was built and when it’s been renovated or repositioned. Those are two very key and important items for us as designers to understand. Then also if you’re buying a duck, it’s not going to turn into a horse. It’s going to be a duck. You might turn it into a swan, but you’ve got to understand what it is that you’re buying. What I mean by that is you might look at a building and it has eight-foot ceilings. Well, the Jones down the street might have nine-foot ceilings and with just that volume you’re not going to get that unless you tear the whole building down.
You have to completely understand what it is that you’re diving into. Each one of them, because they’re different. If you can understand that philosophy and that side of it, then cater to that, embrace it, take that in and say, “Hey, we’re going to do everything we can to make this better, to turn it in from a duck to a swan, whatever the amenity space is.” Maybe it’s the cost, the entrance fees, whatever it is. Those are the things that you need to focus on.
SHN: What’s something that most people in our audience might not know about senior living, architecture and design, but should?
Fik: It takes longer than you think. In order to create good design, we’re finding that many developers are wanting it to go faster to speed, to market and if you want good design, you really work with the team on the frontend to really focus on getting that perfected early so that you get that in the end, the beautiful design in the end.
This article is sponsored by Lantz-Boggio Architects, which goes beyond the standard architectural experience for its clients and staff. To learn more about Lantz-Boggio and the newest partner additions to the firm, visit www.lantz-boggio.com.