Nestled in the outer suburbs of Greater Philadelphia is a memory care community where residents can take in the outdoors and walk to their heart’s content.
The community, Meadowwood in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, recently expanded with a new roughly 19,000 square foot memory care building that added 20 units of memory care and a variety of new amenities for residents, including an “infinity loop,” where residents can walk in the sun without hitting barriers.
Though loops or circular paths for wandering are not uncommon in memory care, Meadowood’s allows residents to look inward toward a courtyard, giving them an extra connection to the outdoors when doing so is thought to be important to resident wellbeing.
The building, called the McLean Center and named for a generous donor, has proximity to Meadowood and its services, giving it a competitive advantage over other memory care buildings.
The community was designed to prioritize memory care residents by shirking traditional residential layouts, according to RLPS Architects Partner Eric McRoberts.
The team behind the McLean Center faced logistical design challenges beyond those expected during the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, the community opened near the autumn of 2022 and is ahead of its planned lease-up schedule.
The infinite design and prioritization of light earned the McLean Center and project team the top spot in the 2022 Senior Housing Architecture and Design Awards for the category of standalone memory care.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based architecture and design firm RLPS has completed many different memory care projects over the years — but no two projects are alike, according to McRoberts.
”It’s one of the reasons we enjoy working on this type of building,” he said.
He added that the company evaluates each project about a year after it is occupied in order to learn what worked and what didn’t.
“Some things you think are going to be a great idea turn out they’re not because they’re perceived by somebody with dementia or cognitive issues,” McRoberts said.
McRoberts noted that like many of his firm’s previous memory care projects, the project to add the McLean Center to the community brings some totally new elements to the community. .
The project’s design team wanted to ease resident frustration and keep them engaged, even when wandering throughout the community. So, the RLPS and Meadowwood project team designed a building resembling a figure-eight design, a concept it dubbed the “infinity corridor.”.
“As you go through the [floor] plan, or you walk around the space, every time you come to an edge, the corridor doesn’t stop,” RLPS Senior Interior Designer Kristin Novak told SHN.
Along the corridor, RLPS created engagement stations that allow for residents to help clue them into their surroundings and improve \ \ wayfinding.
In the middle of the figure-eight design are courtyards with gardens and year-round greenhouses.
RLPS in its design drew upon research that lends evidence to the fact that gardens and natural light can improve mood and slow the progression of dementia in memory care residents
The courtyards were designed in such a way that residents experience a natural orientation to the time of day and the seasons, replacing more artificial circadian lighting, according to RLPS.
“When you walk out of any resident room, there’s an immediate view into a courtyard or some kind of green space,” Novak said. “And these courtyards have all kinds of growth opportunities like raised beds for different plantings, herb gardens, and flower gardens.”
Designers reinforced the identity of the memory care building’s different spaces through color, interior finishes and artwork.
For example, the dining rooms and living rooms are designed with cathedral ceilings that are meant to indicate that those rooms are for public activities while private dining quarters have lower ceilings.
, As has been the case for many projects in the last three years, RLPS and Meadowood hit some snags during construction — but nothing too bad, according to McRoberts. Challenges included supply chain issues, construction labor struggles and regulatory hurdles.
One of the biggest challenges came in the form of the campus itself, which had grown crowded over the years as Meadowood built it out.
”Obviously, they wanted this building to be connected to some of their other health center components,” Novak said. “So it really was a difficult site to work with.”
Meadowood, RLPS, and the construction contractor, Benchmark Construction Company, needed to work together to re-work infrastructure elements like utilities and staff parking that was disrupted by this new building.
Still, the pandemic played a part. And, indeed, is still disrupting the building. “[Meadowood – McLean] opened its doors in September and are still waiting for a couple of furniture pieces to arrive that have been on order for over a year,” Novak said.
The community came in over budget as a result of the pandemic, but that’s not abnormal, according to McRoberts.
Residents first moved into Meadowood’s McLean memory care building in September 2022, and the building currently is ahead of its lease-up schedule, according to McRoberts.
Its 20 units are 18 composed of single-occupancy units and two tandem or couples units, bringing the building’s potential bed capacity to 22.
Design Awards judges noted the project’s biophilic design and infinity corridor as features promoting resident engagement and a positive relationship with nature.
“Notable are the greenhouses/potting rooms that allow residents to experience nature even during inclement weather,” according to Hord Coplan Macht Principal Cynthia Shonaiya who served as a judge for the stand-alone memory care category.
The community’s garden-filled courtyard is inviting and relevant in all four seasons and its on-site salon, parlor and dining facilities create space for multipurpose events and programming
Its proximity to Meadwood’s in-house physicians and care team makes it a convenient place for residents to live.
Additionally, RLPS worked with Meadowood Senior Living’s culinary staff to create a cooking and dining experience for memory care that rivals that of other acuity levels along the senior living care continuum.
“To get independent living residents that want to come over and eat in your memory care room is pretty special,” McRoberts said.
But perhaps the biggest testament to the memory care building’s appeal is the fact that it is not just memory care residents wanting to spend time there. In fact, a Meadowood resident who moved into McLean recently had a group of friends from the senior living community come to the memory care community to visit.
“You just don’t see a lot of IL residents wanting to come into memory care to spend time,” Novak said. “They usually take a memory care resident out … so even though this is memory care, it’s been designed in a way that appeals to everyone.”