Meet Evolving Demands of Residents, Staff with Mixed-Use Integration

by Jeff Shaw

By Ray Yancey and Janice Sanada, LRS Architects

The seniors housing industry is constantly evolving to meet the needs of residents. The baby boomer generation is quickly becoming the largest demographic of the seniors housing community, and their demands significantly differ from their predecessors.

Whereas previous generations embraced designs where seniors housing communities were isolated from the broader community, baby boomers desire a melding of suburban and urban elements, such as entertainment venues, restaurants, professional business services and retail spaces. They also want these amenities to be closer.

Blending these elements poses advantages for residents, family, staff, developers and operators. These include better intergenerational connections with the local community, encouraging residents to be more active, better transportation options for staff, and expanded amenities for residents’ needs.

Naturally occurring amenities

Blending these aspects from an architectural perspective is called horizontal mixed-use integration, a unique technique where specific design solutions build cohesive environments between different functioning elements. Using horizontal integration in a mixed-use capacity allows seniors housing projects to develop with more variety and beneficial spaces that can be within, adjacent or nearby for residents, operational staff and the surrounding community.

These amenities are not part of the seniors housing development, but their close proximity addresses resident demand for a more urban feel. This creates more opportunities to access a wide variety of dynamic amenities; reduces employee fatigue by providing needed amenities like child care and food services; and adds another dimension of enrichment to the lives of residents.

Additionally, these developments provide evolving activities, socialization opportunities and intergenerational connections, enabling seniors to stay active and engaged with the larger community in the area. Horizontal mixed-use gives seniors a sense of independence and freedom to pursue their passions and interests while accessing necessary services and amenities.

How it works

The standard approach to space utilization concerning continuing care communities is a 60/40 split, with 60 percent of the development used for apartments and 40 percent used for circulation, support and internal dedicated amenity spaces.

Horizontal integration can lessen amenity spaces along with full-time employee staffing and reduce the management needs and money allocated by the developer/operator of the property. By challenging this standard, developers and architects and can augment mixed-use elements from the surrounding area to satisfy the growing needs of incoming residents.

This may also have merit to find innovative opportunities that could be explored to tackle the shortage of seniors housing targeting middle-income residents.

Horizontal mixed-use design allows families and visitors to engage with residents in a more cohesive community environment. Often, seniors housing communities are isolated, tucked away in residential areas without external engagement, making visits static and uneventful for residents and their families.

Horizontal integration offers an opportunity to easily engage outside the senior living community and enjoy the surrounding area without excessive use of vehicles or prolonged commute times. It also provides a broader mix of convenient amenities to gather around and enjoy family.

A case study

At LRS Architects, we successfully used horizontal integration in the Springs at Happy Valley project in Happy Valley, Oregon. This recently completed seniors housing facility acts as a big-box anchor in a newly master-planned retail development.

By combining ingenuity, collaboration, innovative design ideas, and the community’s intentional placement within the master plan, the development supports greater economic flexibility, promotes ease of access and community connection, and features unique design elements that meet the needs and demands of the baby boomer resident.

The new retail development is located within a broader commercial retail area surrounded by a mix of housing options. The master plan has surrounded the community with six retail buildings and several other nearby mixed-use centers, which provide walkable access to a variety of shopping, dining and leisure activities.

On the retail development side, the project team studied gable forms and window proportions, expanding residential dimensions to fit the context of a retail experience. Design elements such as brick and stone accents, natural finishes, courtyards, fire pits, pavilions and a water feature elevate the development, fostering an inviting, approachable and cohesive aesthetic.

Springs at Happy Valley’s internal amenities include dining spaces; a bar with billiards table; theater; art room; multipurpose room; wellness center with a heated indoor pool and spa; dog walk; and private internal courtyards. The adjacent mix of amenities includes numerous dining venues, including a wine bar and sandwich shop, gift shop, grocery, postal, Bar 3 fitness, insurance offices, dental offices, veterinarians and physical therapy, to name a few.

These elements provide greater support and respite for staff, with better transportation opportunities, daycare facilities for children, and easier access to errands after shifts are completed. Combined with resident amenities that keep the seniors active and healthy, staff in horizontal mixed-use senior living facilities can focus on providing the highest quality of care with few external disruptions.

Development overcame unprecedented obstacles related to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an extended construction schedule and labor and material shortages posing the most significant roadblocks. Implementing smart workarounds and anticipating potential challenges kept the project on track without sacrificing design.

Ultimately, the forward-thinking design and operational efficiencies of Springs at Happy Valley resulted in the project being awarded Fitwel certification for its focus on improving, enhancing and safeguarding the health and well-being of residents.

The urbanization of the suburbs is changing the way we perceive residential areas outside of cities. Walkability, close-knit communities and less reliance on vehicular transportation are priorities for residents, and starkly contrast what was popular 30 years ago.

As the baby boomer population continues to grow in the senior living community, horizontal mixed-use provides the greatest amount of flexibility for developers, operators and designers to meet resident needs and create healthier, more engaging and attractive developments for future generations.

Ray Yancey is a principal and Janice Sanada is a managing principal at LRS Architects.

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