Seniors Housing Demands a Communal, Active, Amenity-Driven Model

by Jeff Shaw

By Kimberly Hellekson and Ken Linehan, FK Architecture

The clock on advancing the cause of assisted senior living is ticking — quite loudly. 

By 2050, an astonishing one-fifth of the American population will be over 65 years of age, according to Statista. That percentage translates into some 30 million people who will require some form of long-term senior care, up from less than 10 million today. Currently, there are not enough seniors housing units to accommodate this need.

We are living longer, and as the birthrate in the United States continues to decline, this means fewer people of working age to replace those who will retire in the decades to come. Thus, the demand for senior living facilities is at a crisis point, and the issue will only get worse as the remainder of the baby boomers become senior citizens. The time to act is now, and the mission has never been more urgent.

Indeed, Bob Koch, founder of our firm, spoke to this need at the 2023 Environments for Aging Conference (EFA), held in Charlotte this past April. But rather than view the shortage of seniors housing as a reason to panic, it is Bob’s view that this presents a unique opportunity for architects, developers and various other stakeholders to step up to the plate and fashion an entirely new paradigm in the field of seniors housing — one that incorporates a far more active lifestyle.  

Bob told his audience that creatively approaching the design and development of senior living is not enough. Builders must work in concert with healthcare operators and other collaborators to ensure enough room for care, and the right kind of care. The coming decades offer tremendous advancements in senior living design, construction and implementation of senior living to make the golden years even more rewarding. 

Accordingly, we at FK Architecture are moving forward with plans for active adult living projects nationwide. Our firm aims to meet Bob’s dictum that residences for seniors should shift away from the “warehousing” model and move into the realm of “communal living.” This accords with several studies finding that seniors increasingly seek spaces in which they can thrive and socialize. LeadingAge reported in a white paper that middle-income seniors especially are underserved in the housing market.

We could not agree more.

FK Architecture is drafting plans for facilities meeting several market-based demands. In addition to crafting ground-up senior living homes, we are renovating and reimagining previously existing spaces into active, collaborative, cooperative and socially oriented living spaces. These spaces must provide modern amenities to unite communities in shared areas and nurture the demand for social activity.

The issue of senior living resides right at the intersections of economics, geography, culture, healthcare and, yes, construction. These facilities must be designed with the resident in mind first and foremost. And they must be implemented at scale given the large, and increasing, number of people who will require this type of residency.

The need to accommodate our rapidly increasing senior population also requires an entire shift in how we talk about aging in our society. Sadly, we in America are still behind much of the world regarding reverence and respect for our elderly. It’s a classic case of out of sight, out of mind in our youth-obsessed culture.  

The need for a respectful shift in the design and implementation of senior living facilities presents an opportunity. The dignity of those who require assistance must be respected while designing functional, communal living spaces.

Thus, designers are taking the wisdom from medical experts in geriatric sciences to imagine a future of senior living that marries concepts of care, dignity and visitation in spaces that are meant to feel like home as much as possible.

The next decade will define how we choose to better serve Americans as the population ages. The previous model of “warehousing” our seniors must go, and thus a new dawn presents itself for reimagining senior living communities, construction and operation. 

Kimberly Hellekson and Ken Linehan are managing principals and owners of FK Architecture.

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