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Nov. 26, 2012

AIA and Perkins Eastman ‘Design for Aging Review’ Explores Senior Housing Best Practices

By Jeffrey Steele, Contributing Writer

Pittsburgh—What are the best practices and emerging ideas in senior housing design? The Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative explores this question in its recently released “Insight and Innovations: The State of Senior Housing.”

Authored by Emily Chmielewski, an associate at international architectural and design firm Perkins Eastman and head of the Research Collaborative, this is the 11th biennial Design for Aging Review (DFAR11) conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the third consecutive DFAR study undertaken by the Perkins Eastman Research Collaborative.

The collaborative assists clients and designers in creating better built environments by pushing the boundaries of professional knowledge, and improving architectural design through innovative, practice-based research.

“The current best industry thinking recognizes there are still gaps in today’s senior living options, that people are being invited to take a more active role not only in their care but also is society at large, and that designing for wellness, rather than illness, has a great and far-reaching impact,” Chmielewski tells MHN.

“Along these lines, my report focuses on several key themes, including siting and programming that promotes connectivity to the greater neighborhood, designing for capability, not disability, affordability-driven innovations and blurred boundaries,” she says.

The study makes clear today’s designers and providers are challenging what it means to design environments for senior populations. “I found that several innovative projects took a more inclusive and progressive approach to the way they think about and design for older adults,” Chmielewski says.

“Projects are being designed to enhance people’s capabilities, use their talents, and develop their interests, as opposed to designing to remediate people’s disabilities and impairments. This is a fundamental perceptual shift that veers away from the traditional notion of custodial care.

“This was evidenced by the popularity of programs for continued education, the introduction of Montessori-based activities to promote social, emotional, and cognitive engagement, and the number of projects submitted to DFAR11 that offer improved connections to the greater community.”

Chmielewski adds the industry is moving toward a model that helps older adults maintain social and professional roles, stay engaged and continue to live meaningful lives. She believes the “well-person” movement is gaining traction.

“Its implications for design are profound,” Chmielewski observes. “And, as these projects show, it is leading to new design concepts that broaden opportunities, eliminate barriers and enrich the experience of living.”

The themes Chmielewski’s study investigates and reports upon reflect changes in the economy, shifting market demands and the way care and delivery of services are evolving, she says. Whether driven primarily by cost or by an organization’s philosophy of care, today’s innovators are redefining the traditional notion of the continuum of care.

“Taking seniors out of the continuum of care, and just letting them continue, is one way the industry is changing the meaning of what it means to be old,” Chmielewski concludes.

Images: Air Force Villages, San Antonio, Texas, Copyright Casey Dunn 

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