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An older woman sitting on a parkbench leans back and turns her head to speak with a younger woman who is leaning forward, resting her arms on the back of the parkbench, and smiling.

The Architecture and Landscape of Integrating a Seniors' Community

by Jerald D. Peters Architect AAA AIBC MAA OAA SAA FRAIC LEED AP, Principal at ft3


The evolution of seniors' housing continues.

Rebranding of the Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) to a Life Plan Community is a significant cultural shift. A shift that speaks optimistically about the future.

Now the contemplation of an integrated campus is closer to becoming a reality. Mixed and mingled with the homes, businesses, and institutions of everyday life, the integrated seniors' campus is coming into view.

Age Friendly Communities

Age friendly community ideals are adopted by cities and towns across North America. They are designed to aid seniors to ‘age actively’ within physical and social environments that are structured and designed to serve and involve seniors in a safe, healthy, and engaged lifestyle.

Age friendly communities:

In Canada can we do more? Principles of Winter Cities makes life easier for everyone to enjoy all seasons and a wide range of activities. Ideas such as:

In short and by definition, Universally Accessible Communities are Age Friendly Communities.

Integrated Campuses

Across North America there are countless university campuses. Many of these campuses have large land masses with distinct edges, demarking boundaries between the surrounding community and the institution. These can be very beautiful with a collection of buildings, perhaps of a similar typology, size, or scale. Or, a central green area, pedestrian friendly, with readily accessible support services.

Some university campuses are less clearly defined; a collection of academic buildings integrated amongst an urban collection of businesses, multi-family housing, shops, and restaurants. These campuses are part of the urban fabric, blurring the lines between academia, the business community, and urban dwellers. Good examples in Canada include McGill or the University of Toronto or the University of Winnipeg.

These integrated examples are worthwhile for consideration as models of integration.

Who is integrated with whom?

Is the campus integrated with the community or the community integrated with the campus? In the best examples, the answer is both.

Seniors can readily access businesses, shops, and services in neighboring buildings via accessible walkways and links. Community members, neighbours, families, and friends can utilize restaurants, common rooms, services, clinics, fitness facilities, galleries, and gardens located within the seniors' campus.

It is both inside out and outside in – connecting our elders with their outside community and engaging the community with their elders in meaningful ways.

Home care as an outreach service from the seniors' centre is another small step towards integration. Utilizing a team-based approach based out of a long-term care centre, readily available and qualified staff can assess and care for elders in their family homes in the surrounding neighborhoods. Through the use of technology, outreach can be provided in the neighborhood such as:

Or on-demand senior services, utilizing technology and a network of care provisions based out of the Long-Term Care Centre, such as:

The provision of services may be a not-for-profit, for-profit, or a volunteer based delivery system.

Entrepreneurial owners, whether for-profit corporations or volunteer not-for-profit service clubs, are looking for ways to package and market attractive projects with the winning message to prospective clients. In addition to the various service packages, amenities and features, owners are looking for market differentiators.

Sustainability as a Market Differentiator

One way to connect our youth, our adults, and our elders is with a common cause. One alternative should be sustainability.

Grandparents are easily convinced. They want a better world for their grandchildren.

Youth are easily convinced. They are filled with hope and a belief in a better tomorrow.

Yet, oddly enough, few seniors' projects are leaders in earth stewardship issues. A quick survey of independent, assisted, and long-term care facilities registered with LEED Canada shows that 48 have registered but none have actually achieved certification at any level.

There are many potential reasons why LEED certification may not have been pursued, to date, by Canadian based seniors' projects. The most common reason seems to be perceived value in the certification. The rationalization of NOT pursuing certification begins with indicating that the project will follow all the principles and practices of LEED, and ends with simply not submitting the documentation or paying the certification fee. The harsh truth, however, is that NOT finishing the process and verifying achievement means that the goals and targets will NOT have been met. There is tremendous value in the finalization of certification, including such things as:

Of course, there is also the value of true achievement and the credibility of third party verification of the established targets. Now the third party is identifying the benefits of the project, rather than the owner. Commercial property owners have seen the increased value in their properties utilizing third party verification and this can be an example for seniors' housing providers. Commercial property owners are racing to improve the performance of the buildings to attract tenants, lower operating costs, and increase capital value.

In the coming months and years, we will see the expansion of sustainable practices to include broader performance issues, like the health and wellness of the occupants, based on the design, performance, and operations of the building. New measurement standards such as the WELL Building Standard are introducing these more comprehensive ideals into our vocabulary, our goals, and ultimately our choices.

Designing, building, and verifying our seniors projects to higher standards is a marketable differentiator.

Jerald Peters brings nearly 25 years of experience creating vibrant, functional spaces, and has provided leadership and technical expertise on an extensive array of projects in healthcare, institutional, housing, and commercial environments. Jerald has a passion for personal care home design beginning with his graduate thesis more than two decades ago and continuing throughout his professional career.