Architectural Trends Remain Fluid in Senior Living Design

As the nation’s senior population continues to expand, we called on PRDG architect Tyler Washburn to describe some of the most prominent trends he’s seeing in senior community design.

Here’s a rundown on the major trends we're observing:

• There’s an increase in higher-density senior living communities as well as more urban sites.

Why? Reasons behind this trend include increasing difficulty in finding affordable, large parcels of land. Costs are becoming about the same whether in an urban or exurban location. That’s why, in more dense cities, we’re seeing adaptive re-use of existing buildings such as former hotels, hospitals, even office buildings. To a degree, this is also driven by residents’ desires to be closer to family and good transportation. The greatest factors are rising land, labor and materials costs and the entire financial impact on new community development. That’s why we we’re seeing redevelopment of older senior communities.

• An enormous trend is a greater focus on hospitality-style services, amenities and active environments.

Traditional “nursing homes” are becoming a thing of the past. Resort-style design, furnishings, activities, and competitive dining choices are expected by more active, youthful seniors who are willing to pay for more amenities and entertainment.

• Much more attention is being paid to operational staff retention in senior communities.

Architects are taking an environmental approach—offering more comfortable and convenient break rooms, better dining amenities, more accessible office space, more outdoor light.

• Senior living communities are marketing to acquire residents at earlier ages.

The lower end of admission is now 55, with 82 being the oldest average admission age.

• A vast shift in residential designations and designs is occurring.

Today’s trends lean more toward Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. Some say Independent Living is the new Assisted Living, and Assisted Living is the new Skilled Nursing environment. Even the Skilled Nursing environment is shifting, with a heavier focus on Rehabilitation and Short-term Rehabilitation.

• Overall, architects, developers and owners are having to look at a case of balance and scale.

For example, wood construction is less costly than concrete. Yet code compliance vs. cost is always the challenge. The struggle for architects’ clients is always to decide how many units to build, pricing according to what the market will bear, and limits on desirable innovation due to cost.