Environmental design students create new ideas for senior living

Susan Rodiek

In a spring 2016 studio, Texas A&M environmental design students imagined a new generation of residential facilities for senior citizens in designs that feature walkability and emphasize community and connections with nature.

The 15 second-year students, led by Susan Rodiek, associate professor of architecture, presented their concepts to industry designers and professionals April 10, 2016 at the Environments for Aging Expo and Conference in Austin, which aims to provide participants with the latest strategies and ideas for creating functional and attractive living environments that meet the needs of aging people.

“Students were asked to address several questions with their designs, such as ‘how do we age in America, where and how do we want to live, and how can design meet the needs of people who will reach retirement age in 2020, 2030, and 2040,’” said Rodiek.

Working with advice from land developers, futurists and elderly care industry professionals, students developed concepts for specific sites in Texas by considering the site’s potential and characteristics.

“Students were encouraged to think of their projects as prototypes that could be adapted to a variety of future settings,” said Rodiek.

They created eight concepts, exploring a wide range of alternative approaches in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

In one proposal, students envisioned a multilevel senior living area built above downtown Bryan’s ACME Glass building that integrates seniors into an active community with access to preexisting amenities.

“The concept increases senior health by encouraging social interaction and an active lifestyle in a walkable area,” said the students, Ashley Just and Angela Brown, in their design proposal. “The concept can be adapted to fit any walkable community.”

Another student team sought to integrate seniors into a community by converting a conventional residential block into a pedestrian-oriented development by adding small cottages and transforming existing backyards into a park.

“The cottages, in duplexes and triplexes, allow people to choose how much space they want,” said the student designers, Kate Jackson and Sue Valdez, in a project summary. “A central promenade created from the neighborhoods’ backyards creates a safe space to encourage walking. The cottages, a clubhouse, and other amenities are built along this promenade to promote a sense of community.”

Several of the student proposals included green roofs to maintain seniors’ connections to nature in high-density, urban locations, and all of the designs emphasized social activity as a factor in good health.

“Being active in a community helps older people feel like they still have a purpose in life, which can have a positive impact in their mental and physical health,” said Katie Reyes and Ana Rodriguez in their project summary.

In a comment session following the students’ presentations, Eric McRoberts, a partner at RLPS Architects, applauded the students’ plans to establish the centers in the middle of walkable urban areas.

 “It really makes people feel like they’re integrated in a community,” he said. “ One of the most difficult things to do in senior living is to make people feel like they’re still part of a ‘big picture,’” he said.

Another conference attendee praised the students’ plans to create senior living areas as a part of multipurpose structures.

 “Your plans looked at ways to combine uses in a way that we don’t see in senior living today, such as community centers and retail, and that’s what the industry really needs,” said Quinn de Menna, director of architecture at Alberto & Associates. 

posted July 21, 2016