Designers Are Rethinking Senior Living—With a Focus on Wellness | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors
Heidi Wang, LEED AP and partner at WJW Architects, began her career in architecture just as her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “I saw his struggles and how his environment really had an impact on his well-being,” she says. That led her to dedicate her work to finding innovative ways of improving people’s lives—especially, she says, those most vulnerable. And in the wake of the pandemic, that ethos of wellness and intention has become more important than ever.
“As most of us know, the senior living space has been particularly negatively affected by the pandemic,” Wang says. “The health and overall well-being of our senior-living residents has always been something we’re continuously working to improve, and COVID-19 only increased that focus. Though we have continued to design for the long term, not for one moment, we know that safety and health are now top of mind for everyone who is a part of senior living communities, whether they are residents, family members, or employees. People want to know their loved ones have the utmost safety, and that everything possible is being done to counteract the effects of prolonged social isolation.”
Though WJW Architects’ human-centric design approach for those dealing with challenges like memory loss or physical impairments has always had benefits that would translate to the health and well-being of the public at large—think increased natural light, indoor plants, and access to the outdoors—their years of research and experience have kicked into high gear since the onset of the pandemic. Outdoor areas and gardens that allow for distanced socializing and activities are on the rise. And, since the pandemic has reemphasized the fact that poor indoor air quality can cause negative health effects, especially for seniors, healthy ventilation has become so important that it’s now considered an amenity.
“There are a number of ways to control air quality, including isolated HVAC systems that only serve one ‘household,’ UV-C air sanitizing systems for ductwork, and better control of humidification,” Wang says. “Low-tech solutions such as operable windows and individual unit patios, terraces, or balconies also have an important role to play in air quality.” Those “households” she refers to are basically small pods in which staff can self-sufficiently work in order to avoid cross-contamination. Each one has its own common area and they can be closed off from one another when necessary. Add to that an increased focus on separate entry points for residents, visitors, and staff; areas dedicated to sanitation and health screenings; distanced dining along with grab-and-go options; and more hands-free technology, and the senior care of the future suddenly feels more prepared for catastrophic events like COVID-19.
At Inspīr Carnegie Hill, a new luxury building for seniors on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, upgraded HVAC systems, UV lighting for sanitation, and larger spaces for amenities and distanced socializing also come into play. Not to mention a state-of-the-art technology system called Allī, with artificial intelligence and smart home features that keep residents connected to each other and the outside world and help them better navigate day-to-day living, according to Gregory D. Smith, CEO and president of Inspīr. But this is a residence, after all, and it needs to feel like home. That’s why close attention is also paid to the aesthetic details. Handel Architects worked with luxury brand George Smith to create furniture that is as functional as it is beautiful. Their approach was residential but with unique user requirements in mind, including space planning and custom seat heights.