“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
When older adults decide to move from the family home into a seniors community, they don’t want to live in a space that looks like a hospital or a nursing home. That’s not home to them. The latest research confirms the importance of designing buildings to bring out the feeling of “home” such as ensuring ease of movement, paying detailed attention to the quality of construction materials and furnishings and colours.
Building a community should first and foremost be focused on creating a welcoming place for residents.
“Anyone can build four walls and a roof, but a great deal of care must be taken to ensure amenities function well, and that residents feel at home,” said Gail Hinchliffe, president, United Active Living in Calgary. “Lighting, colours, features – all need to work in favour of the residents and their well-being. This is especially the case for those with cognitive impairment issues.”
Buildings should be designed around planned programs
There is a direct connection between residents and their environment. Pleasant spaces and well-planned outdoor areas help a resident’s sense of well-being. “The building should be designed around its programs, not the other way around,” noted Gail. “A fitness area should not be an afterthought. Spaces should be designed to support the programs intended for those spaces. Our building designs promote a safe and comfortable environment that supports independence, encourages good nutrition, physical activity and social connections.”
Designing spaces for seniors can often by guided by ageism, or discrimination based on age. According to Dr. Glen Hougan, associate professor at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, “This prejudice and stereotyping shows up in the products, services and environments that are designed for our older population. The issues of ageism and its reflection in design not only perpetuates society’s negative view of older people but their negative view of themselves.”
When designing its communities, United balances the needs of those who require a higher level of care with the interests of those who continue to be independent. Residents have the same freedom they enjoyed at home to do what they want, when they want and to come and go as they please. Communities are designed to ensure the safe movement of those who need the extra care, and United fully supports an integrative model where everyone is included as much as possible in activities.
This means open spaces where residents can mingle, read a newspaper or have coffee. Fitness and arts areas are open to natural light. There are green spaces, dining spaces for casual, formal or family get-togethers, where executive chef-designed menus offer variety and flexibility in meal times, a theatre, heated underground parking and the like.
Designed for Living at Fish Creek
United Active Living, which opened its first community, Garrison Green in 2008, recently opened its newest community in south Calgary, Fish Creek. Another community is on the drawing boards for Calgary.
Following the guidance of the latest research, the Fish Creek community consists of two buildings – one that offers extra care options, and an adjoining building for those wishing a fully independent lifestyle with the option of selecting additional services. A feature of the Fish Creek community is the inclusion of a professionally designed open-air courtyard accessed from the dining room, art gallery and fitness areas, which will be completed later this spring. Garden, walking paths, a water feature, orchard, putting green, bocce court, barbeque area, and sculpture gardens are all there for the enjoyment of residents, friends and families.
Included in the building designs are spaces where guest lectures and other gatherings can be held. “We are big fans of the concept of lifelong learning. A person is never too old to learn something new. That’s why we have established close connections with St. Mary’s College, Mount Royal University, the Glenbow Museum, Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra and many other groups that extend those learning opportunities for the residents,” said Gail. “These connections allow residents to take courses, attend lectures and musical events while giving us space to invite experts to come to our communities to host discussions and presentations.”
English students from Mount Royal University, as part of their writers-in-residence program, collected life stories from the residents at Garrison Green. The experience was transformative for both students and residents.
Included in the newly opened Fish Creek community is a one-of-a-kind art gallery. The main floor gallery displays art by residents, staff and outside community members.
“Some might say that devoting floor space to an art gallery in a community like this is not efficient use of space,” said Gail. “But for us, art and other creative pursuits are paramount. Our focus is on stimulating the mind, to play on a person’s urge to be creative. A gallery helps that focus, and builds self-esteem. There’s nothing like seeing your latest work on display!”
Last fall, residents in the Garrison Green community created masks as a reflection of who they are. Those masks will be on display in the Fish Creek gallery later this month.
Celebrating the artwork created by residents in collaboration with Calgary artists is an important aspect of building community. United residents are sharing experiences with other creatives and everybody benefits from that connection. It is this community mindset that sets United apart.
Do you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community? Send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a tour. We are happy to help!
United is changing the conversation around aging. From our innovative United Minds (memory care) program to professionally staffed art studios and extensive creative programming, our communities offer more than you might expect. If you have questions or topics you would like us to cover in future blogs, let us know.