If at first you don’t succeed…rebuild.

By Steve Moran

I recently had a chance to visit with Rocky Berg, principal for the senior living practice at three:living architecture about the current state of design for senior living. Here is what he had to say:

Old Buildings

All of the new senior living construction is putting tremendous pressure on those providers who have older buildings, which could mean anything from twenty to fifty years of age. New buildings are more opulent, they have better technology, larger units and larger and more common spaces.   

In Rocky’s view the value of these buildings reside primarily in the structural part of the buildings. This means that often an owner needs to make the hard decision about the value of knocking down an old structure and starting over or gutting the interior, saving the parts of the building that are sound, or make it unique and turning it into something that will appeal to the demands of the current upscale clients.   


Rocky and his team are spending a lot more time working with their clients to understand “the flow” of the building and what constitutes comfortable space. Here is what that looks like:

  • They will spend days thinking about what the resident, family and prospect experience looks like. How will it feel when they pull into the parking lot? What does it feel like when a resident and their family walks through the front door? After coming through the front door what do they do, where do they go next?

  • They have mostly moved away from grand staircases and big grand open rooms.

  • They have found that having a bistro or bar at the front lobby creates a warm comfortable space for family members and team members to congregate. He likened it to how many of the newer hotels have Starbucks just inside the front entrances. He particularly likes creating a space near the front that can be used as a breakfast and coffee gathering place in the morning and a bar in the evening.

  • He also sees great value in creating a variety of gathering places, some small and some larger. This is in recognition that most residents prefer small more intimate groups as opposed to large group activities.

  • There is an increasing awareness that creating lots of limited-purpose space means lots of time when that space is being used by no one. This adds to both development and operational costs. They are spending a lot of time looking at how to create multi-purpose space that can easily be reconfigured allowing it to be used much of the time rather than little of the time.

The big idea here is that the most profound benefit of senior living is eliminating the plague of social isolation. Too often though, designs have effectively encouraged residents to spend time in their living units rather than engaging with staff and other residents. Creating the spaces described above provides optimal conditions for on-going regular social engagement.