Creating Diverse and Inclusive Senior Care Facilities: Designing for Diversity and Community

The older generation is rapidly diversifying and senior care facilities will need to reflect that.

By Mackenna Moralez, Associate Editor

Putting a loved one in a senior care facility can be a sensitive issue for many families. These spaces are supposed to be where seniors live out the rest of their lives. While friends and family can visit, the building can be a constant reminder of what life was like before they got there. Oftentimes, an older building wasn’t even designed with inclusivity in mind, leaving residents to feel more lonely and helpless than ever. 

This is all starting to change, though. More designers are approaching new projects with a certain level of empathy. They are thinking about who will be living in these senior care facilities and what they need in order to live a happy and worthwhile life. Aging is a process, so age inclusivity should be incorporated in all facets of design. 

“I personally think that senior living is very prone to being the market sector in design that really values inclusion because we need to take into account to design for seniors, people's different abilities,” says Philippe Saad, principal, DiMella Shaffer. “This inherently takes us to creating spaces that are inclusive, not only for people of different ages, but for people with different cognitive impairments or physical abilities. Senior living is very well positioned to be designed in an inclusive way.” 

Inclusive is a multi-faceted initiative as it supports the health and wellbeing of residents, staff and visitors. When designing these spaces, it is crucial to think of the following occupants will differ throughout the years: 

  • Age 
  • Ability 
  • Gender 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Culture, race and ethnicity 
  • Socio-economic status 

One of the main things that families look for in these types of facilities is whether or not their loved one will be able to have a community and not be forced into solitude. Architecture has this power to create a community through its designs. It is essential that when designing a building that it is taken into consideration on how the building can further bring people together rather than leaving them out.  

“I think historically senior housing have been designed maybe from one lens and not from the lens of diversity,” Saad says. “Our society is getting more diverse and senior living should be more diverse. There should be suburban senior housing, there should be urban senior housing. There should be senior housing in small scale and in large scale. For LGBT and non-LGBT members. I think when you live in a community with like-minded people, there’s a lot of synergies that are more likely to bring people together.” 

For example, The Pryde, a LGBTQ+ senior living facility currently under construction in Boston, will allow seniors to age as “their whole selves, with dignity and compassion.” According to its website, the facility emerged from community conversations and reflects the connection to the surrounding neighborhood.  

The Pryde will feature a 10,000 square foot community center, which will include a learning classroom, library and art exhibition space and host the “Portraits of Pride,” a photography project that will present portraits of LGBTQ+ leaders through curated exhibitions and special installations. 

“When we were designing The Pryde, there was very little data out there, so we did listening sessions,” Saad says. “This is where us, as the designers, had to really listen to what was being said. One thing that stood out is that the definition of a household differs by the community.  What we learned for people who identify as LGBT, that a household might just be two friends. These two people might be two gay men or a gay man and a lesbian woman who are not related by blood, they’re not married, they’re not romantic with one another. That is their chosen family. So, designing two-bedroom apartments in a senior housing for LGBTQ+ residents became an element that is a differentiator than regular senior housing.” 

There is currently a wait list for those who wish to reside at The Pryde, but they shouldn’t lose hope. Saad says that they are already planning multiple facilities in the Boston area, but are even branching out to other states like Texas.  

“I think there is a granular way that senior living has to evolve to really respond to the diverse population that is getting older right now and in the next 15 years,” Saad says. “I think we have to stop thinking about senior living as one thing, but really that deep dive deeper into the local culture and the surrounding. Inclusive design is good design. And inclusive means everyone.” 

Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market. 

July 14, 2023

Topic Area: Architecture , Interior Design

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