Design elements specific to senior living homes

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities>
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Prima facie, the only difference between mixed family condominiums and senior citizen homes would be the average age of the residents. From a design point of view, nothing could be further from the truth.


While one may think that designing a community for a single (senior) demographic with homogeneity of needs should be a simpler task, architects will tell you otherwise.


Several reasons underline these apparent dichotomies. A few of these are:


Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: A sense of “community” is essential in order to ensure that residents have the space and the opportunity to be socially active.

Senior living communities dedicate disproportionately high space for common areas, thereby allowing residents to spend more time out of their homes with friends and neighbours pursuing hobbies and activities of common interest. Good senior living communities will dedicate as much as 10 percent of the developable area to common use areas. This is between four – six times more than regular residential projects.


Where the community is as good for me at 55 as it is at 95: The design of the homes within and the community itself is such that every square inch of the facilities and services are reachable, accessible, practical and usable for all residents irrespective of their age and physical ability.

Consequently, there are no height differences on the same floor, which obviates the need for steps. Corridor widths on residential floors, door widths within the home and in public spaces and paved pathways in outdoor spaces are just some design elements that keep all areas of the community accessible to all.


Where the community feels like home but works like a hotel: The “zero headache” lifestyle of residents is the consequence of their daily chores being attended to by the service providers.

To this end, the “front of house” spaces are designed keeping the needs of the residents in mind even as the “heart of house” areas facilitate efficiency and ease of access for the service personnel.

Hence, the route of the resident and the route of the service provider are kept distinct and separate, thereby ensuring that the residents and service providers with their very different speeds of movement do not converge in the same space.


Where access to healthcare is easy yet discrete: The wellness clinic should be easily accessible to residents but located in a manner to also provide privacy.

Well-designed communities will locate the clinic such that while these are easy to access from the “front of house”, the “heart of the house” will include a route to the clinic and from the clinic to the ambulance that is simple, efficient and clutter-free to facilitate speed of movement in times of an emergency.


Where the care is real but discrete: Use of pastel colours to provide contrast, provision of shadow-free lighting, elevator doors that stay open longer, lean rails in corridors, matt finish floor tiles, chairs that have slightly higher seats and with padded arms, rounded edges on furniture and wall corners are all design features that may or may not be observed by either the resident or his / her visitors. Each, in their small way, makes life easier, simpler and safer for residents.

It is no surprise that architects of senior living communities seek the advice of and take their insights from operators and service providers of senior living communities. A well designed senior living community allows residents to enjoy the facilities daily and forever while enabling the service provider to support the residents in doing so.