About GenslerOnCities

What makes cities tick? GenslerOnCities explores the planning, design, and the potential futures of urban landscapes.

Search GenslerOn
Cities Topics
Connect with Us
« Gensler Goes to SXSW | Main | Promoting Health and Wellness for Pets and People, Too »

Aging in Place, Redefined

The Center on Halsted Senior Housing, as conceived by Gensler. Image © Gensler

We’ve all heard the term “aging in place.” It typically refers to the ability to remain in your own home as long as possible rather than being forced into an assisted living facility because home can no longer support your evolving physical or mental well-being. Aging in place isn’t a new concept, but it’s certainly gaining traction under the broader heading of senior living, partly because a “silver tsunami” of Baby Boomers keeps flowing deeper into this demographic.

Not everyone embraces the term, however. I attended an Environments for Aging conference last year in which the keynote speaker said she doesn’t like “aging in place” because it conjures up images of a sedentary lifestyle that many seniors today are actively working to upend. I think that’s an overly literal interpretation, but I do believe that the “place” in “aging in place” has much larger implications than its traditional definition.

What if “place” referred not only to “home” but to your entire community? Studies have shown that seniors are more likely to thrive when they’re able to stay connected with the people, places and objects they cherish. Many of us would argue that the more interesting conversation revolves around the ability to remain in your own neighborhood as long as possible.

Because their residents have been removed from the familiar – often across town or even to another city – many retirement communities attempt to address the issue by building in the amenities residents were forced to leave behind. The result is often self-contained, hermetically sealed retirement communities that try to re-create the authentic. But what if we were to embed senior living within the community it serves rather than segregating it? The answer is exciting on many levels, especially in urban environments where density and a strong sense of community usually go hand-in-hand. Not only does urban senior living enable elders to remain active participants in a familiar context, but it also provides a significant opportunity for developers and designers to economize on space.

Case in point is a senior housing project designed by the Gensler Chicago office and currently under construction. Partnering with the neighboring Center on Halsted, the largest LGBT community center in the Midwest (and also designed by Gensler), Heartland Housing is building an independent senior living facility right next door.

The building massing includes three separate components: a residential tower containing 79 studio and one-bedroom units; a retail “porch” consisting of small-scale retail tenant space; and an historic police station which houses all common spaces as well as the Center on Halsted’s senior program. Context has shaped the design of this project in a significant way, not only because the historic building must be maintained as a landmark property, but because all three parts must be stitched together and woven into the urban fabric, which in itself is a complex pattern of diversity.

Programmatically, this senior living facility is lean, and while it does include few special communal spaces (a family dining room for preparing and serving meals for larger groups; a multipurpose space with a variety of seating and AV capabilities; and a therapy room used for low-complexity well-being checkups) the project doesn’t include many of the amenities you might expect to find in a larger retirement community. But the point is it doesn’t have to: It’s already there.

Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing senior housing, and there are many factors that make this particular project unique. But given that the world’s urban population is projected to grow by as much as 50% in the next 15 years, senior housing in urban areas is bound to follow.

When completed, the project will help meet the significant need for affordable senior housing in Chicago while also creating a safe environment for a segment of the population that has historically been underserved. It will also create an opportunity for elders to remain in their own community as long as possible. That, to me, is aging in place.

Construction's underway on the Center on Halsted Senior Housing. Image © Gensler

Michael Hanley is a project architect in the health and wellness practice area at Gensler’s Chicago office and has a background in journalism. He’s interested in understanding how we can leverage design to improve well-being in all project typologies. Contact him at michael_hanley@gensler.com

Reader Comments (1)

Your article is very interesting and very meaningful. I enjoyed your article. thank you very much for commentary
09.10.2014 | Unregistered Commenterplaykix games

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.