According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living (aoa.acl.gov), America’s population of people 65 years or older numbered 44.7 million in 2013—about one in every seven Americans. The population is expected to grow to 21.7 percent by 2040, and by 2060 the 2013 number will almost double to 98 million.
It is no wonder that senior living communities, like St. James Place in Baton Rouge, are reaching out to designers to help ensure that this growing population experiences environments that are wellness-focused, stimulating, safe, and comfortable. St. James Place, the area’s only continuing care retirement community, includes independent living, assisted living, nursing care, and memory care neighborhoods, encompasses 52 acres, and is home to some 400 residents. In 2015 Janet Dewey, community relations manager at St. James Place, worked closely with Jun Zou, associate professor of interior design at LSU, to develop a design project for St. James Place. Zou incorporated the service-learning opportunity into a design project for her third-year interior design studio this spring.
Dewey was particularly interested in seeing programming and designs for four spaces at St. James Place: 1) model living units that reflect current trends for independent senior living; 2) a community gathering area in the memory care assisted living neighborhood; 3) a restaurant space for independent living seniors; and 4) the assisted living neighborhood’s “country kitchen,” a gathering area for enrichment activities. The students were instructed to keep the shell of the building as is but they could change windows, doors, room sizes—whatever they imagined. They spent the first part of the semester conducting research on current trends for senior living. They visited—and measured!—St. James Place spaces and interviewed residents, collecting data for the different types of senior living areas. They used this data to develop programming and produce designs for their selected spaces.
“Our students did much more than expected. Indeed, it was a whole-space planning project,” said Zou. “They had to consider all the issues, such as occupancy load, ADA codes; they researched evidence-based design principles and the effects of daylighting. It was a great opportunity and experience for them to learn as this was their first healthcare design related project.”
Dewey and Cori Lanclos, assisted living counselor and life enrichment manager at St. James, attended the students’ mid-term and final reviews and chose five projects to be presented to St. James Place administrators and President and CEO Tom Farrell at the senior living community the following Friday.
“This was an interesting interactive project for us, and the students’ work was great on many levels,” said Dewey. “They got a dose of reality thinking about what they’d want for their own parents and grandparents.”
“This was the first time we worked on a project for real people, with real dimensions,” added Samantha Sierra, third-year interior design student. “We learned a lot by interviewing the residents—like how much the residents at St. James love the common areas. It was a really good learning experience.”
This studio project was of particular interest to Zou, who is currently working with Xiaoyan Wang, a visiting scholar from Shaanxi Normal University in Xian, China, to investigate senior living solutions for the United States and China, incorporating universal design concepts and daylighting strategies.
“China has a vastly growing aging society, similar to baby boomers in the United States, but in America the senior living system is more mature,” explained Zou. “In China, generations like my own are struggling to care for aging parents. Because of the one-child policy, one couple is responsible for taking care of four elders. More and more often, we don’t live in the same city, or even country, where our parents reside. There is a big need for these facilities.”
“Before working on this project, I definitely thought that I wasn’t interested in healthcare design,” said Kayla Calongne, “but I very much enjoyed how the project brought in aspects of psychology and how our designs could benefit the users.”