A Community That’s Safe by Design

Myles Brown, principal and head of the senior living studio at Amenta Emma Architects, offers thoughts on what safety means now in senior living design.

“In senior living design, safety has traditionally meant preventing and detecting falls. Designers had to ensure that people with vision impairments could easily see the edges of the walls and floor, or if a resident fell, they could quickly be assisted by staff.

COVID-19 greatly broadened the definition of safety in senior living design and put in contact—or conflict— with other important factors for resident health. Technology such as touchless interior doors, which improve accessibility and space efficiency, suddenly became safety features. Telehealth capabilities, once a convenience, are now clearly seen as safety measures for residents and providers alike.

Long before residents were quarantined in rooms or floors, natural light and a connection to nature have been demonstrated to have a positive effect on resident well- being. I would argue that, under restrictions like those senior living communities experienced in 2020, these features are so essential for the health of residents that their absence essentially becomes a safety issue.

The potential harm isn’t as immediate as that of falling, but access to natural light and nature could make the difference in whether some residents are able to endure a crisis like a pandemic or not.

Spaces that facilitate smaller social circles were fortunately starting to become the norm prior to COVID-19. Before the number of people a resident has contact with became a safety issue, we were already designing senior living communities around the idea of a neighborhood with ‘pods’ that encourage social interactions with six to twelve nearby residents.

This trend only increased during 2020. I recently had a client, who was planning a renovation of a floor with a central lounge, request the addition of smaller lounges in each wing in order to provide communal spaces if safety requires a reduction in personal contact for residents.”

“Safety has traditionally meant preventing and detecting falls... COVID-19 greatly broadened the definition of safety in senior living design...”

Photo: Robert Benson Photography | Amenta Emma Architects

Interior living spaces like this one at Thames Edge at Fairview Odd Fellows Home of Connecticut in Groton, Conn., with abundant natural light, views, and access to the outdoors, can provide some wellness benefits residents need to help offset the negative impact of social isolation.


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