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The ah-ha! moment

March 23, 2011
by Andrew Lee Alden, Design Committee Chair, SAGE
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DESIGN judges share thrills of aging-specific projects

During the DESIGN 2011 judging, while discussing the submissions with the other reviewers, I began to wonder when those involved in aging-specific projects get excited. As participants in the ever-changing field of aging, we see numerous projects both during the DESIGN judging and in our professional lives. After a while, the projects seem to blend together; maybe our professional nature takes the excitement out of the process? I posed a question to the judges: “Describe the moment that occurs when you get a feeling of excitement during an aging-specific project-the “ah-ha!” moment. Is it because of an architectural feature, programming endeavor, operational solution, or the reaction of those who experience the place, for example? The multidisciplinary composition of the DESIGN review panel ensured that many different points of view were expressed.

For me personally, I think of the development of a design for aging project as writing a novel. First, you construct the context for the story and guarantee that it fits the local history and environment around it. Second, a good designer works on character development or embedding the project with all of the design for aging basics which account for the changing abilities of the mind and body as we age. Finally, the content of the story (plot) is developed by using a collaborative design process that involves staff, residents, and families, all working toward common goals.

My ah-ha! moments occur during those intensive planning and design meetings when we are all working together to meet shared goals and a breakthrough occurs-that moment when the points of view coalesce and a solution involving the environment, programming, operations, and all of the users is glimpsed. That is my ah-ha! moment.

David A. Dillard, AIA

D2 Architecture

Aesthetics matter. My favorite projects are those designs by the tenacious souls who refuse to accept the false dichotomy that says that a project must either follow the progressive culture change criteria or be visually pleasing. Why are we still seeing such extremes, one or the other? You can have both! A growing number are catching on, but for the rest…ah-ha!

Barbara D. Summerford

GMK Associates, Inc.

My moment was to see the care of our residents come full circle in the recent implementation of a design for the renovation of a skilled nursing facility (SNF), for a long-time client (Bishop Gadsden in Charleston, South Carolina). In Pursuit of the Sunbeam: A Practical Guide to Transformation from Institution to Household by Steve Shields and LaVerne Norton, examines staff training and the creation of a new environment to help our grandparents gain dignity in their later years.

The design of this SNF's dining element did just that. The layout of a new servery along with the new finishes created an entirely new dining experience for them-from having a glass of wine with their spouse to sharing an ice cream cone with their grandchildren. I can't tell you the emotion it stirred in me when we saw the residents enjoying a moment like this! This is why we continue to work in this industry.

Meldrena Chapin, PhD

Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta

For me the ah-ha! moment occurs when I first see a place where I want to be-not an image of a place where I think an older adult would be comfortable-but a place where I would feel comfortable. Images of places that seem comfortable to all are what I am most intrigued by-a place where all of us, regardless of age, would want to visit.

When a place looks like a nursing home, even a nice nursing home, it really isn't enough because we still see the pattern of nursing home and equate it to the hidden program of long-term care and the negative connotations that have persisted throughout the decades, especially depression, loneliness, dependence, boredom, illness, isolation, and death. A place that is home carries different connotations: comfort, support, love, friendship, security, enjoyment, happiness, and laughter.

The images of home are critically important; it is hard to prove environmental determinism, but it is true that different settings cause us as human beings to behave differently. If we want the eldercare experience to be different, the setting needs to be different as well.

Mary Bowers

Senior Living Communities

My ah-ha! moments always occur when I see the sweat equity during the initial stages of design and construction pay off in terms of a higher quality of life for residents who move into our buildings. Functional design is at its most beautiful when you can witness it performing its intended function.

At Brightwater, a senior living community we recently built in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I walked into our assisted living neighborhood just in time to see a parade of residents in floppy straw hats coming into the kitchen after a brisk morning walk. It doesn't get much better than that. When I get to play a part in any project that marries the concepts of person-centered care with beautiful, thoughtful design, I always have an ah-ha! moment.

Karen Nichols

Cascades Verdae