Obstacles and solutions in real-world design 2012 | I Advance Senior Care Skip to content Skip to navigation

Obstacles and solutions in real-world design 2012

March 21, 2012
by Kevin Kolus, Editor
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Problems overcome with creativity, ingenuity

How do you justify an indoor park to code officials? What about adjusting to last-minute modular construction? As this year’s submitting firms demonstrated, senior living designers must show not only industriousness, but also diplomacy on any given project.

Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to know a thing or two about non-toxic vegetation. You'll see.


Pioneer Care Center
Tremain Architects and Planners

Photo: Dana Wheelock

Obstacle: How often must designers worry about their projects having fire-rated dirt? Developing an “indoor park” at Pioneer Care Center, which serves long-term care and short-stay residents, presented challenging design problems, perhaps none more immediate than the enforcement of code. Officials were initially resistant to many aspects of the concept—which included plants, sunlight and even a flowing stream. The multistory space presented fire safety concerns and the introduction of live plants and running water were initially rejected as health hazards.

Solution: Realizing that success depended on the approval of these government agencies, the design team gathered every code enforcement official who had jurisdiction on the project in a single meeting. The designers then explained the concept; why they felt the indoor park was necessary and how their interpretation of the regulations allowed it to be built. As a result of the meeting, regulators became actively engaged in helping to resolve issues that had initially seemed insurmountable.

The site topography, a gently sloping hillside in a residential neighborhood, was then used to create the indoor park, connecting the neighborhoods to one another, to the natural world and to the surrounding community. Residents and visitors now enjoy the two-story space, the sunlight and the natural landscape—even during a Minnesota winter.


Good Samaritan Society–Fairfield Glade

Photo: Alise O'Brien Photography 2011

Obstacle: Seated on top of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, the mountainous site for this continuing care retirement community had 70 feet of grade change, with rock a few feet below grade. During the excavation, underground springs were filling footings in some areas.

To compound issues presented by the grading, the local volunteer fire chief informed the state fire marshal prior to final inspections that there was not enough water on the hill to fight a fire. Tests during design and construction had been based on a nearby water tank being more than half full.

Solution: To improve accessibility, main entrances were provided on two separate floors of the community center, which connected the other wings. To redirect underground springs, drainage piping and gravel were incorporated to the route already being blasted for the sanitary water line. The vapor barrier below the floor was upgraded to better protect the living space from ground water.

When the volunteer fire chief raised concerns about water accessibility for fire fighting, the project architect and engineers immediately met with the water company and reconfirmed that the water supply and demand were sufficient—providing that the water tank is kept at least half full. A meeting with the fire marshal, fire chief, owner and contractor was convened the next morning, and it was agreed that the water company would fill the tank regularly while the fire department would help monitor water levels.


The Glarner Lodge Assisted Living
Community Living Solutions

Photo: Geoffrey Cook, The Cook Photography Company

Obstacle: The Glarner Lodge is located on a gorgeous hillside parcel reminiscent of the mountainous terrain in Switzerland.The owners of this 26-unit assisted living facility, situated adjacently to the community’s original nursing home in New Glarus, Wisc., called for continued expansion in their long-term plan of the campus to include congregate independent living, additional assisted living and duplex cottages. Strategic foresight in building placement was critical to optimizing the site.

Solution: The solution to this single issue was the primary reason the design firm won the project. The designers proposed developing a master plan that demonstrated efficient expansion opportunities, which included adding 26 more assisted living apartments, relocating the skilled nursing facility and converting the SNF to specialized assisted living. A fundamental design concept centered on intentionally and strategically utilizing the site to eventually create a connected and separate—but enclosed—“village” rather than construct a freestanding building. The judges praised this solution, as the site was again an obstacle to design. “[The design firm] had the foresight to develop a master plan so the future expansions would maintain the desired ‘look and feel,’” judges wrote.