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"Small house" design rules in DESIGN 2010

April 1, 2010
by Maureen Hrehocik
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More privacy while being able to access common areas

Every year, as part of our DESIGN coverage, our jurors participate in a roundtable discussion. This year, they met with DESIGN Editor Maureen Hrehocik to comment on the submissions and discuss trends, innovations, and problem areas noticed in the entries.

Our panel did an extremely conscientious job judging the entries over two full days in Dallas. All of this year's Citation of Merit winners should be very proud their work passed the jurors' exacting standards.

Design 2010 Jury

Jack L. Bowersox, manager, Life Wellness Communities Development Company LLC; Kaye Brown, PhD, adjunct associate professor, Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University and Anthropology, Boston University; David A. Dillard, AIA, president, D2 Architecture LLC; Greg Hunteman, president, Pi Architects; Kristina L. Kuntz, healthcare administrator, Querencia at Barton Creek; D. Samantha McAskill, ASID, principal, DSM Design Concepts; Alan Moore, AIA, principal, CJMW Architects; Dr. Debajyoti Pati, vice president, director of research, HKS, Inc.; Dr. Frank Rees, AIA, IIDA, LEED AP, chairman/CEO, Rees Associates, Inc.; JoAnn Leavey Shroyer, PhD, endowed Rockwell Professor, director of environmental design graduate programs, Texas Tech University, College of Human Sciences, Department of Design; Donna Vining, FASID, IIDA, RID, CAPS, president, Vining Design Associates, Inc.; Teresa Whittington, RN, BSN, vice president of Quality and Program Development, Presbyterian Communities & Services; Charlie Wilson, vice president of operations, Buckner Retirement Services; Fred Worley, architectural unit manager, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

What trends did you identify in this year's entries? Any improvements or regressions compared to previous competitions you've judged?

Dillard: I noticed progressive designs: ubiquity of the small home or neighborhood model, more private beds, more HUD/affordable projects, more distinctive regional architecture and interiors.

Brown: In the larger projects, there was a concerted focus on developing a sense of place. The site became a set of opportunities rather than construction obstacles and many projects benefited from great interior designs. Hopefully, we will see this next year in the small house projects as well. With regard to regressions, we witnessed once again side-by-side beds in dementia care settings.

Wilson: We had a large number of small house/neighborhood models submitted again this year. It is encouraging to see all the new and creative ways to organize a neighborhood.

McAskill: More focus on small homes and use of natural light which is an improvement over past years. Making sure outside views were accessible in multiple public use areas was another aspect I noted.

Moore: Owners and architects are experimenting with variations on the small house model, in many cases interconnecting “neighborhoods” to achieve staffing efficiency and to give residents some options for activities beyond the neighborhood. At the same time, they are preserving the core concepts of the small house: easy access to common space, opportunities for close relationships between residents and caregivers, and residential scale.

Hunteman: I noticed more focus on small house and neighborhood models in nursing and assisted living with less differences between nursing and assisted living. The interiors were improved.

Is sustainable green design more noticeable in this year's entries than last? If so, in what way?

Dillard: Absolutely. Finally!

Brown: Designers are diverting runoff to ponds, filtering water to replenish wetlands and feed new roof gardens; all acts demonstrating stewardship for the larger physical environment. To build the projects, many designers specified the use of green and reclaimed materials as well as some solar siting. But we have yet to see a project try to generate its own energy or give back to the grid.

Vining: Definitely. I was thrilled to see it. All should be incorporating universal design principles as well as green and sustainable. I would like to see recycling and indoor air quality addressed more. The smell in these types of facilities is huge.

Moore: We are not talking windmills and solar panels here. The green features we saw include daylighting, sustainable landscaping, low-VOC materials, and better indoor air quality (which is a big issue for many senior consumers.)

What features did you see that were particularly encouraging of resident independence? Of staff support and efficiency?

Dillard: Slight (not enough) increase in the capability of residents and staff to move between levels of care indoors. I also found encouraging the deliberate ambiguity of unit rooms and layouts that defied specific level-of-care classification, i.e., many designs could be used for any level of care, or change over time, or accommodate a mixture.

Brown: Resident self-care trends were shorter distances between rooms and essential services, smaller neighborhoods that were familiar and easier to read without signage, increased choices for resident furniture placement, and more glazing in their rooms to encourage visual participation in the outdoor spaces. In small houses, staff space was ubiquitous and supplies were often located near the point of service. The jury liked that most small houses were linked to increase efficiency (i.e., use of float staff as resident acuity changes) and to prevent staff isolation.

Wilson: Some of the small things, such as the layout of the bathrooms with pull-down grab bars, enable ease of staff or resident use.