Fostering physical, spiritual potentials: Citation of Merit winner Camphill Elder Initiative for Developmentally Disabled Adults, Ghent, N.Y.

Environments for Aging’s largest and most unique Design Showcase project is the Camphill Elder Initiative for Developmentally Disabled Adults in Ghent, New York.

The Camphill idea, born in Sweden after WWII, incorporates the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, also known as anthroposophy, which hold that the physical and spiritual potential of all people, disabled or otherwise, should be cultivated fully. The philosophy holds that environments are important in realizing this potential.

Camphill Initiative founded a community for developmentally disabled children in the 1970s. Now that those children have aged, many of them require an assisted living environment. Camphill Ghent is a continuation of that Camphill Initiative, providing a place for developmentally disabled residents to age with the assistance and support they need.

Environments for Aging 2013

Citation of Merit Winners

With creative solutions to design and healthcare challenges, four projects inspired Environments for Aging’s annual design competition this year. A panel of 27 esteemed jurors—architects, interior designers, care providers and educators—evaluated the nominees for this year’s top honors.

We’ll be featuring the winners this week. We hope you’ll be inspired by these exemplary examples of environments for aging.

Because the Camphill approach emphasizes self-sustainability, Camphill Ghent Elder Initiative purchased a 114-acre farm for its new community, which will undergo several phases of development. The recently completed first phase of Camphill Ghent includes two assisted living buildings with a total of 39 assisted living beds on the first floor and staff apartments on the second floor.

Camphill Ghent also offers living options for older adults who are able to live independently. Thirty-two studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments were created for independent seniors who wish to live and agree to work at Camphill Ghent. Additionally, 10 one- and two-bedroom independent living townhomes were built for seniors who wish to live in larger residences.

Several features make the Camphill idea unique. One is that the staff lives in the development itself, which fosters a sense of security and community. Another unique tenet of the Camphill philosophy is that residents are encouraged to take part in biodynamic farming—a sustainable, spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture that was also introduced by Steiner. Finally, the idea to create a community where developmentally disabled adults live among independent residents, allows for for social interactions unlike those of other developments.

The architects at Perkins Eastman designed the community to “sit comfortably within the natural features of the site,” according to the Camphill Ghent Design Showcase submission. The site rises 150 feet from the main entry to its highest point, yet features walkable paths throughout the property. Two large natural ponds are on the grounds around which the designers arranged the co-houses and townhouses.

Perkins Eastman was challenged with incorporating the farm architecture the property seemed to be asking for with the unusual spatial and living tenets set forth by anthroposophy. According to Rich Rosen, a principal with Perkins Eastman, these principles include emphasizing “perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition as a way of living among nature.”

Architecturally, this translated to rooms with plenty of natural light. “There are lists of rules about things such as how much wall space you can have without adding another window,” explains Rosen. And, interestingly, the common spaces were to have no right angles, and, where possible, were required to have angled ceilings. These directives exist to create open-feeling spaces. Even traditional door panels were eschewed for a pattern of angled lines.

Perkins Eastman worked with anthroposophy color consultants and craftsmen on a number of elements, including the color palette and painting techniques employed. Thin layers of translucent color are applied for a multidimensional finish.

“It was challenging and really very interesting,” says Rosen. “I’ll probably never have a chance to work on something like this again (except for Phase 2), so we were very happy to be a part of Camphill Ghent.”   

The Design Showcase 2013 judges were equally intrigued by the finished Camphill Ghent product. One remarked, “There is a good design recognition that codes, regulations and construction methods aren’t limited to 90-degree and parallel wall layouts.” Another commended the buildings’ relationships to the site. “There is a good attempt at integration of the natural site features, accessible through views and through walking trails for meaningful engagement with the natural world.”

Gina LaVecchia Ragone is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

To learn more about design in senior housing and long-term care, follow Long-Term Living’s coverage of the Environments for Aging Conference, to be held April 6-9 in New Orleans.

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