Soaring to new heights: Citation of Merit winner Air Force Village: The Mission, San Antonio, Texas

When Air Force Village—a not-for-profit organization established to provide communities for retired military officers and their spouses—set out to reposition its two campuses, The Mission, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility replaced an outdated, institutional model and became a showpiece of the community and an example of how a project can excel in both form and function.

Perkins Eastman of Chicago delivered the impressive facility, which could easily be mistaken for an upscale assisted living property. With a budget of $21.5 million, the firm delivered 71,155 brand new square feet (about $302 per square foot) and a remarkable place for residents and their visitors.

The Mission drew inspiration from the Green House and Small House models. There are six households at The Mission (four long-term and two rehabilitative), made up of 10 resident rooms each. Each household or “neighborhood” is centered around a great room of common living, dining and kitchen space. The great rooms also provide views and access to the households’ private courtyards. Moreover, the open, airy great room provides unobstructed views of the doorways to residents’ rooms for better resident observation.

Environments for Aging 2012 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 16 esteemed jurors—architects, interior designers, care providers and educators—evaluated the nominees for this year’s top honors.

We’ll be featuring a winner a day this week. We hope you’ll be inspired by these exemplary examples of environments for aging.

Jerry Walleck, a principal of Perkins Eastman, explains that the client approached the firm with an interest in the small house model for nursing care. After all, such concepts have proven to be more desirable and beneficial to seniors. On the other hand, The Mission did not want to give up some of the efficiencies of the traditional institutional models. “The client wanted to make the small house idea work for their campus and saw the advantage in connecting the houses,” Walleck says.  Essentially, the solution was a hybrid: a system of households connected by what Walleck and his partner for the project, Perkins Eastman principal and executive director Dan Cinelli, FAIA, describe as a common “spine” that connects the houses and keeps the institutional elements hidden.

“It’s a little like Disney World,” laughs Cinelli. “The back-of-the-house operations—food delivery, clean and soiled holding, med rooms, planning rooms—are all behind the scenes.” The idea is carried over to the residential areas as well, in details like discreet boxes in residents’ doorways for storing charts and meds.

The population of The Mission comprises 60 percent women, 40 percent men, so the design is gender-neutral and emphasizes a connection to its Southwest setting through in its materials—stone, wood, even a touch of hide-like material here and there, and through its generous use of windows and access to the outdoors.

Another interesting compromise exemplifying The Mission’s mixture of the old and new approaches to skilled care design: There are two ways to enter the complex: An elegant, yet residentially-scaled lobby for first-time visitors that leads to each of the households, and, individual “front doors” to each household (located, charmingly, just off a front porch).

Setting out to create a series of skilled care, small homes set in a residential scale, and, armed with familiar elements including massing, materiality, finishes and furniture, Perkins Eastman and Air Force Village succeeded in creating not an institution, but distinctive neighborhoods that truly feel like home.

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