The ah-ha! moment

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

As one of South Carolina's most vocal leaders in the culture change movement, my ah-ha! moments almost always revolve around people, not projects. To that end, I enjoy idiosyncrasies and imperfect design-family portraits, cards from grandchildren decorating our neighborhood refrigerators; colorful feather boas carelessly discarded in our memory care neighborhoods after an impromptu dance party-really anything that says “real people live happy lives here.” The brick-and-mortar environment supports the life breathed into it.

Charlie Wilson

Buckner Retirement Services, Inc.

It really all comes home for me when the residents come into their new home. Happy smiling faces of people enjoying the new building with old and new friends. A dream of countless people, years of effort, and finally that ah-ha! moment when you see individual lives being touched in powerful ways.

Kaye Brown

Duke University

My ah-ha! moments happen when a building informs me about where I am in the world. These moments are not about building types or how to read them. Rather, they are about where in time and space the building and I are located.

Often the cues come at the intersection of the building's envelope and its site because in these zones, several systems of meaning intersect (interior and exterior). Not coincidentally, it is here that the talents of many different designers can most often be felt, creating the rich sensory complex that for me defines a true sense of place.

Mitch S. Elliot, AIA

Vetter Health Services, Inc.

Prior to designing Brookestone Meadows Rehabilitation and Care Center in Elkhorn, Nebraska, our development team performed a number of post-occupancy evaluations (POEs) of previously completed nursing facilities. During one of the POEs, an insightful nursing assistant showed us her struggles with our resident bathroom design. The location of the toilet in the far corner of the bathroom, combined with the ADA-required 18 between the toilet and the adjacent wall, made it impossible for this amazing caregiver to provide the assistance necessary for this activity of daily living. She asked if we could move the toilet directly across from bathroom door and provide more space between the wall and the toilet.

Our design and construction teams worked diligently to make this request a reality-tirelessly negotiating with city, state, and federal agencies whose initial response was “you can't do that.”

My ah-ha! moment came when the nursing assistant who originally challenged us with the design of the bathroom got a tour of Brookestone Meadows. Her response was, “You get it.” Now we just need to figure out what to do with the toilet paper!

Carol Reitter Elia

CR Design

My ah-ha! moment occurs during the final push to finish a project, specifically when all the furniture is installed and ready for final approval. As I walk through the project and realize that everything is in the correct location, quantity, and quality, and nothing is wrong-that is the ah-ha! moment.

Unfortunately, this scenario only happens a few times these days; one reason may be the significant amount of furniture coming from overseas and requiring a long lead time. It is difficult to get products in great condition after traveling thousands of miles. D

Design Environments for Aging 2011 2011 March;():14-16

Topics: Articles , Design