As the senior living industry seeks more wellness design solutions to support aging populations, speakers at 2021’s Environments for Aging Expo & Conference discussed the potential of pocket neighborhoods for community building amongst seniors through indoor/outdoor space integration.
“The concept of pocket neighborhoods evolves beyond traditional neighborhood design by creating a pedestrian-focused experience with indoor/outdoor living spaces that connect to serene walkways that meander through the central green. Typically, vehicular access is treated as a secondary component and is typically located outboard of the housing clusters,” says Dustin Julius, designer at RLPS Architects who presented with Eric McRoberts, partner at RLPS Architects.
Flexibility and Scalability Offer More Community-Focused Design
The concept neighborhood discussed featured 10 to 12 small home units arranged around a central green to create a larger sense of community. Using that as a based, arrangements could then be tweaked to better accommodate lower-, middle-, or high-end income markets, according to Julius.
The units themselves could be small, single living units, duplexes or even estates. As Julius described, “Since the clusters usually comprise smaller buildings, there are opportunities for efficiency and flexibility in the construction schedule and phasing. To target the middle market, individual floor plans must be designed with smartly organized spaces, particularly in bathroom arrangements and kitchen layouts.”
In addition to the flexibility, the design heavily focuses on community and social connection—one of the primary driving factors in seniors looking for housing.
“An option of being part of something bigger, where you feel supported, valued and loved is critical to mitigate isolation,” Julius said. “So much of today’s senior living residential housing looks like either congregate apartment housing or cottage suburbia where planning is more based on the automobile than the pedestrian. There is no sense of scale or ‘place’.”
Beyond the Average Suburban Neighborhood
In the presentation, both speakers brought up the fact that entry into these homes is often a unique challenge, with cars being kept a back alley, while the front of the house faces the central green, with designers needing to reconsider the usage of these areas.
Additionally, pocket neighborhood projects need to consider the density of housing because clusters of individual single-family residences require significantly more available land per unit than multi-unit buildings. “Plus, dedicating an additional portion of the land to the central green—although it provides an important amenity—can consume an otherwise buildable area,” Julius said. “While this challenge can seem daunting, it often leads to very creative solutions centered around appropriately scaled, intimate spaces, both indoors and out.”
The land itself, too, can pose its own challenges in these developments, Julius advised, highlighting flat versus sloped topography. “Successful projects have navigated steely sloping sites with over-under style cottages that maximized density while maintaining a residential scale.”
In the end, though, both speakers agreed: the biggest challenge is understanding the specific trends and needs of any given community. When done right, the model can provide a resident with a familiar, independent dwelling akin to their usual expectations.
“Each cluster can be adapted to fit the specific trends and needs of any given community,” Julius said. “This flexibility makes the concept of pocket homes a logical addition to the product offerings of most any community.”