Nick Boever (NB): Hello everybody and welcome to the design well podcast today I am here to talk Senior Living trends with a wide assortment of experts today probably the biggest batch that we’ve had so far on the podcast. I have no no shame in having to read these from a book today because I need to make sure I get everybody that’s going to be here correctly. So, on the podcast today, we have Natalie Ruiz from Callison RTKL. Walter Marin from Marin architects, Tom Pflueger from MBH architects and Shannon O’Kelley from Pininfarina.
And like I said, we’re all here to talk today about Senior Living trends coming up in 2022. But first, before I get into it, I’ll let the panelists introduce themselves a little bit. And I guess we can start with Natalie since I named them first.
Natalie Ruiz (NR): Hi, everyone. I’m Natalie Ruiz. As Nicholas mentioned with Calison RTKL, international design and architecture firm. I’m focusing myself primarily on senior living. And I’m really excited to be here. I think trends are also always a really great topic and constantly changing, and especially with everything we’ve been through in the last two years in light of COVID. You know, there’s there’s a lot of conversation to be had. So thank you all for having me.
Walter Marin (WM): And my name is Walter Marin and senior partner at Marin Architects. Were basically a real local type of firm. And what I mean locally is probably in the tri state area. Our firm has a mixed portfolio relative to residential and senior housing. In the last five years, probably 80% of our businesses focused around those two areas. And like Natalie said, obviously, the last two years has completely changed the dynamic of the way we see our living environment and specifically our senior living environment.
Shannon O’Kelley (SO): I’m Shannon O’Kelley. I’m with Pininfarina. Pininfarina is a 91 year old Italian design house. We have an office in the US I am the lead interior designer for our office in the US that covers North and South America. I discovered Senior Living and later in my career and have found a new passion. So it’s it’s been a quite quite a journey. And it’s one to find a new passion. And at this point in my career.
Tom Pflueger (TP): Good day, everyone. Thanks for having me today. I’m Tom Pflueger, I’m the director of our multifamily housing studio and MBH architects, we’ve been doing multifamily housing in senior housing, and affordable housing for over 30 years. We’re based in California. We do have offices in Denver, New York, and also in Mumbai. So we’re practicing across the country and internationally, and also abroad discipline of work as well. So as Shannon said, I’m excited to talk about senior living today. And look forward to the conversation with everyone.
NB: Yeah, and it’s, again, it’s just so great that all of you were able to kind of like set time aside and be able to, like join us for today. Because like Natalie was saying, I think trends are probably especially now that we’re at the end of 2021 trends, what’s going to be in store for 2022. These are all topics that are kind of like circulating in the minds of everybody right now.
And they can be very exciting because they represent this like change in sentiments and these brand new techniques and technologies that are being introduced. And so, you know, without going into a too much longer, I figured we can just get started on talking about what you guys are seeing right now that you think is in store for 2022. And I don’t really know who to Well, whoever wants to get started with that can kind of start talking I guess.
TP: Right, yeah, I mean, I think for us, certainly, I’m with some of the trends as it relates to a larger population and moving into senior housing. You know, we’re we’re still focusing on trying to find opportunities for us and develop birth to build housing. We completed a project not long ago, up in Sonoma called fetters and self esteem and gardens, which is 100%, affordable senior housing.
A big component there for us was the outdoor space, we had an opportunity to create some outdoor space as part of the common area. And that’s not always possible. But this, we found to be a very successful and beneficial component of that project. There’s about 100 units. It’s mixed SR and affordable for families. But that outdoor space is the most important thing that we added there. So that I think where the opportunity presents presents itself will become quite prevalent, where possible.
WM: So historically, obviously, changes or trends that happened, we don’t necessarily see in a very short format. However, I think that COVID has accelerated this outdoor space in a bigger way. And not only in senior living in housing all the way across the board, we happen to have a number of projects that are more city based. And so we have an internal thing in our office that roofs no longer use just the whole water.
So they become much, much more places for for this activity. There’s a number of senior projects that we’ve done, where we’ve created, historically, the ground floor gets to build feel full, so they wind up with some terrorists on the second floor. And obviously tears and top of the building, where those spaces are now become a serious design issue in most of these because it’s an outdoor use.
And obviously, that’s that’s, that’s the safest place if you had to take anyone to be together and is in an outdoor space or an area that can easily be ventilated, which is obviously what outdoor does. But yes, the outdoor space has become a serious necessity for I’m going to say for all kinds of project beyond senior living.
SO: And, and it’s going to go even further meaning we’ve always had outdoor space, right, we’ve had walking paths, you know, outdoor space as it relates to pre COVID, wellness, you know, interaction with nature, etc. But we’re going to start seeing more dining options outside, more even action stations. Now this is going to be location dependent, you know. And in South Florida, where I’m located, we can do this a lot.
But I’ve worked also on a project in Columbus, Ohio, where it’s the opposite, where it’s three months out of the year is warm. So we were able to create a multi use space, meaning like a solarium where it could be opened up, but but getting the fresh air and the outdoor spaces that meet the inside outside, we’re all going to agree, and it’s in it, and it’s going to be stepped up. It’s beyond our walking paths. It’s it’s creating, I think what Tom mentioned, amenity spaces, on the outside.
WM: And in common spaces, that historically we would see is sort of living in space, or not being a being designed or designed so that they have both. So in other words, a wall that would normally be just a bunch of windows, it’s now an entire removable glass wall, where now the inside and the outside are becoming much more prevalent, which then obviously forces our seniors to, to kind of walk outside the living room for a moment and be in an outdoor space.
And I also think that the events that are occurring out that space are evolving, and even involving in the big cities, or in a city environment. You know, once you leave the area of New York City or any of the big cities, obviously, space is much more generous. In my environment, they tend to be much more control. So we try to implement something to those spaces that obviously become much more attractive or easy enough so that you can transfer back and forth.
NR: Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, like we’ve been talking about in light of COVID and especially isolation being more commonplace. You know, we absolutely need to implement more transparency and stronger connections to the outdoors in our designs. I mean, science has proven that connection to Biophilia is key to our well being and our recovery. And so we have a project that we recently completed the Watermark at Westwood Village and you know, it’s it’s sited in California which we took advantage of the great cost of climate but you know, in any location we’re always looking for opportunities to create outdoor spaces to encourage our seniors to spend more time outside.
You know, we always talk about just the feeling of of the sun and the heat on your skin makes such a big difference. And you know, we also look at changing the the trend from you know, having highly amenitized senior community that are more luxury, and accomadating, a lot of I know, Shannon, you had mentioned, like dining options and, and taking those outdoors as well. But, you know, how can we blur those connections and have more connection to the community and the adjacent neighborhoods.
And so taking something that’s very internalized, and figuring out a way that we can expand that, and encourage seniors, not to be so isolated and stay within the community, itself, but also figuring out ways to connect with the adjacent neighborhood, and perhaps, you know, make those connections with with local retail in bars and restaurants to take advantage of those outdoor spaces as well. So it expands on just the community itself, but also connection with with your actual neighborhood.
TP: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up, Natalie. I mean, that’s another component in that connection, and trying to break down that isolation of seniors and so forth. You know, we’ve also been looking at and some of our clients are asking us, okay, so we also want to be able to allow families and visitors to come into this environment, and how can we change what we’re doing now to allow for that, in this COVID environment?
You know, because we’re still looking at creating safe spaces where people can feel somewhat socially distant from other groups that might be visiting other family members and other seniors. And so as we were talking before, you know, the common area and the amenity spaces are evolving a little bit in that regard, so that we can create a little bit more of a living room type of field where people feel comfortable, but they’re spread apart so that they can feel safe, and socially distant if there’s another group of people coming to visit other family members. So. So that’s a huge component for us right now, as well as just how those common areas are getting programmed, and what we can do to accommodate visitors, particularly this environment.
WM: And obviously, adding to all of that, you know, when you start adding technology, technology started to play a much, much bigger role, simply because our seniors are obviously a little bit more smarter about the equipment that they use. In a particular project, we created something, which would be equal to sort of I call it an office environment, even though we don’t think of seniors in that event. But it’s more the access of having either a full size screen, or some of the smart tablets, and some of that communication, or ability to encourage them, even whether they’re indoor or outdoor, for a closer connection, either to the family or to other people’s. So even though technology is something that we take for granted.
But but you know, the COVID, obviously, created that technology, you know, the world of zoom is we’re doing through this phone was something that became much, much more prevalent, because families got an ability to see their grandparents, even though they were isolated in one place. So technology has now become a very much strong part of it. You know, when we think of it, it’s really very simple. It’s a wireless device. But it in itself has has kind of become an element that we’ve historically not think about seniors in technology as a whole.
SO: I think we’re seeing a shift in that. And while some seniors are tech savvy, I’ve seen plenty who have what we’ll call a dumb phone. Right? Right. So but But what we’re also seeing is, you know, companies like Facebook, with their portal, or Amazon Echo show, or Google duo or whatever, but the small screen video calls where you can connect with your family, it’s a very hit one button and you have, you know, you’re connected with your family. You could also do telehealth with your doctor, I think there’s a lot of technology and senior living and more to come not just from the resident side, but also from the operation side.
But Tom’s point, I think one of the harder things we have to figure out is how to have these face to face visits safely. And that’s, that’s one of our hardest, because it’s not just one family, like Tom said, visiting, you know, there’ll be multiple families. And you know, how we go about that? I don’t know that. That has been solved yet. But I know we’re all working on that. It that’s a hard one.
WM: Yeah, that’s one of those items that like I said, as a design firm, we don’t always you know, you have an event and then you have a solution. Because that solution is really going to require not only you know, talent, like it’s in a room, but operational people and there’s a whole other end And I don’t foresee that answer is something that’s going to become one afternoon like holy cow, somebody came up with this cool idea. And that answers the entire question. I think that there’s quite a bit of evolution that’s going to occur both from an operator user and in design teams.
SO: And maybe a specific mechanical system air system for that area for that purpose.
WM: I mean, no, I’m gonna say no different than the way hospitals look at most people don’t realize that hospitals throw away 100% of the air out to the air and in pumping brand new air, their operations are significantly expensive because of that. But yes, that kind of environment, we start looking into our senior homes.
NB: I was actually going to ask, talking about technology and operations. Once you guys brought that up, if you had happened to see, I know you guys are based more on the design side of things. But um, you know, as architects, you probably run into, you know, having to accommodate these like HVAC systems that people are, might be using in these care facilities. Have you kind of noticed anything with regards to like that in terms of any of this technology, greater technology adoption, like, we can say, HVAC systems, air purifiers, you mentioned health care systems.
I know in health care, they use UVC, lighting a lot in terms of like disinfecting, and kind of like cleaning out areas that aren’t currently in use. Have you guys in any of your projects happen to know, like a greater adoption of those types of technologies to kind of answer that problem of, you know, getting Pete wanting to bring people together, but also making sure that the spaces stay really safe for those people?
TP: Yeah, I mean, certainly for us, and that you mentioned the UVC. You know, I, two years ago, we wouldn’t even worry about trying to find a light to spec that was UVC to a certain degree, because, you know, air systems were changing air at a rate that was sufficient, but certainly with COVID. Yes, I mean, we’re now you know, whether it’s a combined light with a fan, where we’re using UVC, to clean the air, and also the fan to circulate it. Much more of that for sure. And that’s going to remain I think, going forward, that’ll be part of our program.
WM: In a similar format, that we started the dot with to avoid having a oversize units, and doing much more multiple units to sort of restrict the amount of, you know, if you get 30, why bring it into entire unit. In this case, it’s limited to two zones, much more zones across the board, is some of the conversations that we’ve had, trying to eliminate that because the obviously the UV lights are expensive. We don’t have solid answers that we can get the men to operate correctly. So some of the beginning of that really started to address the, the, I’m sorry, my phone rang. So we’ve been doing a lot more small units kind of thinking.
SO: But what’s amazing to me is the technology has been, we just didn’t use it. Right? So. So we we worked on and it’s not quite finished a very large renovation over over COVID. And we replaced the mechanical system, it was probably the most expensive part of the project, and put in an ionization system. And, you know, over when you look at the cost of an ionization system, it’s so minute compared to, you know, if you’re replacing mechanical, you can add it to an existing mechanical, it’s not a big investment by any means. And the client insisted on it.
It’s also a marketing aspect. Of course, it keeps everyone safe within the building. But it’s another level where you can also mark it. So the technology is there, we’ve just not until COVID been been using it. And now, I think we all can agree, you know, Senior Living going forward, needs to have like, like Walter said, fresh air, you know, intake. Also, all whether it’s UVC, or an ionization system, something that is protecting and cleaning the air.
NR: Yeah, definitely. And, and I agree that, you know, the technology has always been there, but I think it’s educating ourselves and then also educating the client. And so that’s something that we’ve done. You know, tirelessly working with our mechanical engineers and introducing them to our clients and giving full on presentations about what technology is available, what the different options are, what the price points are so that the client can make informed decisions as opposed to US imposing it or telling them what they should do.
But they, you know, take that responsibility as well. And they feel like they’re part of that greater effort to make sure that we’re implementing the appropriate systems. And so definitely we’re, you know, looking at higher grade air purification, UV, it’s something that is just becoming more commonplace. Now, in light of COVID, it’s, it’s kind of a no brainer, that the extra expense is now going into those systems.
WM: And they got to believe for a moment that, like everything else, you know, events occurred llaws follow, I gotta believe at some point that the regulators are going to say, Oh, my God, we lost all the seniors, you know, the the spread that occur, what we’d like you to now do this, you know, and I think that to Danny’s point, some of those points that historically, we saw as being expensive, or, you know, unaffordable may become the law, which we then obviously perspective, and I truly got to believe that that shortly will follow. Especially because of the serious hit that some of these senior housing homes had gotten as a result of COVID.
NB: I feel like it’ll also probably be just talking about it from a consumer perspective, it’ll also be, you know, the facilities that have these types of technologies and the facilities that kind of make it known to, you know, potential residents, that they have these different types of technologies, it’s going to be even prior to regulation, it’s going to be a key differentiator for them. Because now, that is on the minds of everybody going into these facilities that you know, after all that’s happened, there’s that kind of pressure and concern of just like,
Okay, I got to make sure I’m finding a place where I know this is not likely to happen.
So it was great, getting a chance to talk with you guys all all about that, at the time just kind of seemed to like fly by, with everybody going back and forth, and really getting some great insight into the future of senior living. But I know some of us are on shorter time frame. So I don’t want to, you know, overrun ever anyone’s time for today. So I will kind of wrap things up and let you guys sort of give your closing statements based off of the conversation we just had.
WM: So, from my perspective, you know, when you look at it, it doesn’t really take a rocket scientist to realize that the items that we need to address that are driven by debt, obviously, they’re no different than the lifestyles that we we personally go through, in the concern that we have, you know, both for our kids and our parents. So there’s just a number of things that are really obvious questions that one incorporates, as a design group, obviously, there are things that we face every day, you know, whether we’re doing a library, or, you know, a coffee shop, there are thoughts and things that we go through that start to address some of those issues that society simply puts on us.
TP: Yeah, I think, thank you, you know, for us, just maintaining good design practice, and, you know, for seniors, providing a space that they feel, you know, dignity and you know, as they age, isolation, that they begin to feel, being able to provide them a sense of dignity is the most important thing for us. And that’s also that comes from good design practice. And making their space feel like a home is really what it is. So being dignified, and providing a new home for them. This is our objective.
SO: We share that the dignity part is number one, and we never forget this is their home, even if it’s the common spaces, the dining rooms, whatever, it’s their home, I think we’re going to see changes that maybe we can’t even anticipate yet. But one thing is we have an aging population, right, that keeps getting larger and larger and larger. And how is from an operations standpoint? Are they going to be able to staff I think we’re going to see more technology, supporting operations, so that the person can go and take care of do the things they need to do. And technology can, you know, take care of. I’ll give one example, you know, a robot waiter, for example, but where staff can be used where they need to be used in interface with the residents. So it’ll be interesting to see how senior living evolves from this pandemic into the next few several years. I think we’re going to see A lot of lot of evolutions.
NR: Yeah, definitely. I’m really excited about, you know what’s to come, I think there’s going to continue to be a lot of change for a long time. But I think absolutely focus on dignity, on wellness, on safety, on health, and continue to hold ourselves and our designs accountable. And also, you know, be adaptable as we do that.
NB: Yeah, and I think moving forward, that’s pretty much a lot of what I’ve been seeing and hearing, just in terms of like, all the projects, we’ve been able to kind of look at being a part of design well. And so, you know, as you guys said, being able, mostly just keeping an attention on the keeping attention on the seniors that are going to be in this homes, making sure that you know, when they have the when they’re in these homes, they feel as much like home as possible.
And I think this is something that, you know, I forget who mentioned it in the conversation we were having beforehand, but, you know, one day all of us are going to be seniors, and we might end up being in these homes. So it’s important to focus on these aspects now. So that, you know, in the future down the line, you know, if we happen to be in that situation, we’ll be there. We’ll be able to, you know, benefit from these new innovations and philosophies that we’re talking about today. So, once again, thank you guys for coming on. It was really great to just get everybody here for a little while, even if it was for a little while. I wish we could talk more on it. But you know, it was great. And I hope you guys have a good rest of your days. And thank you.