The Casitas Concept +
A New Platform for Innovative and Affordable Senior “Care Filled” Living
Bradley Mansfield AIA
Westberg White Architecture
Senior communities will thrive and existing campuses will be re-envisioned as demand increases for supportive care and services for actively aging adults in “care filled” environments. The industry should be prepared as the new platform for senior living will look different than what has been previously designed. The tapestry of active aging is an expression of individuality, identity, security and personality. At home, these are the things that bring value and purpose to living a well and balanced life.
The efficiency and effectiveness of a home, as defined by any generation, is a place uniquely characteristic of the people who dwell within. The home creates a portrait of how life is played.
An aging adult brings the extended family together. There is a re-connecting and unity that establishes a common identity. “The Casitas Concept”, which is a new platform for senior living distinguished by Westberg White Architecture (WWA), is centered upon care filled experiences with an authentic atmosphere of home in flexible, residential scaled living. The Casitas Concept project is a village born of casitas, or small homes with individual character that form a community of interactions and connections integrated into the various experiences of village life. A village is born from the homes that support it creating neighborhoods of common interests. The Casitas Concept project is about people, purpose and place. It is designed to inspire people to engage in the activities of home while maintaining their individual identity, security and privacy. Yet it is so much more. The inspiration is to encourage individuals and couples to live outwardly and into their village where they can communicate, be motivated, participate, listen and learn in an atmosphere of mixed voices. The interior and exterior landscapes of the casita communities are filled with natural light and nature rich expressions that encourage experiences of discovery and surprise.
A New Platform
This new concept for attached studios and one bedroom homes of 250 to 350 square feet for our aging population, is founded on a materials-based modular structural format to achieve design diversity, efficiencies, affordability, functionality, sustainability and constructability. The Casitas Concept forms a community constructed on the aspiration of living simply, yet with profound purpose and vitality. In 1845, Henry David Thoreau lived in his 10 by15, 150 square foot cabin, or casita, on Walden Pond for two years and experienced a transformation in mind and health. In a similar manner, the Casitas Concept was visualized to establish open and barrier-free connections between residents and the natural environment. There are natural elements of light and fresh air breezes, simplified vertical and horizontal pedestrian circulation patterns which allow home and neighborhood connections into the community. The Casitas Concept developments are separated but in union with their surroundings. There is a village-like carousel of movement supporting and promoting connections in multi-generational inspired environments with individualistic characteristics of expression.
Not surprisingly, on life’s list of essentials consisting of food, water, light, clothing, companionship and physical activity, when faced with extreme environments, shelter is the one essential element that allows a person to achieve all of these other necessities for living. The home is more than a residence, and must be designed for multigenerational interactions inclusive of personal space, communal activities, learning alcoves for education and providing office contingencies for remote working.
The almost shopping mall atmosphere and scale of some senior living communities and campuses will be an idea soon re-imagined by smaller resident casitas in attached construction, each belonging to and the supporting activities of their village. The intent seeks to address affordability and equity in communal senior living concepts. There will be street dining, entertainment, recreation, education through direct and distance learning, vibrant music, a community stage, culture, worship and public art displays consisting of mosaics, murals, chalk art and public performance. The integration of senior living neighborhoods into master planned communities is essential.
In a big box senior living community, the interior corridor systems can devour up to a fourth of the gross square footage. The use of long, dark double loaded corridors and hallways, typically serve the solitary purpose of pushing residents from one space to another. The Casitas Concept turns these wasted open lane expressways into creative living places. This is achieved by providing visibility and lines of sight between the common arenas and amenities of a campus. In doing so, adaptable opportunities are generated. Residents want to see what is occurring within the various avenues and boulevards of their village so if they choose to participate, they can visit these engagement centers and involve themselves in the various offered activities. A rebalancing of the antiquated corridor philosophy is at the heart of the Casitas Concept.
Corridors can be energized by transforming portions into flexible continued learning spaces. By adding furniture, nooks, information portals and views into the outdoors and adjacent communal areas will invite residents and their families and friends to slow down and interact in new ways – to learn in the places that were formerly strictly for transport. What if the pre-historic philosophies of corridor design are eliminated all together to encourage learning and expression by allocating joint-use libraries, walk-ability without destination and collaborative spaces that provide dynamic and vibrant sensory sensations.
Renovations of Thought
The renovation of existing senior adult complexes consisting of independent living, assisted living and memory care residences can also benefit by implementing the Casitas Concept design philosophies in re-thinking adjacencies and functionalities. This is achieved by creating smaller villages within the larger community to define a sense of unique identity. The implementation of subtle, yet delicate design elements such as an elevated koi pond, open bird aviary, pergolas, greenhouses and butterfly gardens open opportunities for new adventures to introduce neighboring villages to these new experiences.
These inexpensive additions for the residents are attractions for staff care providers and create a co-living experience for those who are employed, providing an ‘at home’ experience for the resident and the care provider together.
Those employed in a village to assist and care for the residents will have colorful spaces of their own as a retreat to re-energize and isolate when needed. But with smart-building automation, touchless devices, technology and the increased wellness monitoring by wireless networks, the intent is to integrate the residents who live in a shared community with the care and service providers to enrich the quality of eldercare in the casita neighborhood villages and improve employee recruitment and retention.