The Casitas Concept +
A New Platform for Senior “Care Filled” Living
Bradley Mansfield AIA
Westberg White Architecture
This is Part One in a series of Original Articles
An aging adult brings an extended family together. Active aging is the personalization of senior living where the quality of care is resident-centered, with self-identity and independence to command their days with choice, merit, privacy, respect and individuality. How we want to live in 20 years from now is how we should be designing and building today. Architecture is adapting to these changes by finding new ways of improving active aging experiences within our senior living communities. The personality of each space reflects the essence of home with richness and with a diversity of perspective. A home is all about the people who live in it.
Westberg White Architecture has distinguished a new model for senior living centered upon “care filled” experiences with an authentic atmosphere of home in flexible, residential scaled living. “The Casitas Concept” is a village born of casitas, or small homes with individual character that will form a community of interactions and connections integrated into the various experiences of village life. All villages support the activities of individual expression in their choices of culinary, entertainment, recreation, education, music, live theatre, culture, art and shopping. A village is born from the homes that support it. The Casitas Concept project is designed to bring people out of their home and into their village where they can communicate, motivate and be motivated, listen and learn. The interior and exterior landscapes of the casita communities are filled with areas of discovery and surprise. This is accomplished by utilizing the five human senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and sound. The Casitas Concept achieves this by introducing a series of smaller niches or “Third Places” for residents to explore with familiarity and stability in a personal environment. Examples can include a secluded rose garden, a coffee house café or a garland of jasmine for smell. Bistro style dining is designed to entice each villager’s unique palette for taste. By introducing textured fabric on furniture or smooth pebble gardens for touch, by casting geometric shadow patterns from natural light sources up on walls and onto paving to reveal the passing of time, by enhancing vistas and views for sight, and by providing soothing water features for sound. All of these elements are introduced with the intention of motivating personal and emotional experience. There are interior and exterior garden connections which enhance the whole life philosophies of wellness. These elements are inclusive of nature, physical activity, mental stimulation, socializing and the essence of the spirit.
Large interior common spaces are provided to encourage and to emphasize movement toward consciously placed “engagement centers” and to promote communal activity in a pet friendly atmosphere. Interior and exterior living rooms are provided with flexible seating that ranges from benches to sofas, to overstuffed chairs and privacy booths so that groups can rearrange it as they desire and where two people can meet to take the time to just talk, or a larger group of six can form a circle to laugh without being crowded while allowing for social distancing. The project seeks to combine uses in a unique way by allowing residents to immerse themselves in original experiences with intimate connections. Creating a sense of place, not only where people want to live and grow, but places where families want to visit and completely embrace the character of home.
A Place to Be and a Place to Become
These attached studio and one bedroom homes of 300 to 450 square feet are accessed by interior and exterior corridors that are filled with natural light. These corridors are open on either end of the space which helps to visually lead a person through these arenas. There are shared seating areas outside the rooms along their common path of adventure. Communal gathering areas such as dining, entertainment and enjoyment are centralized in these rich living environments. Multiple levels are connected by dual elevators which are dedicated to either “up” or “down” travel. These elevators provide redundancy by eliminating wait times and also reduce the number of individuals per cabin. These inclusive design programming objectives in the Casitas Concept greatly reduces the number of walking steps needed for each resident to engage and to become a part of all functions and activities in their village.
With easy availability to an off-site concierge, personal shoppers, ghost kitchens (a kitchen that prepares food for delivery only, without serving walk-in customers), restaurant food delivery, e-health (remote health care services provided by telecommunication technology), grocery deliveries and transportation, many of the on-site services previously deemed necessary to compliment a senior living complex are no longer being provided by on-site staffing.
Occupancy factors will undoubtedly be redefined in the release of the next edition of the International Building Code due to health concerns and separation requirements. These occupancy allowances are anticipated in the Casitas Concept by addressing the adjacencies, functionality and constructability of the villages.
Providing care service members that are educated in multiple disciplines helps reduce the amount of required staff and the number of individuals entering a village. Separated building exits and entrances are introduced to eliminate crossing pedestrian vertical and horizontal circulation patterns. The individual residential units allow for compartmentalization and safety as necessary. A staging area is provided for deliveries and back of house services. These are the simple things this concept strives to achieve without them needlessly becoming expensive things.
The Casitas Concept can be introduced into existing senior residences, buildings and campuses to renovate, reconstruct, accentuate and provide modernization in adaptive living qualities and sensory enrichment through light filled open space, color and operational platforms. The Casitas Concept is designed to transform an existing double occupancy room in a current senior neighborhood or community, and reconfigure the space into a private single resident home.
Adaptive re-use projects of vacant existing brick and mortar retail buildings, motels, shopping centers and multi-story office structures is an attractive alternative opportunity to provide affordable senior living homes. The integration of senior living in urban set mixed-use developments and on some college campuses is an idea that is also gaining support. The concepts are fluid and provide growth in development through diversity, joint action and innovation.
An Education of Experience
Throughout existence, senior communities have always been a powerful resource. By engaging these talent networks in assisting others in their village, working remotely for a common purpose or in voluntary neighborhood communal advocacy, actions and activities, it is these ‘in between’ places that compliment the village. Continuing education, which includes distant learning to connect internationally and place-based education programs seeking to establish lifelong learning opportunities, often happen outside a typical classroom atmosphere and are meant to be shared.
The Casitas Concept is designed for seniors to create an environment of care filled living to provide a village of homes, individual identity, a sense of place and innovative active aging.