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Weaving Wellness and Green Living

Implementing healthy concepts is key to attracting 55+ residents who want to flourish, contribute to their wellness and age in place


In today’s successful active adult senior living communities, wellness is more than just a buzzword or a concept that can be satisfied with yoga classes and a walking path. Wellness is intricately woven into design, construction, management, operations and daily life. This rich tapestry includes elements related to air quality, nourishment, light, sound, and other areas that, stitched together, make for strong senior living communities.

One toolkit for integrating these concepts of wellness and green living into building design, construction and operation is the WELL Building Standard (WELL).

Air (indoor air quality): This includes operable windows in all resident rooms and in many common areas. Reliable, efficient exhaust systems to remove pollutants and moisture from the air and all surfaces are key; these should be accompanied by high-efficiency air filters to remove indoor and outdoor contaminants. HVAC systems designed for pre-tempering, filtering, and dehumidifying fresh air will reduce both mold and bacteria growth; using bipolar ionization, MERV 13 filters and ultraviolet light will reduce virus transmission.

Wellness is intricately woven into design, construction, management, operations and daily life.

Water: Moisture management is essential for keeping residents healthy and preventing the spread of mold, bacteria and other toxins. This starts with controlling outside air infiltration
into the building, through envelope design and air pressure balancing. Elsewhere, rain gardens conserve non-potable water in a visually appealing way and serve as a reminder of our connection to natural cycles. Promote hydration via multiple bistros, bars, dining and other amenities throughout the building. Dehydration leads to many problems for seniors including increased falls and delirium. At Pi, we have recently begun to specify bottle fillers to encourage hydration.

Nourishment: Kitchens designed with the flexibility to prepare a variety of food onsite enable and encourage seniors to eat well and make meals they enjoy. Gardens not only let seniors with green thumbs get their hands dirty; they also enable the consumption of fresh, homegrown, pesticide-free foods. Gardens are so productive and expansive in some communities that residents have produce/vegetable stands, participate in local farmers’ markets or donate food to area food banks.

Light: Using a selection of comfortable, low-glare fixtures provides light that is appropriate for each room and space. Transitional lighting between indoor and outdoor spaces that enables eyes to adjust is key, as are light fixtures with color/wavelength changing options to support natural circadian rhythm and psychological health.

Movement: Vibrant spaces that encourage residents to leave their apartments, exercise and socialize are essential to mental and physical health. This includes providing areas for rest and railings/supports to enable even residents with physical limitations to ambulate freely.

Thermal comfort: This includes amenities such as HVAC systems that allow for individual temperature control in each resident room and zone, sunrooms that promote radiant heating, mechanical systems that provide humidity control and operable windows that enable access to clean outdoor air.

Sound: Finish materials that encourage a vibrant environment or materials that dampen noise are key to protecting residents from excessive noise. Wall partitions and floor assemblies designed to reduce noise can be both cost-effective and efficient.

Materials: There are many choices regarding building materials that are both green and healthy. These include finishes that minimize toxicity and off-gassing, materials that lend themselves to easy waste removal (including options for recycling), native landscaping that minimizes the need for fertilizers and pesticides and HVAC filtration that reduces transfer of airborne pathogens.

Mind: Building design that includes spaces for learning and exploration — such as libraries, classrooms, technology centers, workshops, and art studios — encourages mental stimulation and lifelong pursuit of new ideas, information and skills. At the same time, meditation or butterfly gardens, yoga studios and other design features satisfy the need for relaxation and reflection.

Community: While this can be challenging during a pandemic, seniors want spaces to gather, socialize and enjoy a sense of community. Rooms that allow for social distancing and outdoor spaces with adequate, comfortable seating plus cover from the elements are growing trends. It also is important to have family-friendly spaces for visitors of all ages.

Innovations: Every aspect of a WELL building can be innovative, thoughtful, inventive and tailored to the people who will populate the space. Moving forward, watch for more senior communities that appeal to residents’ need for a sense of purpose. This may include office spaces and business centers for those people who want to continue working or spaces where residents can create and sell products such as artwork.

Using tools like WELL to go for the triple crown of wellness, green living and quality of life is not only easier than ever; it’s key to attracting residents who want to grow and flourish while they age in place.

Mark Warrick, AIA, LEED AP, is vice president of Pi Architects. In addition to his design talents, Mark works closely with regulatory bodies throughout the design and construction of Pi Architects projects