Type Case Study
Topic Senior Living
Date Published September 03, 2015

An Aging Population

Urban Seniors and Housing Options

As has been widely publicized, the world’s older adult population is undergoing unprecedented growth. Caused by baby boomers aging faster than other age groups, and an increase in longevity, this will be one of the most significant social transformations of our time. Further, the World Health Organization’s Global Age-Friendly Cities Project (2010) suggests that 3 in 4 seniors live in cities in the developing world.

Contributing factors to the need for urban senior housing are: older adults choosing to remain living in the city, older adults whose children are urban dwelling and want to keep their families close, and active adults who are moving to the city after raising their families in the suburbs, drawn to the city’s vibrancy, social and cultural activities, access to communities, friends, their urban dwelling children and their families, and most significantly, quality healthcare.

The urban older adult demographic varies significantly in age, mobility, health, social support, and financial resources. Therefore, the urban housing options we are designing, in collaboration with our clients, seek a solution to the challenge of addressing these increasing needs by optimizing the vibrancy of the city, integrating wellness for people unable to seek it for themselves, and creating supportive communities at the macro and micro level. Every design decision in the creation of these projects was approached with the goal of providing senior living residents with meaningful connections to nature, to the outdoors, to the city, and to their purpose in the building’s community - essential values in life as we age.

The Shift from Suburban to Urban Building Planning

Urban sites are particularly challenging to solve the operational needs of senior living; one that requires large contiguous floor plates where support functions and residential elements can coexist without a change in level (typical of suburban planning).


​Vertical Programming

Handel Architects’ recent projects in urban senior living demonstrate that with a creative vertical programming configuration, we can create a synergy of holistic spatial design by highlighting several key factors: wellness, through incorporating elements of nature and access to healthcare, and social connectivity, through the design of communal amenity spaces.

Working with Maplewood Senior Living and Omega Healthcare, Handel Architects designed Inspir Carnegie Hill, a 23-story, 215-unit assisted living building sited on New York’s Upper East Side. Every design decision in the creation of this flagship project was approached with the goal of providing Inspir residents with meaningful connections to nature, to the outdoors, to the ebb and flow of Manhattan, and to their purpose within the building’s community to create a true feeling of luxury and vitality.

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Handel Architects began by translating the typical horizontal operational program of an assisted living facility into a vertical, urban context.

The program was organized to take advantage of the building’s setbacks, to maximize access to the outdoors, while also thoughtfully considering the varying levels of care provided throughout the building.

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Using the floor plate size, we established a hierarchy for the different levels of care.

We aggregated higher acuity care floors, such as memory care and enhanced care, at the lower tier of the building, allowing for larger support spaces where they are needed the most. In turn, the lower acuity care rooms are placed on the upper tier of the building where the building sets back and less support is needed proximate to the units and the resident’s overall support needs. The care levels are divided by a wintergarden (also known as the “Sky Park”) and multi-purpose space, providing a seamless indoor/outdoor lounge and dining experience.

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The lofty lobby space is entered from bustling 2nd Avenue, marked by a rich planted entrance canopy which extends over the interior entrance vestibule.

Off the lobby lounge, through a screened wall, are an enfilade of dining spaces, which allow the space to feel open and airy, while also defining each space, giving residents a variety of dining options.

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The amenity spaces at the ground and second level are interconnected through double height lightwells and indoor climbing gardens.

These flood the spaces with natural light and greenery, bringing the outdoors in. The 2nd floor overlooks the lobby and gardens below. Here, flexible resident activity areas include a library, screening room, and an art and potting studio that opens directly to the terrace garden.

Below the lobby level is a wellness suite carved out of the ground, boasting a swimming pool, surrounded by textured board formed concrete retaining walls. Connected through a colonnade, is a fitness and physical therapy area.

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We designed large open plan common rooms, creating an abundance of communal spaces.

These are open and accessible to residents, visiting families and staff, together creating smaller ‘neighborhoods’ within the larger building community. At the lower levels, because of residents restricted movement, the common rooms are larger to accommodate both a lounge and dining area with an open service station. Common rooms continue up the building through the different acuity levels, visually emphasized on the exterior through planted balconies, enveloped in a trellis of climbing roses and lush foliage in the foreground, with a view of the bustling cityscape beyond.

At the upper levels, where residents have greater mobility, the common rooms are smaller and require less programming because these residents can choose from the plethora of other amenity spaces interspersed throughout the building.

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At the center of the building is the Sky Park, a monumental multi-functional space inspired by lath house structures.

The lath frames shelter a space that is interspersed with large indoor gardens that separate the main structure into smaller seating and activity areas. The interior is connected to the outdoors and to the city below with a wrap-around terrace where residents can meander through the garden around the building’s perimeter, or sit on the intimate sun porch and have a meal or meeting with friends and family.

Lastly, the back of house support spaces are aggregated towards the building’s elevator core, to allow staff to have a seamless vertical circulation between care floors, the building’s main kitchen and back of house rooms. The operations of the building were purposefully screened off to ensure the residents’ an elevated residential experience.

The Appeal of Mixed-Use

Today's seniors want to participate in communities that offer active lifestyles with plentiful choices and social connections fostered throughout thoughtful programming.

The boundary of traditional senior living facilities can be expanded by creating shared spaces, parks, community facilities, restaurants, cultural destination, all within a mixed-use development the fosters the potential to build inter-generational relationships.

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Mixed-Use in Hudson Yards

451 10th Avenue is a new 45-story high-rise under construction as part of the greater-Hudson Yards development by Related Companies. In partnership with Atria Senior Living, this project pairs 9-stories of assisted living residential within the massing of a mixed-use residential tower. Unique to the senior living typology, 451 10th Avenue grants unrivaled access to New York City’s newest cultural and retail hub, direct access to restaurants and retail spaces without needing to leave the building, and quality on-site healthcare.

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451 10th Avenue is designed as a community within a community.

Handel Architects planned for a striation of residential types: assisted living residences at the lower floors, and 25% affordable units and market rate rental residences at the higher floors, creating multiple ‘micro-neighborhoods’.

Through creative configuration, we strategized the larger lower floor plates to accommodate the program-heavy care levels of the assisted living residences. These care levels are most effective through a direct adjacency between resident’s units, staff care, and most importantly, communal spaces, all on the same level. With senior’s wellness at the core of a healthy urban lifestyle, a “wellness floor” was integrated at the podium of the building. Affiliated with a leading healthcare provider, the expansive floor is a community resource, providing health and self-care services for the building’s senior residents.

At the ground level, the two faces of the corner site intrinsically led to designing two independent lobbies—one on 35th Street, the senior assisted living residences and one on 10th Avenue, the rental residences. The two entrances into a single building are a marker of a shared community, yet intentionally separated to provide the privacy sought after in a luxurious residence.

The amenities of the podium serve as a link between the building’s community and the community at large, programmed as a mix of commercial and community-use facilities. At the ground level, dividing the two residential entrances, the corner space was designed for a future restaurant. On the upper podium levels, space was allocated for retail use and a “wellness floor”. This podium program is intended to ultimately encourage a sense of social interconnectedness of the various communities within the vertical stack.

The “wellness floor” is accessible to the building’s residents via the senior living elevator core. The expansive floor is a series of interconnected programs focused on senior health and wellbeing. A bulk of the floor is dedicated to respite care units for rehabilitation, which share the use of medical offices, physical therapy spaces, a yoga/ virtual wellness area, and spa.

At the base of the residential tower stack are the assisted living residences. The two lowest levels are dedicated to high-acuity care (memory care) and the upper six levels are for low-acuity care. Placing resident wellness at the forefront of our design decisions, we located the two high-acuity care levels at the lowest floor plates to take advantage of the podium set back. Since these residents typically are unable to leave their care floor, we optimized the set back to create a planted terrace directly off the communal lounge and dining room.

The high-acuity care floors are combination of studio & 1-bedroom type care units, directly served by a salon for the residents, a pantry off the dining room, a laundry room and staff offices. These spaces are organized along an interconnected wrap-around corridor, promoting easy access and mobility.

The upper level low-acuity care floors are a combination of studio, 1-bed and 2-bed units. These units, unlike the memory care units, are designed as fully equipped residential units, provided with a full kitchen and washer/ dryer closet for more independent type living.

Above the care floors, at a setback level, is a full floor amenity area which serves the assisted living residences only. A series of interconnected amenity spaces, which can be subdivided or opened as needed, provides the assisted living residents multiple lounge and dining room options, an activity room, theater and library, and a planted terrace. The floor is served by a prep kitchen and bakery, that also serve each residential floor, as needed.

The back of house support spaces are aggregated towards the building’s elevator core, to allow staff to have a seamless vertical circulation between care floors, the building’s main kitchen at the amenity level, the serving pantries for the lower level dining rooms, and the back of house rooms at the cellar level.

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Mixed-Use in Long Island City

Hunter’s Point South is a new million square foot mixed-use development along the Queens waterfront, developed by Gotham and senior housing developer, Riseboro Community Partners. The two-parcel complex is comprised of affordable independent senior living residences, affordable and market rate rental residential units, community art facilities, commercial spaces, hospital affiliated health clinic, and a new elementary school. Seniors live mostly independently but are supported by outreach programs run by Riseboro’s staff, fostering wellness, support and social engagement within the senior community. Furthermore, the ability to live independently is made possible by having the necessities to everyday life within proximity: health facilities, a pharmacy, a grocery store, community art spaces, a rooftop urban garden, retails spaces, and easily accessible outdoor areas.

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Uniquely, the senior living residences at Hunter’s Point were conceived as an independent element slotted within the vertical stack of the mixed-use towers.

Emphasized in the massing and materiality, the senior living residences jut out of the residential tower creating a lower setback to the 57-story tower. At the bookends of the senior living stack are large green spaces. At the lowest level there is a planted terrace with direct access off the community room, while stacked above the 8-story residences, is a planted roof garden, accessible to both seniors and the surrounding community’s residences.

Accessed through a separate entrance, the senior living residences have their own ground level lobby, complete with a mail and package room.

At the first setback above the podium is the first senior living level, programmed with residential apartments, amenity spaces with a terrace and 7 additional senior living levels above.

The senior living residences are designed as fully equipped apartments but modified per HPD guidelines to accommodate aging-in-place, with accessible design features such as fully accessible bathrooms and lean rails built into the public corridors.

The lower level amenity area is a library and community room which leads out into a planted terrace. The community room was designed as an open space to allow for a variety of functions, as programmed by the on-site community group Riseboro.

At each level, adjacent to the elevators is a communal lounge for the floor’s residents.

Handel Architects combined a deep experience in urban design, luxury residential housing, and hospitality, to design a variety of new urban senior living projects that emphasize the importance of wellness and community.

We created a new vision for senior living in an urban context that focuses on optimizing what really matters to the residents, their families and care givers: access to the dynamics of life in the city, connections to nature and the outdoors, opportunities for privacy and interaction, and most importantly, a sense of purpose. Inspir Maplewood, 451 10th Avenue, and Hunter’s Point South are of the many projects that showcase how our buildings for seniors in the city can encompass all the peaceful and serene qualities of being in the suburbs, while highlighting the excitement and energy of living in a city.

Learn more about these projects:

Inspir Carnegie Hill

Hunter's Point South

(Future link) - 451 Tenth Ave