Grant Warner HKSGrant Warner, senior designer, HKS (Dallas)

Over his 25-year career, Grant Warner has devoted part of his work to understanding the residents that his work impacts. So much so that he’s participated in several Sleepover Projects, a concept originally developed by D2 Architecture’s David Dillard whereby designers spend a 24-hour period in a senior living community to understand the ins and outs of resident life there.

Some recent experiences include stays in memory care communities with immersive indoor streetscapes; he had designed similar environments before but was skeptical of their benefit. Seeing firsthand how they helped stimulate residents and provide opportunities to engage with family members and caregivers by providing destination spaces for gathering, he came back to the office inspired to further improve the concept.

His work since has focused on developing new features such as life skill stations, shop windows, and discovery gardens—elements he recently incorporated on several new projects.

Additionally, Warner has explored how to answer the need for more affordable senior housing options, collaborating with organizations to provide solutions ranging from studio apartments to prefabricated tiny homes to mixed-use strategies for larger communities to reap significant savings and enable affordable housing to get into areas where it’s needed.

Warner also views the impacts of climate change as a challenge that the industry must begin addressing and is advocating for more resilient building design in senior living.

As one of our 2021 Design Champions, Warner shared some insight on his career and the senior living design industry in this Q+A with Environments for Aging.

Environments for Aging: How did you get involved in the Sleepover Project? 

Grant Warner: Working for Wesley Life in Johnston, Iowa, our team had been looking for ways to get more detail on such elements as the dining program, access to daylight and outdoor spaces, and the layout to improve the comfort and efficiency of four different project designs for that client.

In 2005, a colleague and I went together to stay at the operator’s Maplecrest at Wesley Village in Indianola, Iowa, to conduct research and observe residents and their care partners. It was a profound experience for me to live in, even if only for one day, because I saw the loneliness and isolation of the seniors.

I had hoped to walk away with measurements and details, but instead I walked away with a cause.

Since then, it’s become more than just an evidence-based design process; it’s an inspiration. Spending quality, relaxed time with residents and their care partners is a cherished opportunity for me, and I can’t wait for the pandemic to abate so we can visit with more.

How did the project change your mind about memory care design?

I’d been concerned that environments like [immersive streetscapes] were too fake, perhaps even condescending. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After staying in one at Market Street in Viera, Fla., in 2017, I saw how stimulating those types of settings could be for residents, care partners, and family members.

For example, I visited a bakery where the chef was leading a class on making apple pie that filled the environment with a wonderful smell and stimulated one resident’s memory of her mother making apple strudel. I watched a husband visit his wife, who was living at the community, and they went out into the streetscape to simply sit and read the paper together over cups of coffee.

Another passion for you is affordability. How can the industry do better? 

We as designers will have to play a pivotal role in finding creative, innovative, and unusual solutions for the affordable senior housing crisis. We will have to be open to new ideas and other typologies and encourage strategic partnerships between clients and organizations, such as hotels and senior living sharing amenities and support services, that may not seem, at first, to be compatible.

Innovations in construction such as modular construction and prefabrication should also be embraced to support these efforts. I also hope we will find ways to blend senior living into mixed-use projects so that multiple users can share the costs of expensive amenities and support services instead of burdening or compromising their project alone.

You’ve also identified resilient building design as a need the industry should address. Why?

Growing up in hurricane- and flood-prone Houston, I’ll never forget the fear of hiding in the bathroom for hours on end as the nonstop wind racked our house, causing it to creak, crack, and groan.

And I watched in horror on the news as it was discovered that seniors had been abandoned and left to perish during Hurricane Katrina.

Violent natural disasters and human-made disasters are on the rise, and we must embrace the challenge and confront it. Resilient building design can help to not only protect residents during an event but to ensure that their community can function as shelter in the horrendous aftermath of an event.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Environments for Aging. She can be reached at