Kasian Senior Living Environments Design Analysis Team, Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

Kasian Senior Living Environments Design Analysis Team works to improve the design of senior living and long-term care communities through research, collaboration, and case study analyses.

Christine Weber Craik, senior interior designer, senior associate; Aziz Bootwala, senior principal, vice president, seniors market sector chair; Nancy Wilson, senior project architect, associate; and Deborah Wadsworth, senior project architect, associate, Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) are four of its leaders who are guiding the way.

Their work is applied to Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd.’s current architectural and design work in senior living across Canada and abroad. For example, their findings have been presented nationally and internationally and inform not just architecture and interior design, but the senior living typology, care models, and operations.

Recently, they’ve tackled hot-button issues such as memory care by designing suites that allow a caregiver and resident to live in parallel quarters within walking distance from each other. Additionally, they’ve explored solutions for aging in place by simplifying access to amenities, creating floor plans shaped by spatial and sensory relationships, and recreating familiar routines to intrinsically connect memory to place.

In one current project, the design will allow residents to cook for themselves with support, which enables autonomy in a way that has not been done before in the jurisdiction. In another, residents will be able to interact with the greater community through the Village Square, a retail component carefully designed to safely connect the home with the community. With an eye on independence, choice, and flexibility, the team’s work evolves how and where care is delivered for the better.

Here, the Kasian Senior Living Environments Design Analysis Team shares insight on their mission and the industry in a Q+A with Environments for Aging in recognition of being named one of the magazine’s 2022 EFA Design Champions.

EFA: Tell us about the history and mission of the Kasian Senior Living Environments Design Analysis Team.

Aziz Bootwala

Aziz Bootwala, senior principal, vice president, seniors market sector chair

Aziz Bootwala: Our team was formed to increase the depth and breadth of knowledge within our organization about design for elders. Our mission is to share our collective wisdom as widely as possible. We’ll all be seniors someday and will all benefit from this communal experience and comprehension.

Since March 2020, we’ve been studying current research, analyzing case studies worldwide, and conducting post-occupancy evaluations. Our process involves interviewing owners, operators, care partners, administrators, clinicians, families, health authorities, and academics. Through people’s stories, their challenges and opportunities, we are investigating potential solutions to the unique challenges in long-term, elder care, and assisted living communities in North America.

Through this work, our goal is to create a “design for aging” playbook, a comprehensive resource including global examples of best practices that can be shared broadly inside and outside of the industry.

How do the team’s findings inform Kasian’s senior living design work, specifically? 

Christine Weber Craik

Christine Weber Craik, senior interior designer, senior associate

Christine Weber Craik: With our Senior Living Environments Design Analysis Team, we identify and connect with specialists to create a repository of evidence-based information and data to support design solutions in the senior living and eldercare sector.

Analyzing this eclectic and broad band of wisdom from diverse sources and putting it together to find cross-references and commonalities between them ultimately creates a consistent quality of design. Whether our findings are related to safety, improved efficiency, or to creating a familiar environment of comfort and care, we can be confident that the outcome will better meet the unique needs of each community.

Our knowledge bank is always evolving and growing, too. These findings give us a framework to take to clients and provide real world examples of innovative solutions that solve stubborn challenges. We’ve learned that there’s no single, correct way to design for elders—design responses need to be based on the community being served. Our findings help us to ask better questions and lead our design thinking process.

What’s an example of a recent finding from the team’s work that inspired a new approach to the design of a senior living environment? 

Deborah Wadsworth

Deborah Wadsworth, senior project architect, associate

Deborah Wadsworth: Through our research we learned about the significance of laundry. It is often overlooked in design for elders but is extremely connected to personal identity. What we wear is part of how we express our identity, and doing our own laundry is actually quite an intimate aspect of self-care.

Providing resident laundry facilities for assisted living is a great example of a program and design improvement based on this finding. While residents can opt to have their clothing washed by the staff, many prefer to do it themselves or with a family member —perhaps they like a specific detergent, or for special care to be taken with select clothing. To meet that desire, we implemented a café-style laundry room that doubles as a social space.

Additionally, you use a three-tier approach that covers personal, responsive, and regenerative layers that are applied to projects. How does that work in practice? 

Nancy Wilson

Nancy Wilson, senior project architect, associate

Nancy Wilson: These tiers allow us to understand and evaluate the design and design process to ensure our projects meet user needs and offer opportunities for fulfilment beyond simply having physical needs addressed. At the outset of a project, we lay the foundation for a regenerative design—a design that encourages growth, meaning, and purpose by working with stakeholders and users to understand their aspirations for the project.

Next, we delve into the personal through detailed user interviews with residents, care partners, family, and staff to understand the specific needs of each group. Once we understand both the granular needs and lofty aspirations for a project, we design to create a responsive project, one that meets the detailed needs and supports the overall vision.

An example we use is a resident washroom. An aspiration for the project might be to promote and preserve resident independence (regenerative). A need for personal support workers might be having enough space to provide a two-person assist, something that affects the way they’re able to do their job (personal).

Both of these have tangible requirements for the design: a washroom that’s large enough to have clearances at both sides of the toilet, as well as a layout that gives the resident a direct approach and enough contrast in colors to be able to easily identify their target.

Where do you think the industry could most use more research and data to inform projects? 

Deborah Wadsworth: Research and data can be extremely valuable in helping us to check our assumptions. Sometimes the evidence shows the opposite of what we would expect. For example, there are some preconceptions around acoustics, such as when we try to keep common spaces as quiet as possible. In reality, moderate ambient noise draws people out of their rooms, which facilitates interaction with others.

Additionally, we need more research around empathy-based decision-making in design for dementia. For example, disguising a door as a bookcase is a common strategy to prevent residents from using the door and being cued to leave. When someone with dementia engages with the bookcase and finds they cannot access the books, does this situation exacerbate their struggle with dementia, creating additional frustration and confusion? We are looking for research into these kinds of scenarios.

What’s inspired your recent look at memory care and what change do you hope to inspire?

Christine Weber Craik: As a society, we have a long way to go regarding how we treat those with Alzheimer’s and dementia. As people develop dementia, they’re often moved out of their familiar environment to memory care units or communities. This is a very system-centered approach and can be confusing and emotionally dysregulating and can heighten symptoms.

Research we’ve uncovered shows that a person’s familiarity in their surroundings creates a decrease in anxiety, which could lead to a calmer, happier resident. Fear can inhibit the functioning of the cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s ability to work well even when a part of it is disrupted. Designing interiors with this approach can help to merge memory—conscious, subconscious, and proprioceptive—and our environment to create a sense of familiarity.

Familiar architectural forms, colloquial spacing and shapes of furniture layouts, light patterns, familiar textures, smells, sounds, and movement reinforce the sense that the environment is safe and familiar.

This approach, we believe, creates familiar stories as one moves through a space and honors the unique human being by intrinsically connecting their new home to the happier recesses of the mind and memory. This could enable us to provide environments in which those affected by dementia can truly age in place, free from segregation.

The shape of space should be informed by the spatial needs and lived experience of each occupant on a personal level. Those needs are not simply physical, material, and social. During our research, we heard over and over again the importance of spending extra time in the programming phase to really research who your residents, families, and care partners are and where they come from.

Where do you hope to see senior living design go next?

Aziz Bootwala: Better design for aging and desegregation of senior living environments, both at an urban and building level. There’s still a trend toward age-segregated communities and homes, and we need to share the knowledge we have and make it more applicable across different sectors.

Communities need to better embrace aging through more intergenerational and multigenerational buildings and neighborhoods. Also, considering that 96 percent of residences have staffing challenges, we are confident that senior living design can help organizations address some of these issues, as well. Whether it’s efficient layouts and workspaces, or access to rejuvenating respite areas, it’s important to take care of the caregivers.