In Memoriam: Sarelle Weisberg, FAIA

Many friends were startled to learn that Sarelle Weisberg, FAIA, passed away on 03.29.14. Her levels of energy and enthusiasm, and her very positive outlook on life and its possibilities, were legendary to all who knew her.

I met her in 1960, when we both entered architecture school at Columbia, in the evening program (which no longer exists). Sarelle was taking care of her family, husband Daniel and sons Andrew and Joel, of elementary school age. But that was not enough of a challenge for her.

She became a very stimulating classmate, encouraging others as well as persevering enthusiastically and thoughtfully in her own design work. She produced some excellent projects, and won a William Kinne Fellowship in 1965. Sarelle graduated in 1966 with a B.Arch. degree, which was later converted to an M.Arch. degree when Columbia reorganized its curriculum. Continue reading “In Memoriam: Sarelle Weisberg, FAIA”

Designing for a Lifetime

Includes contributions from the following members of the AIANY Design for Aging Committee: Eric Cohen, AIA; Susan Wright, AIA; Gail Ressler; Meenakshi Varandani, AIA; Rich Rosen, AIA; and Lisa Morgenroth, Assoc. AIA

On Saturday, 05.18.13, a day-long charrette, BOOMING BOROUGHS: Redesigning Aging-in-Place in NYC, was held at the Center for Architecture, conducted by the AIANY Design for Aging Committee. Five design teams worked intensively to develop innovative ways to modify the existing housing stock of NYC to better accommodate the needs of seniors, and, by extension, better serve all population groups. One month later, the presentations on 06.20.13 focused on the five teams’ most important proposals. Continue reading “Designing for a Lifetime”

NEW Visions of AGING

Aging is not a mysterious process. We have been familiar with it for thousands of years, yet we tend to avoid thinking about how we can accommodate to it. This frequently, and unfortunately, results in people living the last several years of their lives in situations and places in which they do not want to be, such as nursing homes.

Matthias Hollwich, co-principal of Hollwich Kushner (HWKN), wants to stimulate a revolution in attitudes toward aging: start young and be prepared; declare yourself old at 40 and think through your wants and needs as you contemplate your future; increase your awareness of how architecture and the design of the total physical environment have a significant effect on your ability to remain independent; realize that many of our homes tend to trap us, preventing independence rather than enabling it. And many of our difficulties are due to social deficits, which can be prevented. People are encouraged to talk to bankers about financial preparedness, but they do not think about talking to architects about environmental preparedness. Continue reading “NEW Visions of AGING”

The Multiplier Effect of Good Design

David Baker enjoys rising to the challenge of revitalizing tough and gritty neighborhoods in decline. Many of his projects seize upon the potential in such situations, often serving as catalysts for further development and refurbishing of neighboring buildings. New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman has characterized this as the multiplier effect of good design, which incidentally contributes to rising real estate prices in the area. Continue reading “The Multiplier Effect of Good Design”

New Approaches to Housing Advance Care for Seniors

Event: Evolving Models for Senior Housing and Care in New York City
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.19.12
Speaker: Judy Edelman, FAIA, & Andrew Knox, AIA — Principals, Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects; Peter Samton, FAIA, & Susan Wright, AIA, LEED AP — Principals, Gruzen Samton – IBI Group; David Weinstein — Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer, The Hebrew Home At Riverdale
Moderator: Christine Hunter, AIA, LEED AP — Principal, Magnusson Architecture and Planning
Organizers: AIANY Design for Aging Committee


The Reingold Pavilion at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale.

Gruzen Samton – IBI Group

Living in NYC has its health benefits. At 80.6 years, life-expectancy is now higher here than in the rest of the country. And, according to statistics, the city’s senior population will significantly increase over the next two decades. Approaches to designing facilities for senior living have evolved over the last 50 years. The major goal now is to prolong the length of time that seniors are able to remain independent, which is what most seniors want, and to which many design details can contribute. To illustrate this, Judy Edelman, FAIA, and Andrew Knox, AIA, of Edelman Sultan Knox Wood / Architects, presented their work on several HUD-202-financed, mid-rise, affordable residential buildings. Susan Wright, AIA, LEED AP, and Peter Samton, FAIA, principals at Gruzen Samton – IBI Group, spoke about their work on the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale with COO David Weinstein.

In HUD-202 buildings, many seniors live alone in their own apartments. As they age, they may require increased levels of assistance and more companionship. Edelman and Knox emphasized the need for having social and medical services available within their buildings, along with the added benefits of mixed uses, including retail space, cafés, and services for other age-groups such as day care centers. To draw people out of their apartments, lobbies are designed as social “hang-outs” for seniors, adequately sized, with comfortable seating, daylighting, sufficient artificial light for reading, bright colors, interesting floor materials, and plants.

Security guards can be social lubricants if their stations are designed in convenient locations so seniors can engage them in lively conversation, according to Edelman and Knox. If constraints limit the size of the lobby, other gathering spaces should be provided within the building. Roofs may be used as recreational spaces. Color can aid wayfinding. Patterns in corridors can indicate directions and minimize the perception of distance. Edelman and Knox have found the most preferable windows are the swing-out awning type. They are easier for seniors to operate than double-hung or sliders, and they allow good views looking toward the street — “where the action is!”

The Hebrew Home for the Aged is a large facility housing 1,000 residents, 15% of whom live independently and 85% who require some level of assistance. The home is located on a 16-acre campus organized into 21 “neighborhoods” with varying levels of care. The major reason residents choose to live at the Hebrew Home is that the range of care permits residents to move easily from one part of the facility to another as their needs change. A multiplicity of activities attracts residents to the more public spaces.

When the Hebrew Home purchased the facility from an orphanage in 1948 it consisted of several discrete buildings. Over the years, as Gruzen Samton designed additional buildings beginning in 1964, the facility has become interconnected via a central, ground-level interior concourse and corridors on other floors. Wright, Samton, and Weinstein emphasized that their goal is to promote an intimate, small-scale, home-like atmosphere that encourages the greatest amount of independence possible for each resident. The newest building, the Reingold Pavilion, provides more private space per resident than previous buildings. It consists solely of single private bedrooms with full baths and showers. These are grouped into 10-room clusters, each located around a central gathering/recreational space. Small dining spaces accommodate two clusters, and waiters serve the residents as in a restaurant. Earlier buildings had double bedrooms and much larger dining spaces, presenting a more institutional ambience; they are being redesigned.

These are two different types of facilities designed to accommodate the special needs of seniors, yet there are similarities in their overall approach and in many of their details.

How Local Initiatives Are Achieving an Age-Friendly NYC

Event: NYC Council Priorities for an Age-Friendly NYC
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.18.11
Speaker: Jessica Lappin — Chair, NYC Council Committee on Aging
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee


Safe Streets for Seniors

NYC Department of Transportation

“How do we want to be judged as a society?” asked Council Member Jessica Lappin, chair of the NYC Council Committee on Aging. Part of the answer, she said, is how we help those in need — specifically, how we help seniors maintain active and independent lives. Lappin has been involved in a number of initiatives that not only help the aging population, but also positively contribute to the physical environment in ways that benefit children, women with baby carriages, and people with physical disabilities, among others.

To fulfill the needs of a majority of seniors, a recent competition was held by the Department for the Aging in conjunction with the NYC Council and the Council of Senior Centers & Services to develop the city’s first “Innovative Senior Centers.” The goal is to provide communities in all five boroughs with 50 senior centers that offer comprehensive arrays of expanded services for a broad range of seniors. The first eight contracts have been announced, and the centers are expected to open in January.

Another architectural competition that Lappin is co-sponsoring, “Reimagining the Waterfront: Manhattan’s East River Esplanade, 60th-125th Streets,” aims to generate ideas and concepts that will enhance the pedestrian experience on the East Side for all age groups. The competition is part of a larger effort to create a continuous bike/running/walking path around the edge of Manhattan.

In addition to launching design competitions, Lappin has been involved in other initiatives to help the aging population, as well. The Complete Streets Initiative, specifically the TrafficStat bill requiring the Police Department to publicize data on accidents that occur at dangerous intersections, went into effect this month. With the NYC Department of Buildings and AARP, she is working toward implementing universal design principles into new construction processes.

The efforts of AIANY and the Design for Aging Committee have not gone unnoticed, Lappin said. The committee’s “Top 10 Ways Architects Can Become Age-Friendly” and “Urban Design and Architectural Guidelines for an Age-Friendly New York City” documents have been helpful in her efforts. Hopefully the architecture community can continue to work with the city to develop a more age-friendly NYC.

Aging Professionals Avoid "It Won't Happen to Us" Syndrome

Event: Aging-In-Place…(Aren’t We All?)
Location: Center for Architecture, 06.28.11
Speakers: Eric Cohen, AIA, NCIDQ — Senior Associate Principal, Ethelind Coblin Architect & Faculty, New York School of Interior Design; Rosemary Bakker, MA, ASID — Research Associate in Gerontologic Design in Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University
Moderator: Ellen Fisher, PhD, ASID — Interim Dean, New York School of Interior Design
Introduction: Elizabeth Murray — Interior Designer & Aging-in-Place Consultant
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee

Our aging population is increasing and will continue to become a higher proportion of our total population as more Baby Boomers reach senior status in the next two decades. It is said that every eight seconds an American turns 65. Thus, we need to plan to accommodate a large number of people with a range of limited physical capabilities so they can continue to lead productive, independent lives. Panelists emphasized that we must become more realistic, overcome the “it won’t happen to us” syndrome, and engage in planning for our own futures, as well as those of our clients.

Designing to make our environments more age-friendly is beneficial not only for seniors, but for people of all ages, including mothers with young children and individuals with a variety of physical disabilities. There are numerous ongoing efforts in the U.S. and in other countries to increase awareness of the needs of seniors, many of which are focused on incorporating amenities into living arrangements that allow seniors to remain in their own homes or neighborhoods, rather than relocating them to assisted living facilities or nursing homes. This makes economic sense for our society and fulfills the preferences of most seniors to stay in their familiar communities.

The aim is a combination of independence and interdependence, and is especially workable in an urban environment where many services are available in reasonable proximity to homes. Eric Cohen, AIA, NCIDQ, senior associate principal at Ethelind Coblin Architect, and Rosemary Bakker, MA, ASID, research associate in gerontologic design in medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, presented several examples:

· Family-type Small Homes, permitted by recent legislation in NY State, where up to four unrelated individuals can live together, each in his/her own bedroom, with shared common spaces. A live-in caregiver, who may be of a similar age as the residents, provides necessary assistance. This mode of living promotes friendship among strangers, and eliminates feelings of isolation that often affect seniors.

· The “Greenhouse” Model, , a larger group home to accommodate about 10 residents plus staff.

· A 21st century version of the Granny Flat,, designed specifically for seniors, in close proximity to living quarters of others who can provide assistance when needed. Permission to allow this may require changes in local zoning regulations.

· Co-Housing, where a group of friends or strangers with a shared mission, often including several generations, design a living community consisting of private and shared spaces for themselves. Each individual performs services that result in the operation of a co-operative community. This approach can be applied to the renovation of an existing urban building or to totally new construction.

Existing apartments and houses can be made more convenient for everyone through the use of a number of strategies: color and appropriately-sized fonts and icons to highlight the controls of household appliances; textures to appeal to the sense of touch (certain textiles can incorporate bio-monitors to track residents’ vital signs and send data to their physicians); lighting from multiple sources to avoid glare, prevent falls, and emphasize grab bars and kitchen and bathroom facilities; daylighting and light-transmitting surfaces to foster a sense of orientation; patterns that are not confusing, especially on floors/carpets; magnetic cooking systems that heat only the food in the pan, not the pan itself or the stove; non-slippery surfaces in bathrooms and kitchens; roll-in showers without curbs; and lever faucets.

AARP and other organizations are currently conducting research to determine the effectiveness of some of these innovative solutions being developed and applied. A “Compendium of Community Aging Initiatives” was published in March 2010 by the Center for the Advanced Study of Aging Services at the School of Social Welfare, University of California at Berkeley.

Age-Friendly Commission Improves Life for Seniors

Event: Towards an Age-Friendly New York City: An Overview
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.05.11
Speaker: Ruth Finkelstein, ScD — Director, The New York City Age-Friendly Initiative & Vice-President for Health Policy, The New York Academy of Medicine
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee

Toward an Age-friendly New York City A Findings Report.

Courtesy of The New York Academy of Medicine

The Age-Friendly NYC Commission is comprised of members of the NYC Council, representatives from the Mayor’s Office, and leaders of various NYC public- and private-sector organizations. It aims to bring together policy-makers, nonprofit partners, and the private sector to identify resources and create programs and policy change to help seniors live vibrant, fulfilling lives in the city. Ruth Finkelstein and The NY Academy of Medicine are charged with directing this NYC Age-Friendly Initiative.

The focus of the commission is on maintaining independence and preventing disability for older adults through urban planning and environmental means, as well as providing needed services. Qualities of the physical environment have a significant influence on enabling people to negotiate their surroundings. An environment with few architectural barriers, numerous places to sit, and conveniently located restrooms increases the range of functions for individuals and lowers the disability threshold. It enables people of all ages and abilities, not only the elderly, to function with greater ease.

The commission has, to date, established three Age-Friendly Districts in the city: East Harlem, the Upper West Side, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Staff members work with local groups and commercial enterprises to raise awareness about seniors. The initiative encourages specific practices: local stores provide seating areas, allow use of their restrooms, and utilize large-font signage; local institutions such as libraries and museums develop programs for seniors; local pools establish special hours for seniors; gyms organize exercise classes; Apple offers technology classes; food markets sponsor cooking classes; hospitals hold lectures about healthful eating. Existing resources are used in new ways. School buses in their idle hours drive older adults to shopping areas. Vouchers are provided for taxis. Stoplights are rescheduled to increase crossing times at intersections. Capital investments made with aging in mind include the design of new taxis and bus shelters. In the restrained economy that we are currently experiencing, a multiplicity of “little” improvements that are low-cost or no cost, but that result in an “age-in-everything” planning approach, have a significant cumulative effect on the surrounding environment — and people of all ages benefit.

Additional Age-Friendly Districts are planned. To learn more details about the commission, and perhaps begin to organize a district in your community, visit the Age-Friendly NYC website, or e-mail At present, more than 900,000 people over the age of 65 live in the city. By 2030, that number is projected to exceed 1.35 million. Hopefully, the commission will help to make lives for seniors as pleasant, productive, and safe as possible.

Aging in Place(s) — Innovative Designs for Senior Living

Event: Aging in Place(s) — Innovative Designs for Senior Living
Location: Center for Architecture, 01.13.11
Speakers: Robyne Kassen, Assoc. AIA — Principal, Urban Movement Design; Richard Rosen, AIA — Principal, Perkins Eastman Architects
Organizer: AIANY Design for Aging Committee

“New York City is an attractive location where seniors can age in place,” said Richard Rosen, AIA, principal at Perkins Eastman Architects, at the beginning of his presentation of numerous recently-designed senior living communities in both urban and suburban locations throughout the world. All of the projects were designed by architecture firms based in the U.S. Despite the range of facilities, from high-rise to low-rise and large to small, all were designed with the same basic principles in mind — the availability of a wide range of services in close proximity to living quarters, either within the buildings or in the surrounding community. These are the same characteristics that make NYC an age-friendly city.

Most of the communities discussed provided all services and amenities within the complexes, but the urban examples also reached out into the neighborhood. Intergenerational mingling could happen in public, ground level facilities, including cafés, physical fitness centers, health clubs, libraries, retail shops, and common spaces. Some of the buildings seemed to feel more like a hotel than a facility catering to seniors.

Internally, the living units mostly consisted of small “neighborhoods” organized around local communal spaces to encourage residents to participate in an active community while minimizing travel distances. Many of the facilities included areas that encompass a total range of care, from independent and assisted living to skilled nursing requirements. Units were designed compactly, but with consideration for aging in place and the easy maneuvering of wheelchairs. Interestingly, all were designed in a Modern style, which seems to be the preference of an aging Baby Boom Generation. A concern for sustainability was also very evident and an integral element in each design.

A major theme underlying the operation of all these communities is to encourage healthful, active living. A variety of indoor and outdoor spaces are required to accommodate many activities. Landscaping, from small terraces and therapy gardens to large lawns, was often integrated into designs, with many rooms having direct access to outdoor spaces. Groupings of living units function like a miniature city, sometimes with a “main street” of common activities, allowing seniors to continue their lives in a minimally intrusive yet supportive and dignified manner.