Home at Any Age
AIA DESIGN THEORY-JAN/FEB 2012
Edited by Rebecca Falazno
Photography Trent Bell
Evan Carroll and Sasha Salzberg have just started their own firm. Their mission?
To design housing that meets social needs.
As a 29-year-old architect still early in his career, Evan Carroll is not your typical nursing home resident. Yet for nine days in September, he lived at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough. Carroll was studying firsthand the needs of nursing home residents to inform his future design work in the housing market. Carroll recently started his own firm with his wife and business partner, Sasha Salzberg. The two created Bild Architecture to design housing for baby boomers, empty nesters, and adults with specific care needs. The firm’s projects will include nursing homes, group homes, public and private multigenerational housing, cohousing projects, and home renovations. “All of these projects will be geared toward aging in place, having autonomy, having social support, and most importantly, having access to care as it is needed,” explains Carroll. MH+D asked him to tell us more.
Q: What was the catalyst for this design focus?
A: This past March is when I left my job of five years at Port City Architecture. I had spent the previous year getting licensed. Instead of looking for other jobs I decided to take some time off. After about a week of “free time,” I was ready for a project. My wife and I had already been talking about the aging of Maine for a while. We had our own experiences to start with. My grandparents are still successfully living in their home, but the situation is likely to get more complicated. Sasha’s family recently moved her grandmother up to Maine from Maryland. That process was difficult and emotional for everyone involved. I began to learn about the demographics of Maine using data gathered by faculty at the Muskie School, and it became very clear that we could build an architecture firm around the associated issues. Making a living comes a lot easier when it’s something you really care about. In June 2011 we attended the Maine Geriatrics Conference and met Marilyn Gugliucci of the University of New England. Working with her, we arranged for me to live in the nursing home for nine days, and things have just been a whirlwind since then.
Q: What interests you about the social aspects of housing design?
A: My satisfaction comes not only from addressing aesthetic design but also from approaching architecture within the larger social context. I want to be aware of how a person’s sociability will impact their experience of a space. I want to consider how easily people will have access to their communities from the limits of my designs. My personal success in architectural design is measured not just aesthetically but also socially.
As far back as I can remember I always thought of housing as the ultimate architectural problem to solve. The challenge was, how can people live in close proximity to each other and do so happily? I am not entirely certain of where this view came from; there must have been some impressionable moment as a kid when I learned that the world population was growing. I remember learning from my parents that the Maine Mall had not always existed, and learning from my grandparents that Main Street in Cumberland used to be turkey farms. I was awestruck and somehow fearful of humanity’s ability to grow!
Q: What are some of your strongest architectural influences?
A: My earliest architectural influences were two: Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 and a book called City by David Macaulay. I experienced Habitat 67 in 3-D on View-Master slides from my mother’s trip to the 1967 expo. I was drawn to the organic nature by which these buildings seemed to be formed and by the way that each of the living units was so clearly distinguishable. I did not yet know of the challenges posed by accommodating parking and pedestrian circulation to this mountain of units. The book City is about the construction of a Roman outpost city and touches upon everything from water supply to road building and from family shop-houses to the great Roman amphitheaters. I loved understanding both the complexity of the systems and the simplicity of the logic. It never occurred to me to question how these cities were funded or to wonder why one would build an entire city from the ground up.
In architecture school (at Roger Williams University) I learned to ask these more difficult questions and how to imagine creative solutions. Two of the projects that have always stuck with me from that time are the Unite d’Habitation by Le Corbusier and Seaside, Florida, by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. They both have something very important in common: the success of the original ideas and the frequent failure of imitations. The projects use completely different materials, entirely different planning rationales, and could not be more un-alike in style, but they are both trying to solve that basic question: How can people live in close proximity to each other and do so happily?
Q: What are you working on currently?
A: My most recently completed project is the River Ranch Approach [see drawing, this page]. The client’s social goal was to allow wheeled family members to arrive gracefully and to be able to age in place, maintaining continuity in their home and neighborhood. The aesthetic goal was to replace a rough lumber wheelchair ramp with something more fitting to the existing house. The result was a landscaping and stonework intervention that yielded a new front deck, a welcoming approach and the complete disappearance of anything resembling a ramp.
Q: So have you solved the question of how people can happily coexist in close proximity to each other?
A: The answer is not simple. Finding ways to live close to each other happily has as much to do with the culture that surrounds our architecture as with the physical buildings themselves. As for my own answer, I hope to work on projects with clients who are interested in de-segregating our generations. There is evidence to show that both young children and isolated elderly have much to gain from each other, and it is my hope to design projects that facilitate such connections. My professional dream is to make a living by designing architecture that helps to build social capital. In time, with determination, I think that Bild will get there.