Artful Architecture For Aging

Architects are like artists,” says Rebecca Dillon, principal at Gawron Turgeon Architects. “We must use our imagination and skill to develop inviting compositions.” With a focus on designing buildings for senior living, Dillon discusses the importance of artistic thinking while still meeting a project’s necessary parameters. MH+D asks Dillon to tell us more.

Q. How is architecture like art?
A. Most architects tend to establish a niche in the types of buildings that they design, balancing their technical and building programming expertise with meaningful creativity, but the diversity of our audience and the designs that we deliver will always vary. Just as art is scrutinized, people will often view an architect’s work and immediately have a response. They’ll think, “That building looks nice,” or “That color is interesting,” or “That material is innovative.” These responses are what architects work hard to inspire while we develop a building based on its intended use, its environment, and its site context, while incorporating sustainable features and considering whether it will be marketable within its industry and how it will accommodate the clients’ needs, wants, and budget.

Q. How do you bring artful architecture to senior living?
A. With a specialty in designing for seniors at all their different levels of care, I must work within many parameters. My creative license needs to balance with many different regulations, appropriate construction details, and ever-adapting industry trends. Architects must constantly be on the forefront of any changes within these more technical parameters that can feel contrary to the creative process. As constraining as that may sound, therein lies the greatest challenge of being an architect. It’s a challenge that I love.

OceanView at Falmouth is a great example of a project that I have delved into over the past 20 years. This project has necessitated innovation within a dynamic industry that is constantly changing due to shifts in areas such as health care, sustainability, technology, and wellness. Through the years, I have worked with the owner and staff at OceanView to respond to these changes in trends, adapting their existing buildings and designing their new buildings accordingly. This gratifies the challenge of unifying diversity within a single site. All of my designs must maintain a cohesive architectural style that is consistent with the OceanView vernacular and attractive to the current and future residents as well as the community.

Q. How have buildings designed for senior living changed over the years?
A. An interesting and very dramatic shift that has happened over the past several years, which has affected how we design buildings for seniors, is the arrival of the baby boom generation. They have higher-level expectations of care and amenities than previous generations, who lived much more frugally. This has necessitated more design creativity, developing a greater vision of how to “paint the canvas” to accommodate the needs and desires of a group of people with such vitality. It’s exciting.

This aspect of architecture, of dissecting the minutia, is what makes my job invigorating. The collaborative and comprehensive nature of how we approach diversity within our designs is very fulfilling. In the case of senior living, success is when the staff are able to maximize their day-today efficiency and their ability to provide excellent quality care of the residents, while the seniors who reside there have a sense of security, independence, and safety that may have been lacking before they moved in. When I complete a project and I see that I have given a client an environment that is comfortable and visually appealing, it is a great feeling.