In 2019, Millennials vaulted past Baby Boomers as the largest living generation. That year there were 72.1 million Americans between the ages of 23 and 38, and 71.6 million Americans between the ages of 55 and 73, according to Pew, and this trend will only continue. While their ranks are diminishing, Boomers may enjoy a trend that seems to be going in their favor: Senior communities are also booming and available in a range of options along a spectrum of care, from assisted living to independent living. As Senior Housing News recently reported, even “independent living” is becoming passé in favor of “active living” taglines.
In other words, there’s a lot of demand in the senior living space and architecture firms are working to create supply. Overture in Virginia Beach, a Greystar property designed by Richmond-based Poole & Poole Architecture was the 2018 Best of 55+ Housing Awards Community of the Year Winner, awarded by the National Association of Home Builders. The 203,812 square-foot project includes 172 residences and about 18,000 square-feet of amenities like a salon, game rooms, and yoga studios — more than twice the average for communities of this size. It sits at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where Shore Drive meets the Lesner Bridge on Cape Henry, between an inland estuary and First Landing State Park, where Christopher Newport landed in 1607 and Blackbeard is said to have hidden for a time.
The design of Overture suggests a coastal architecture that would be at home at any port of call along the eastern shores of the United States. But, the design team’s subtle nods to local 19th-century rescue stations and early 20th-century boardwalk culture makes it feel like part of the region. Nea May Poole, AIA, co-founder and principal of Poole & Poole, reports that context and understanding the residents, themselves, was critical to delivering something that made sense for the area.
“Place and context was a huge driving force for us and our apartment communities, first and foremost, have to be good neighbors. We are genuinely interested in building communities that people want to live in,” she says.
Poole and her team took full advantage of the beachside site, creating vistas for residents on the north side of the building and locating many of the amenities and services on the southside to buffer road noise from the adjacent bridge approach. Inside, units have ample storage (since the downsizing exercise most new residents go through prior to moving in is never quite as thorough as they hope). As active as the 55+ residents are at Overture, part of designing a community like this is making accessibility and mobility top priorities. Strategically placed nooks at the tops of stairs and at the ends of long hallways give residents a chance to pause and catch their breath if needed. But, they also serve as gathering places for book clubs or impromptu chats away from the main circulation paths, which have offered unexpected benefits for social distancing. In a larger sense, COVID has altered the algebra for senior communities in Virginia, including Overture. New safety protocols have curbed activities in the past year, some of which are starting to come back for residents. Others will have to wait until the post-vaccination immunities can take hold and health screenings can be normalized.
In spite of the COVID-related slowdown in certain sectors of the construction industry, senior communities remain strong, even if industry analysts see a dip on the horizon. Poole & Poole have completed three age-targeted communities with Graystar, one in Fairfax County, one at Short Pump outside of Richmond, and Overture in Virginia Beach. In each case, says Nea Poole, finishing the project is about the final punch-list as much as it is about ensuring residents can enjoy the third age of their lives. “When we went to the grand opening of Overture, I had the best time talking with the residents and they were so proud of their homes and how they’d made them their own,” she says. “That was so gratifying and, for me, that is the best kind of success as an architect.”
About the Author
William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.