In my dream vision I would build an entirely new facility based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s economical usonian architecture. May this someday be so, and good for another blog discussion down the road. In the meantime, I suspect a realistic approach would be to convert existing skilled nursing facilities (SNF) or to convert just about any large inner city building that has the needed elements and has an undeveloped area that can be worked into the garden.
“Keep listening to what the space wants and do it. Don’t keep whittling it away or else nobody is happy.”
– Don Houston
Conversion Example #1: A converted SNF might be developed from an existing large (100+ occupancy) for-profit facility that gets sold to the NNN Non-profit. In this instance, some of the building would be vacated and converted into the children’s nursery school. More common areas would be part of the remodeling. Since the staff would be reduced and therefore the parking needs reduced, some of the parking lot would be torn-up and re-landscaped for the garden.
Conversion Example #2: Another option would be to re-purpose an existing building that could adequately serve the needs of the intergenerational commnity. Infill projects are a way of recycling a well-built building and saving on planetary resources. A multi-floor building is an intriguing consideration, where the administration offices and nursery school could be on the upper floor(s) and the elders and nursing care on the ground floor.
A space that goes up several floors could also allow for some other very creative and potentially income-bearing uses: office spaces could be rented out to other community and non-profit organizations, making the care community even more engaged as a hub of activity. Loft-style space could be offered to artists (and gardeners/horticultural therapists) who in turn work with the elders and children for their rent. Again, if the facility was big enough or had the kitchen and dining space to support it, low-cost dining programs could be offered to the general public or at least for the children and live-in resident artists and employees.
In an interview with architect Don Houston (where we discussed the Pattern Language approach to architecture and systems), he offered some cautions with the infill approach. He encouraged thinking of these building as “permeable membranes”. “Don’t let the structure stop you – you can do anything you want to do. In Pattern Language you always leave some of the old to give complexity, richness.” He also encouraged to “keep listening to what the space wants and do it. Don’t keep whittling it away or else nobody is happy.” And – “It may cost more.”