The Continuing Care Retirement Community and Creating the Future

Architecture has long been associated with permanence. In many respects we bear an unwritten obligation to design buildings that endure.  We carry this mission forward even as the world around us is evolving at an unprecedented speed; when products and technologies are being “disrupted” and made obsolete more quickly than ever before as newer, faster, and more elegant solutions take hold.

The current speed of change now means that the advantage of innovation can only be guaranteed in terms of months, not years. As you sit reading this article, the world will never again be this slow. The pace of change will only get faster.

Yet in this world of “expedited obsolescence,” we often aren’t forced to think of our buildings in these terms.  We rarely have a client ask, “Is this building going to be obsolete in ten or fifteen years?” Yet the risk of that being the case is higher than ever before.

A Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) may be the last building type that comes to mind in the context of this discussion.  With the average age for entry into a CCRC being between 80 and 83, one could easily think this building type as having a stodgy persona, one that need not concern itself with trends or advancements in technology. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

For example, our CCRC clients keep a close watch on the roughly 75 million strong members of the “Baby Boomer” generation, born roughly between the years of 1946 and 1964 and currently between the ages of 53 and 71.  One obvious reason for the interest is that this generation is nearing the age of possibly needing a CCRC; more importantly, our clients know that twenty years of societal, cultural and technological evolution separate the age of the first member of that generation to the last, and that the needs and wants on both ends of the spectrum will be radically different.

Though this generational diversity impacts all buildings, it is rare for a client to think in these terms, but our CCRC clients certainly do.  They are constantly looking ahead to see how best to maintain relevance and market share for as long as possible. We should encourage ourselves and all of our clients to think in these terms as well.  It has often been said that “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” The simple fact is that there has never been a more important time, or a more challenging time, to become and stay relevant, and to create buildings that will serve our clients well long into the future.

Pausing a moment to examine what can evolve and change in twenty short years is instructive:

    • 1997- DVD’s became widely available, but are now largely defunct with the advent of streaming media.
    • 1998- The first portable MP3 player was released, but the widespread use of the smartphone for music storage has greatly reduced the need for these.
    • 1999- The Blackberry 850 was introduced, one of the first Blackberry devices to integrate email and considered a quantum leap in handheld phones. Now Blackberry struggles to remain relevant in a world dominated by smartphones.
    • Late 1990’s- Plasma flat panel televisions were introduced, obsoleting the CRT television; plasma technology later suffered a similar fate with the advent of LED and later even LCD technology.
    • 2007- And finally the iPhone, a device now so intertwined with our daily lives that not having it is nearly unimaginable, was first introduced only ten short years ago.

It is staggering to think about not only advancements, but the speed in which they are surpassed, and that curve continues to steepen. If the rate of “disruption,” can rapidly create an entire new way of thinking about things like transportation (Uber), our social interaction (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram), and the automotive industry (Tesla), and in so doing make existing products and thinking obsolete, should we not be concerned that our buildings can suffer a similar, swift “disruption?”

Pushing ourselves to stay in front, peer into the future, ask ourselves what the office of tomorrow, or the CCRC of tomorrow, or the hospital of tomorrow will look like is an investment in R&D we should all be making.  Spotting trends in advance of their implementation is now more than ever a part of our job.  Our clients depend upon us to look forward and understand how trend curves are changing.  We may not always think of our role in these terms, but we should.

In 1991 Joel Garreau published “Edge City: Life on the New Frontier,”  In which he talks about “dematerializing technologies” and the real impacts they would have; knowing that throughout history our buildings and cities have been dramatically shaped by the state of the art technology and transportation of the time. He writes, “The implications of these dematerializing technologies are staggering. Their very purpose is to make distance irrelevant. When you start thinking of the potential of these technologies, you begin to wonder why we build any kind of cities at all.” Much of the speculative, forward looking technology Garreau spoke of in his book over twenty-five years ago we now find upon us; we stand at the widespread use of the “dematerializing” qualities of virtual reality, or the self-driving car that dematerializes the need for a driver, or even the occupant.  Online shopping threatening to dematerilize traditional brick and mortar stores, and the widespread use of drones with implications for dematerializing pilots, delivery trucks, etc. is still being explored. Our habits are quickly changing and are going to shape our buildings and environments at an unprecedented rate.

Our job is to figure out how, and what that will look like.

Our CCRC clients are well-aware that twenty years of technological evolution and change separate the first Baby Boomer entering their facility from the last.

Trying to anticipate how that will shape their buildings is a question they are constantly asking; we should constantly be pushing ourselves and our clients in every market sector to be asking that same question.

About Bob

A highly skilled designer and project manager, Bob Pressley brings over 20 years of experience in projects for residential, higher education, and commercial clients. Since joining LS3P’s Wilmington office in 2015, Bob has quickly become an integral team member and project manager with a true collaborative spirit.

Bob earned a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Washington and a Bachelor of Architecture from the University North Carolina at Charlotte. His portfolio includes several LEED Gold buildings as well as award-winning designs and multiple publications. He is well-versed at every stage of the design process from site selection to occupancy, including visioning, design, detailing, planning, permitting, and construction administration. Among his many strengths are strong presentation, project management and design skills and an in-depth technical knowledge of building systems.