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As we learned last week, the Tax Act of 1986 and subsequent savings and loan crisis created difficult times for architecture firms and doubly so for ones dependent on housing like ours. However, consistent with the firm’s personality highlighted over the last thirty weeks, we would again find a way to win a new project type and grow a market. While designing labs for early stage biotechs like Genzyme, Biogen, Enzytech, and Biosurface Technology kept a much smaller firm busy, an unusual opportunity presented itself.BACKGROUNDORCHARD COVE, CANTON, MA 1993

The Hebrew Rehabilitation Centre for Aged (HRCA) founded in 1903 and located in Roslindale, Massachusetts carried a national reputation as one of the foremost not-for-profit providers of nursing care and housing for Jewish seniors who were unable to fully pay for these services. In 1988 HRCA, guided by President Murray May and its board, decided that it was time to consider planning for a new upscale life-care community for the generous donors among the Jewish senior population. The target population they believed would be wealthy, healthy couples in their seventies who lived their lives by planning for all eventualities. For example, should sickness afflict one member of a couple, the new community would be able to provide for them in an adjacent but separate skilled nursing facility (SNF). If this concept was successful, HRCA believed that this new community could generate positive cash flow that could be used to subsidize the Roslindale facility and maintain the high quality care it provided for its less well off seniors.

Life care communities (soon to be known as CCRC’s, or Continuing Care Retirement Communities) were becoming popular in the 1980s and 1990s in other parts of the country, specifically Pennsylvania and Florida. They were often sponsored by faith-based organizations but Massachusetts was late getting in the game. Only a few had been completed at that time, including Carleton Willard in Bedford, MA and North Hill in Needham, MA.

HRCA was looking for a large parcel of land at a reasonable price as close to downtown Boston as possible. While that proved to be a challenge, they did find a 38 acre parcel overlooking three small ponds in Canton, south of Boston. Murray May designated Terry Lewis, his executive vice-president, as project manager to oversee all aspects of the project, from selection of the site to selection of the architect and consultant team.THE PURSUITThe logical resource for forming a consultant team with life care community experience was AAHSA, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Murray May, the president of HRCA, was also AAHSA’s president at the time and suggested Terry seek consultants there. Terry Lewis first selected two consultants to help him find the best architect for the project. Martin Cohen, FAIA was an experienced architect whose focus was healthcare. He was recently semi-retired and served as an advisor to the owners. The second consultant was Dr. Lorraine Hiatt, a PhD environmental psychologist, who often assisted owners by working with the design team to sensitize them to the issues of the aging process of seniors.

The Request for Proposals for HRCA’s new life care community in Canton was written by Marty Cohen. It was sent to a national pool of 14 architects, half of which had only housing experience and half were more focused on skilled nursing experience (including life care experience). Huygens DiMella Shaffer had very strong housing experience but no skilled nursing experience.

With an understanding of the RFP, Peter Shaffer’s strategy was to team with a well-connected, experienced skilled nursing facility architect whose location was as far from Boston as possible in order to emphasize our local housing experience in a joint proposal. We selected KKE from Minneapolis whose young partner, David Frank, had a close working relationship with Lorraine Hiatt and also knew Marty Cohen. The proposed partnership proved to be the right combination because our team was selected. We learned a lot from Lorraine and David as it related to the needs of seniors in health care environments. Unfortunately David Frank would become ill and pass away during the early planning stages of the project leaving Huygens DiMella Shaffer to carry on with Dr. Hiatt.THE DESIGN APPROACHIt was this combined knowledge base that helped us develop fresh thinking for the design of HRCA’s first Continuing Care Retirement Community. Many of the completed CCRC projects had been designed by firms with a healthcare background, were rigidly organized and had an institutional character. After the loss of David Frank and KKE’s subsequent withdrawal from the team, the principal designers of the project were residential architects first and healthcare architects second. This would influence the outcome of this project and all that followed.

Orchard Cove, as the project became known, was sited on a beautiful 38 acre parcel of land of which only 9 acres were not considered wetlands or within wetland setbacks. The logical organization of the structure was a north-south organization, taking advantage of views toward the ponds to the west and toward a brook and beautiful forest to the east.

Site Model.

Terry Cracknell’s rendering of the entrance.

The 227 independent living apartments were organized in two, four-story U-shaped residential buildings, which stepped down to the west with its view to the ponds. The building to the north was sitting on an old apple orchard and it became known as The Orchard Residence. And the building to the south sat at the edge of a pond and was logically referred to as The Cove Residence. The central building was The Commons as it housed all of the shared “common” functions for the entire community and connected the two residential buildings along a first floor promenade with its singular focus being to the west and the ponds beyond. The beautifully rendered floor plan below was produced by Gail Haywood, a young architect who in her spare time was also an artist/painter. First Floor plan showing connecting Promenade

First Floor plan showing connecting Promenade.

Among the program elements in The Commons were four dining venues (having one was typical for projects of the time), a fitness center, library, and many specialty rooms, all designed to be open extensions of the interior circulation system, providing welcoming and casual choices for activities. Our initial research of the few existing CCRCs showed it was common to create separate “rooms” identified with signage designating the activity to be found within. This was the outgrowth of the institutional mentality that many of these earlier designers operated from. The free flow of the Orchard Cove common areas became an approach we followed for all the senior living projects that followed. The Deli 1993, now part of an expanded Library (See updated plan below)

The Deli 1993, now part of an expanded Library (See updated plan below).

Unique to its time, the 45 bed skilled nursing facility (SNF) and the 20 unit assisted living facility (ALF) were located on the third and second floors of The Commons respectfully, so that they were fully integrated into the body of the community yet discretely located away from the independent living components. Skilled nursing station showing corridor finishes that mimic the residential ones. 1993

Skilled nursing station showing corridor finishes that mimic the residential ones. 1993.

Most CCRC communities completed prior to Orchard Cove typically provided a separate building SNF so as not the “scare” the healthy, independent living people from choosing the community. No one wants to be reminded too readily that they could become infirmed. I believe our alternate approach of discrete integration was a major advancement in the design thinking of senior communities. 1993


THE EXTERIOR DESIGNThe stepping down of the roof lines integrates the structures into the landscape and helps to break down the scale of this 500,000 square foot complex. Both the west facing and east facing courtyards formed by the shape of the buildings produced wonderful gardens for sitting and pre-ambulating. The exterior of the building was developed with materials familiar to New England. A combination of orangey/red brick and traditional white New England vertical board and batten (actually made of glass fiber reinforced concrete panels) and cedar colored asphalt shingle roofs with copper colored roof edges. A good proportion of the units had screened balconies which were carefully detailed so that the dark screening was placed within the white railing system so that the screening virtually disappears. All exterior materials were selected to be as maintenance free as possible. Parking for the independent residents was below grade in a garage directly below the apartments to make it as convenient as possible especially in the snow of New England winters. 2015


THE INTERIOR DESIGNAs we began the project Rem had recently turned 60, and he made the point that the target audience would have come of age in the 1920s and 30s and would prefer a more contemporary aesthetic from that period versus the floral and colonial trappings of their later years as established citizens. As a young architect I perceived this as a strategic way to get the design he wanted and avoid the typical solution for retirement communities. In hindsight, he was far ahead of the time. Now some of the seniors want to start over with all new furniture when moving into these facilities and talk of connecting to a younger and modern world.

Fresh off my mile of interior elevations for Genzyme, I was tagged for… you guessed it ….interior elevations. No good job goes unrewarded! I worked closely with Rem and Peter to document the design of the interiors. There were a couple of standout experiences and one was watching Rem design and detail the cocktail lounge screen below. It was an exquisite work of design and documentation influenced by Mackintosh and Wright no doubt, but capably carried out in front of me where I could observe and learn firsthand. The second involved the tile murals at the entrances. Rem described what he wanted and the tile sizes to be used, and I proceeded to draw the different murals at the entries to the various buildings. It was never drawn more than at the ¼” scale you see here until Rem did the colored sketch for the shop drawing to actually install the tile. Remarkably he lived within the quick drawings I did for the CDs and no change orders were required to implement the design. Cocktail lounge screen designed by Rem Huygens

Cocktail lounge screen designed by Rem Huygens.

Working drawing 1990

Working drawing 1990.

Rem’s shop Drawing. Note how he thought around the corner of the end wall

Rem’s shop Drawing. Note how he thought around the corner of the end wall.

This is the exterior side of the tile mural shown above.

This is the exterior side of the tile mural shown above.

While we approached the interior architecture with high level of detail and design resolution typical to our work, in reality we had minimal experience in projects of this type as well as size. During the early research of touring other local projects we became aware of Anne Webb Johnson and her firm Wellesley Design Consultants. Anne’s sense of color and materials and her knowledge of the particular furniture needs of seniors was extraordinary and we brought her into our consultant team.  Anne was in sync with Rem on the approach to the interiors and a Wrightian inspired theme was selected to complement the design of architecture that helped to produce a “timeless” sense – not trendy – for the interiors. Left:  Residential Lobby   Right:  Residential Unit Entry

Left: Residential Lobby    Right: Residential unit entry

The project opened in 1993 and was unlike any other senior community that had been designed to date, and that led to an AIA Design for Aging Award and a 1993 Gold Key Award from Hospitality Magazine.

Gold Key Award juror Michele Kolb recognized the uniqueness of our approach noting these are “not the kind of design treatment that people expect to see in such projects.” Another Juror Adam Tihany lauded the “Vienna Secession and Frank Lloyd Wright influenced detailing” and the “harmonious colors” found throughout Orchard Cove.

                                                                                                                 Hospitality Design November/December 1995

TIME FOR AN UPDATESome 18 years after the opening of Orchard Cove, the firm was fortunately selected to undertake a new master plan to help HRCA (now Hebrew Senior Life) study how the common areas of the building could better serve the current population. Many of the original residents had successfully “aged-in-place” and were now older. A few acoustic problems in some of the largest spaces needed to be addressed. The small library had outgrown all the space for books that their population had generously donated over the years. Physical exercise had become a much more important part of our society and potential new residents were expecting more than had been provided in the past. And finally, the interiors needed a bit of freshening-up. This re-positioning helped not only to give the marketing of the facility to new prospective “community members” a boost, but also to earn renewed acknowledgement in the senior care design community. The re-positioned community recently won new awards given by National Associates of Home Builders – Silver Award, AIA Design for Aging Review – 12th Edition, IIDA New England Interior Design Award.

Updated Promenade showing expansion of Fitness and Library

Updated Promenade showing expansion of Fitness and Library

Left: 1993      Right: 2014

Left:  1993     Right: 2014

When clients return to the original firm for renovations or expansions, the process and results are enhanced by utilizing the people that understand the original intentions, by preserving the qualities that have worked and updating those that need it in a way that is complimentary to the whole. It makes the whole composition richer. Over twenty years old, the exterior has held up well and still looks timeless, and the new interiors better serve the resident community while still relating to the original concepts.

Left:  Updated Garden Dining	  Right: Corridor gallery with Garden Dining on the left and Library at the end

Right:  Updated Garden Dining.      Left: Corridor gallery with Garden Dining on the left and Library at the end.

It is interesting to note that over the years, the firm has designed more than 35 senior communities (CCRC’s, Assisted Living, and Memory Support, short and long-term Skilled Nursing) for 24 not-for-profit organizations as well as 25 senior communities for for-profit developers. These are two very different client types and we will see some more projects from both in the coming weeks. The combination of this portfolio has earned the firm a national reputation in this building type and has helped the firm maintain diversity in market sectors.