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When times get tough, you often convince yourself to chase projects that you are not well suited for or any job that is out there if times are really tough.  You search hard for the thin threads that can tie your experience to that required for the proposed project.  You put in extra effort and still you are disappointed because clients see it more objectively than you.  Sometimes they find a project that would be a better fit, and such was the case with Marriott Senior Living.

In 1994, we received an RFP from Marriott Senior Living to design an assisted living prototype for their ‘Brighton Gardens’ brand.  Frank DiMella recalls that this occurred just after the firm had hit rock bottom in revenue and staff.  I missed hitting the bottom because I got laid off on the way down, just before Christmas in 1993.  “We went all out going after the project and were extremely disappointed to lose it to EGA,” remembers Frank. In those times each lost opportunity is magnified in your mind because you don’t know where the next chance will come from.  However, Marriott mentioned that, in spite of choosing our competitor, they may be getting back to us with something else.

Shortly thereafter Marriott called and said they had bought a site in Stamford, Connecticut and wanted us to design a Continuing Care Retirement Community on it.  Disappointment turned into excitement as this was a perfect fit for us, having just finished Orchard Cove and it was a very large project.  The prototype design would not have been a great fit for our firm, known for fitting buildings carefully into specific sites and landscapes.  If you have been following this blog, you will understand that the notion of a generic re-useable building design clashed with the firm’s basic principles of design.

The 22-acre site, the former summer estate of Sir Douglas Alexander, the longtime president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was surrounded by stone walls and covered with a generous amount of mature specimen trees and small meadows. The house had been taken down about a decade before for a failed cluster housing project.

Project manager John Becker noted that the permitting process was extensive as the site was in Stamford, adjacent to the Greenwich town line. Marriott was developing the site for Stamford Health Systems who desired to be a good neighbor and Marriott followed their lead and was receptive to mitigation requests by the city and the neighborhood.  The local civil engineer was proficient in navigating the permitting. When it was all said and done, the buildable area was narrowed down to about 8 acres, a meadow had to be preserved, and neighborhood requirements dictated the location of three vehicular entries and exits, as well as other special setbacks.  City infrastructure revisions were required that included such items as street drainage and a new water service.

THE BIG IDEAIt was decided to take a big estate approach to the site plan. The shape of the building footprint was largely driven by the location of existing mature specimen trees and the desire to break down and bend the building to limit views from any outside vantage point to a small portion of the total structure. It is a very effective strategy. New landscaping is located within the ring road and also at the perimeter of the site, which is maintained as conservation land serving as a dense green buffer between the building and the surrounding neighborhood. The new building is organized within a ring road. The building footprint was purposely organized around two magnificent spreading copper beech trees seen in the photo above, as well as numerous other grand specimen trees.

The new building is organized within a ring road.  The building footprint was purposely organized around two magnificent spreading copper beech trees seen in the photo above, as well as numerous other grand specimen trees.

The architecture was inspired by the shingle style estates of New England. Honest materials like wood shingles, stone and stucco tie the building to landscape in a harmonious way. The woodland colors blend the building into landscape, reducing its visual impact on neighborhood by not being a “look at me” building. Terry Cracknell’s rendering below captures the character behind the design. View of the entrance from the ring road.

View of the entrance from the ring road.

The plan is organized with a T-shaped center piece with common areas located on the first floor, the 60 bed nursing facility on the second, and the 20 assisted living units on the third.  The 200 independent living residences are on the three floors of four attached wings that spread out across the site.  A lower level contains underground parking (necessitated by the surrounding wetlands), as well as a pool area with an outdoor terrace, exercise areas, and a skilled nursing facility entry at grade. Site Plan. Lower level pool and terrace.

Lower level pool and terrace.

INTERIOR DESIGNAs we learned a few weeks ago in the story about Orchard Cove, our approach for the interior design was leaning away from the floral patterns and knurled furniture of the colonial or country aesthetics traditionally applied to senior housing and towards a more sophisticated palette.  In Marriott’s senior housing projects, the architect would provide the building shell and their internal interiors group would do the interiors.

After several presentations by their interiors group of traditional approaches, including Doric columns, we approached the senior Marriott people and inquired if we could provide more structure and direction to the interiors.  They gave us the go ahead and we invited the Marriott folks to Boston for a presentation and trip to see H. H. Richardson’s Robert Treat Paine Estate in nearby Waltham, a shingle style country estate with a landscape by Frederick Law Olmstead.  Our goal was to get them to see how the interior design and craftsmanship is related to the exterior and how one has a feeling that the building and its surroundings are integrated, as opposed to unrelated, experiences.  This is what we were after for Edgehill. Fortunately, they were willing to embrace the opportunity and we took over the built-in elements of the interior, defining the millwork, ceilings and trim. Barbara Watt of Marriott and her group did the furniture, finishes, and equipment relating their design to direction we had laid out. Living Room and Dining Pavilion

Left:  Living Room     Right: Dining Pavilion

We had learned at Orchard Cove that allowing the residents to personalize the entries with a vase of flowers or a small piece of furniture not only helped it to feel like home, it helped in way-finding when the corridors and doors are similar.  For Edgehill, we developed an elegant unit entrance incorporating these features.  We learned from Marriott about bringing the idea of hospitality to senior living. It is “all about the residents.” Typical independent unit entry.

Typical independent unit entry.

We felt very strongly about the connection between inside and outside.  The first floor screened porch and the greenhouse provide residents with two controlled environments through which the landscape may be experienced.  The porches on the second and third floors provide an equivalent opportunity to residents with special care requirements. Skilled nursing patio.

Skilled nursing patio.

We discovered that the essence of senior living design is creating environments where we would choose to live, or making those that might choose for us feel great about the decision.  We approach that task by creating places in which we would like to live, with discreet elements to serve the target population.  Edgehill was another success for the firm and received several awards including an Order of Excellence from Contemporary Long Term Care Magazine, NCOSH/NAHB Best of Senior’s Housing – Silver Award, and a nod to Marriott’s influence and the broad appeal of the design, a Gold Key Grand Award from Hospitality Design.

“When Edgehill opened in 1999, it was ahead of its time as a community designed for convenience under one roof, with short hallways and centrally located community areas. Our community has been full since the day it opened, and remains at the forefront of senior living today.”

Edgehill Community

Well said.