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Master Plan for Active Aging Wins Big

Planners and students from the University of Arkansas School of Architecture envision a new housing model for the nation’s aging boomers, one that supports active aging within a vibrant community setting.

In a New York City ceremony Wednesday, Jan. 24, UA Community Design Center staff and a former student pocketed a prestigious Progressive Architecture Design Citation for their master plan for Little Rock’s Good Shepherd Ecumenical Retirement Community. The proposed plan unites traditional neighborhood amenities with strikingly contemporary, “green” design.

“What we’re hoping to do is attract empty nesters in their 50s and 60s by providing a level of vitality that you don’t usually find in a conventional retirement community,” said Steve Luoni, director of the community design center.

Commercial/office courtyards would link existing and new construction at Good Shepherd, providing social and leisure anchors for the community.
: “Shared streets” in the garden housing neighborhood link pedestrian plazas, parks, landscaping and stormwater gardens with traffic throughways.

All units include a porch, patio or balcony that expands modest square footage and facilitates social interactions.

The plan calls for a range of housing types and lifestyle options, from independent living in freestanding “garden homes,” to assisted living within multi-unit towers. Housing is embedded in a rich fabric of parks, recreational facilities, shops and offices that foster sociability and physical activity. Units would be priced from low-cost to market rate to attract a diverse clientele.

J. Mark Davis, chief executive officer for Good Shepherd, said: “Good Shepherd is thrilled to learn our master plan has won such a prestigious award, and sincerely grateful for UACDC’s creative vision. As we plan to meet the housing needs of a growing elderly population, we will continue to use the UACDC’s community design concepts as our guide and benchmark. In fact, I look forward to proposing to our board the next steps Good Shepherd should consider taking in meeting those needs.”

The master planning process, which was funded in part by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, built on an earlier feasibility study that the design center carried out in partnership with architect Michael Pyatok, a nationally recognized expert on affordable housing, and the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research and graduate program in public policy.

Armed with the study, design center staff and four architecture students took on planning and design for the 165-acre campus. Work ranged from platting streets and neighborhoods to choreographing the intimate details, such as where light enters a room.

“We talked about the project on two very different levels: one was very specific, focusing on building construction and design, and then there was a different level of dialog about how buildings and the spaces between them can form community,” said Trinity Simons, a former student who worked on the project.

Every aspect of the plan promotes community while nurturing the health of the inhabitants and preserving the stunning natural environment. Each unit offers a balcony, terrace, or patio that “extends the living space and creates an atmosphere of generosity. It invites passersby to interact with their neighbors, much as a porch would,” Luoni said. Parks, pedestrian paths and landscaped streets promote physical activity while ecologically treating storm water runoff on site. Various housing types are woven throughout the community to provide a diverse streetscape reminiscent of traditional towns, but the sleek housing forms avoid nostalgia.

“You can take traditional principles and innovate within them,” Luoni said. This design approach has proved to be a winning formula for the UA Community Design Center, which has garnered 18 awards in three and a half years under Luoni’s leadership. Recognition from the Progressive Design Awards program, considered the barometer of cutting edge design in North America, may be the greatest plum so far.

“We’re surprised! It’s a big deal,” Luoni said with a grin.

In addition to Trinity Simons, students who helped to develop the master plan were Dusty Graham, Najia Hashim, and John Langham. Jeff Shannon and Tim de Noble were architects of record.

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