Mercy Housing Senior Facilities: Common Space Design Guidelines

Did you know 40.6 million Americans live below the poverty line? 

Mercy Housing knows this and works to create a more humane world by providing affordable housing and supportive programs to residents of all ages.  In their independent-living senior facilities, they provide free education and health services to address common issues their residents face.  How these services are communicated to residents, and the places where they occur, have a great impact on the effectiveness of the programming. 

Cognitive Design worked directly with MHSE staff and residents, on-site at several facilities in Atlanta, to gather information about existing physical and social environments where these services are provided.  Lessons learned were incorporated into design guidelines, which now serve as a tool to their facility designers.  This infuses future properties with knowledge and insights that would otherwise be impractical to gain during a conventional design and construction project.

  This effort was funded by a research grant provided by Enterprise Community Partners, in consideration of Criterion 1.2b of the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria Resident Health and Well-Being: Health Action Plan.   Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

This effort was funded by a research grant provided by Enterprise Community Partners, in consideration of Criterion 1.2b of the 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria Resident Health and Well-Being: Health Action Plan.  Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

“As developers, we are not service providers so we don’t think about what kind of a room could be best for delivering services or how a space can welcome people. Before this pilot, we didn’t realize that place and design can intersect to increase the health and wellness of our residents.”

Selena Freeman Reese

Regional Director of Resident Services, Mercy Housing Southeast

 Diagrams studying the locations of all activities from a Distributed and Specialized model (top) to a Concentrated and Multi-Use Space model (bottom).  Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

Diagrams studying the locations of all activities from a Distributed and Specialized model (top) to a Concentrated and Multi-Use Space model (bottom).  Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

Concentrate

It’s frustrating to not find something you need, especially when it’s important and time-sensitive.  For a senior with memory and mobility impairments, this can be more than an inconvenience. 

To preserve their residents’ independence and quality of life, Mercy Housing offers programming on topics such as emergency preparedness, cancer, diabetes, identity theft, and financial literacy.  In addition to the actual spaces where these programs run, the arrangement of these spaces within the building is also very important. 

By providing centrally-located and multi-use amenity spaces, we can do great things like eliminate the need to know the location of an event (it’s always in the same place), and providing a venue for residents (most live alone) to get out of their apartments and spend time with others.  When we locate this near the building’s front door, we also increase traffic, upping chance encounters and social interactions. 

 Diagrammatic layout of Concentrated and Multi-Use Common Spaces, studying Adjacency and Security.  Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

Diagrammatic layout of Concentrated and Multi-Use Common Spaces, studying Adjacency and Security.  Image: Cognitive Design, LLC

Communicate

Many seniors live with one or more disability, the most common being significant loss of mobility, vision, hearing, or memory.  Additionally, some residents may be illiterate or English illiterate.  How and where information is communicated to residents, both before and during an event, can help increase attendance while improving comprehension and retention of information.  All of which directly affect the potential impact of these services.

These guidelines include specific recommendations to provide an ideal environment for seniors to learn to live well.

  • Where and how to display information, such as event announcements and reminders.
  • How to reduce hearing-aid amplification of unwanted sounds, like HVAC noise.
  • How to improve intelligibility of speech within a room.
  • How to provide lighting that supports both sight and circadian function.