Design decisions: Building on higher ground

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Design decisions: Building on higher ground
Design decisions: Building on higher ground
Until its very recent expansion and design overhaul — a process that kicked off in 2008 — GreenRidge at Buckner Villas, in Austin, TX, consisted of a skilled nursing facility and several multi-tenant independent living villas, which were built during the 1950s and 1960s.

Situated among unattractive, vacant warehouses, the property was less than ideal, according to David Dillard, the Dallas-based architect who headed the building and expansion project. Dillard and the team from Buckner opted to give the property a facelift. They started by tearing down the independent living villas and tacking two 20-room memory care units onto the existing skilled nursing facility. Then they added GreenRidge, a new independent living building with 84 apartments, and an assisted living building with 20 rooms.

The community sits on 25 acres of a hilly part of Austin, with the new independent living building stretching above one of the city's main thoroughfares.

“Sometimes you can take a challenging site and make something wonderful happen,” says Dillard. “Today, when you show up, you see a very pretty, large independent living building looking down on the street, which gives it a bigger ‘wow' factor.”

Differences delight

To make the avenue leading to the center or “quad” area of the campus more scenic, Dillard built a winding road that one would expect to see in an upscale resort. The idea, he says, is to “intrigue” visitors.

The independent and assisted living buildings were built as vertical as possible to reduce the need for residents to walk long distances.

The thoughtful design of all of the buildings truly impacts how care is delivered. Doyle Antle, executive director of the community, says the nursing staff at Buckner Villas find the caregiving experience there to be rewarding, particularly in the memory care areas.

“Our memory care units are based on a community-driven structure — it's a true culture change unit. We were very fortunate to have private rooms and private baths, and the building already lends itself to neighborhoods. It's easy to go into a system of resident choice,” Antle says.

Dillard agrees, saying that some of the most progressive work going on at Buckner is the way the memory care unit is set up. The unit features kitchens, fireplaces and living rooms, just as the resident-centered movement suggests. The difference at Buckner, Dillard says, is the use of indirect sunlight.

“In this environment, there is a limited amount of direct view to the outdoors. The Buckner people said memory residents need an environment where they can wander without the unpredictability of weather,” Dillard explains.

Memory care residents can't wander very far, of course. Antle says every member of the memory care staff carries a pager that lets them know when a resident leaves a room. And every patient room is outfitted with sensors that monitor each resident's activity. They present a good look of their own, he says.

Lessons learned


1. With a little patience and creativity, even less-than-perfect property can be transformed


2. A dose of regional flair can add personality to any facility


3. Anticipate expansions and set aside space for more buildings and additions

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