Hord Coplan Macht’s landscape architects design to enrich the lives of senior living residents and enhance the communities in which they live by creating common spaces that provide connection to the outdoors and nature. These outdoor spaces improve physical and social well-being by creating opportunities for a variety of activities including learning, exercise and interaction with friends, family, neighbors in the community.

We spoke with two HCM landscape architects, Julie Higgins, PLA, LEED AP, SITES AP, and Alyson Taylor, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C, to better understand the important benefits of outdoor spaces in senior living communities.

Why is thoughtful landscape architectural design so important for a successful senior living project?

Julie Higgins: It has been proven that our connections with the natural world improve health, increase physical strength, reduce stress, speed recovery from injury, boost mental alertness and encourage socialization. Thoughtfully designed spaces for senior living residents will do just that with an emphasis on safety, security and comfort. Appropriate design elements, amenities and materials must be selected based on the specific needs of the residents, whether the facility is for independent living, assisted living or memory care.

Brightview Woodmont Senior Living Community

A beautiful, healthy environment contributes to health and wellness of the residents. As with all of our design work, we incorporate sustainable site and landscape approaches including considering biodiversity, habitat, healthy soils, creative storm water management and emphasis on native plant material.

Alyson Taylor: Thoughtful landscape design is a fundamental aspect to all types of senior living communities, independent, assisted and memory care, because it improves quality of life and overall well-being. These outdoor spaces provide opportunities for movement, recreation, creativity, socializing, and connection with nature.

The benefits of biophilic design – incorporating nature and natural elements into the built environment – on overall health and healing are well-established. This has been especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic when many residents have been asked to remain in their rooms to prevent spread. For residents, that visual connection to the outdoors has become as important as the physical connection.

What are some principles that should be kept in mind when designing outdoor spaces for seniors?

Higgins: Some key things I keep in mind when designing these spaces are:

  • Enclosed courtyards allow residents to go outside at any time.
  • Design spaces with familiar and traditional site elements and plantings that may remind residents and visitors of home.
  • A variety of comfortable seating options at appropriate heights with arms to facilitate getting in and out.
  • Attention to shadow patterns and paving patterns that could confuse depth perception.
  • Porches, screened porches and covered pergolas create shaded outdoor rooms for dining, activities and socializing. They also provide a transition from indoors and allow residents’ eyes to adjust.
  • For memory care residents we include clear circuit paths with cues to help them return to “home”; no hidden spaces, everything should be visible; multiple destinations and options for length of walk and tall enclosures to prevent elopement.

Taylor: Some key things I keep in mind when designing these spaces are:

  • Working with the architects very early in the design process to maximize the opportunities for the best physical and visual connections between the interior and exterior amenity spaces is key to designing useable spaces for clients.
  • Providing shade is one of the most important elements of designing outdoor spaces for seniors. Shade provides cooling, reduces glare from the ground and reduces sun exposure.
  • Providing a variety of types of spaces and flexibility within those spaces is important i.e. quiet, private spaces for solitude, public areas for games and recreation, planters for gardening, dining and lounge areas for socializing.
  • Consideration for paving materials that will prevent trip hazards, reduce glare and potentially reduce fall impact is important.
  • Sizing pathways, spaces and arranging furniture with flexibility to allow residents with assistive devices i.e. wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen, etc. to comfortably navigate and experience the outdoor amenities is important.
  • Providing lighting that responds to impaired sight is critical for night-time use of the outdoor amenities.
  • Choosing fixtures and spacing them so the light is uniform and without glare is critical.


Brightview Crofton Senior Living Community

What trends do you see in this practice area?

Higgins: I see senior living communities developed adjacent to universities and colleges to encourage lifelong learning and interaction between people of all ages. The link between the college and senior population will provide support to the younger students in the form of mentoring, tutoring, guest lecturing, and other activities.

Taylor: I see more senior living communities moving into urban areas, with the desire for amenities similar to urban multifamily projects. It makes sense to locate senior living projects in urban areas for proximity to working family members, access to urban amenities like shopping, parks, the arts, etc.

What are some examples of successful design elements in HCM projects?

Higgins: We have successfully designed many outdoor spaces for senior living communities.

At Brightview Crofton, the assisted living courtyard has a variety of outdoor rooms and activities including a dining terrace with outdoor kitchen, a beautiful stone water feature, fire bowls, a pergola with shade devices next to the bocce court, a putting green, raised planters for gardening, lush plantings and decorative lighting.

The memory care courtyard has a small water feature, shaded pergola, and a loop walk paved with “flexi-pave,” a cushioned paving material to prevent injuries from falls. We worked closely with the client to understand their residents, planned activities and programs, maintenance capabilities and budgets.

Levindale Sensory Garden, The Households at Levindale

How has COVID-19 changed the way you design landscape architecture for Senior Living?

Taylor: Landscape architecture for senior living has dramatically been changed by COVID-19 and the threat of future pandemics. Residents have been asked to isolate in their rooms away from social interaction. This puts even more of an importance on viewing gardens, where residents have a view of nature from their rooms, connecting them to the outdoors, while safely isolated in their rooms.

As the threat of COVID-19 lessens and residents can spend time outdoors, the landscaped spaces we create become an oasis for safe socializing and respite, offering a place to interact safely with loved ones.


Brightview Crofton Senior Living Community

As a Principal of Hord Coplan Macht, Julie Higgins has designed a wide array of well recognized landscape projects.  She has been practicing landscape architecture for more than 40 years. Julie is involved in all phases of project design and implementation. She is responsible for quality assurance for the Landscape Architecture Studio. As a SITES and LEED accredited professional, Julie is committed to designing sustainable environments. As a studio manager, she works to incorporate sustainable site development practices into all projects. She excels at communicating with her clients through all phases of design, and is able to effectively translate and enhance their goals into timelessly beautiful projects.


As a Senior Associate at Hord Coplan Macht, Alyson Taylor has led and collaborated on a broad range of award winning projects varying in scale and complexity including multifamily senior living projects and healing gardens, urban multifamily housing on-structure amenity spaces, streetscapes and plazas, academic campus and historic park renovation projects. Alyson has been a LEED Accredited landscape architect since 2007 and believes that a successful project evolves from developing an open and collaborative relationship with the client and stakeholders, detailed attention to the projects’ vision and program, and a comprehensive understanding of the geographic, ecological and cultural context of the site.


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