Not Your Grandmother’s Nursing Home (But It Is Mine)

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may remember that I once wrote about how I refused to design a house for my parents and that it was a very wise decision to let others tell my parents that they are nuts.  I know they are nuts and I didn’t feel the need to become nuttier myself working for them.
However, in 2007 I had the distinct luck to have my grandmother admitted into a project that I designed.  My grandmother had fallen and broken her hip for the third time in about two years and needed structured rehabilitation.  She had been to other nursing facilities for rehab in the past and it was always very depressing to visit her in these very old, medical models.
I decided to try my best to get her into Landis Homes for rehab, with the hopes of securing her a bed in the Memory Support wing permanently.  Grandma had been living in an assisted living facility, but as the series of falls she took would tell you, she was ready for more assistance.  Luckily they had a space open for her in Rehab.    Talk about a post occupancy evaluation.  It so happened that the first day I was able to visit her in her new living arrangements was on her birthday at lunch time.  Since she lived much closer I was able to go over my lunch hour.  I got to see first hand how the food service and dining worked.  The dining room was spacious enough for residents, but did not accommodate visitors too well.  Grandma had three visitors at one time this day.
My aunt was anxious to let everyone know that I was the architect for this building.  While I didn’t think I had anything to be ashamed of, I usually don’t say anything about being the responsible party until I hear what the staff are saying about the place first.  Call me cautious.  On this day though, I truly looked at the building through different eyes.  This was no longer just a building I designed; it was my Grandma’s house now.  Some how everything I looked at was with a critical eye, as in “how does this detail work for my Grandma?”  It was actually quite an experience, almost an out of architect body experience.  I was looking at the building more like an end user.
The real funny thing about this whole experience was the fact that several years earlier, Gregg Scoot and Linford Good (from Landis Homes) did a presentation at a conferences on the design of this building.  As is typical, Gregg was looking for a peppy title for the presentation.  At the time I had a friend who also had a grandmother at Landis Homes in the Dogwood building.  All the residents from Dogwood were moved into the new building once it was competed and Dogwood was adapted to another use.  So my suggestion for the presentation name was “Landis Homes – Not Your Grandmother’s Nursing Home”.  The title stuck.
Once healed up, Grandma then was transfered to the Memory Support House (which was the predecessor to the building I designed, but also by RLPS) and I took my children over to visit on the weekends when I could.  We typically sat in the living room and Grandma enjoyed watching the kids literally run around in circles.   I can not help but remember the marketing photos we have of this space, graciously appointed with loveseats, coffee table, hutches and small dinette set.  The room as it appears now has only gliders and recliners at the perimeter of the room facing inward.  I remember the discussions we had on the design of this building’s successor and because of this situation; each floor of the new building has a much larger activity room to allow more flexibility for seating of the entire neighborhood, as well as several smaller seating arrangements for functions like visiting great-grandchildren. 
At the end of our visits, the children were usually tired of hearing me tell them to stop running and be quiet and Grandma is usually asleep in her rocker.  We would whisper good-bye and see you next time, and as we would leave I hoped that in some way I helped care for Grandma’s needs.  Grandma Helen lived at Landis Homes until Janualry of 2010, just shy of her 92nd birthday, I had gotten to see her just hours before she passed in a place the really had become her home.