Nestled in the outer suburbs of Greater Philadelphia is a memory care community where residents can enjoy the outdoors and walk to their heart’s content.
The Meadowwood community in Lansdale, Pennsylvania recently expanded with a new 19,000 square foot memorial building that added 20 memorial care units and a variety of new resident amenities, including an “infinity loop” where residents can go for a walk in the sun without encountering barriers.
Although looping or circular pathways for wandering in commemoration are not uncommon, Meadowood’s allows residents to look inward onto a courtyard, giving them an additional connection to the outside world where deemed important to residents’ well-being.
Named the McLean Center and named after a generous donor, the building is close to Meadowood and its services, giving it a competitive advantage over other memorial buildings.
According to Eric McRoberts, partner at RLPS Architects, the community was designed to prioritize memory maintenance for residents by eschewing traditional residential floor plans.
The team behind the McLean Center faced logistical design challenges beyond those anticipated during the Covid-19 pandemic. Still, the community opened in the fall of 2022 and is ahead of its projected rental schedule.
The infinite design and prioritization of light earned the McLean Center and project team first place in the 2022 Senior Housing Architecture and Design Awards in the Self-Contained Memory category.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based architecture and design firm RLPS has completed many different memory preservation projects over the years — but according to McRoberts, no two projects are the same.
“It’s one of the reasons we like working on these types of buildings,” he said.
He added that the company evaluates each project about a year after occupancy to learn what worked and what didn’t.
“Some things that you think are a great idea turn out not to be because they’re perceived by someone with dementia or cognitive problems,” McRoberts said.
McRoberts noted that the project to bring the McLean Center into the community, like many of his company’s past memory care projects, brings some entirely new elements to the community. .
The project’s design team wanted to ease residents’ frustration and keep them happy even as they wander the community. So the RLPS and Meadowwood project team created a building that resembled a figure eight design, a concept dubbed the “Infinity Corridor.”
“If you go through them [floor] plan, or you walk around the room, every time you come to an edge, the corridor doesn’t stop,” Kristin Novak, senior interior designer at RLPS, told SHN.
RLPS have set up engagement stations along the corridor, allowing residents to educate them about their surroundings and improve wayfinding.
In the center of the eight design are courtyards with gardens and year-round greenhouses.
RLPS based its design on research showing that gardens and natural light can improve mood and slow the progression of dementia in memory care residents
The courtyards were designed to give residents a natural orientation to the time of day and year, replacing more artificial circadian lighting, according to RLPS.
“When you leave a resident’s room, you immediately have a view of an inner courtyard or some kind of green space,” Novak said. “And these courtyards offer all sorts of growth opportunities like raised beds for different plantings, herb gardens and flower gardens.”
The designers reinforced the identity of the different rooms of the Memory Care building through color, interior design and artwork.
For example, the dining and living rooms feature high ceilings to indicate that these spaces are intended for public activities, while private dining rooms have lower ceilings.
As with many projects over the past three years, RLPS and Meadowood had some issues during construction — but nothing too bad, according to McRoberts. Challenges included supply chain issues, labor disputes in construction and regulatory hurdles.
One of the biggest challenges was the campus itself, which had become overcrowded over the years as Meadowood expanded it.
“Obviously they wanted this building to be connected to some of their other components of the health center,” Novak said. “So it was really a difficult side to work with her.”
Meadowood, RLPS and contractor Benchmark Construction Company had to work together to redesign infrastructure elements such as utility lines and staff parking that were disrupted by this new building.
Still, the pandemic played a role. And indeed, the building still bothers. “[Meadowood – McLean] opened its doors in September and is still awaiting the arrival of some pieces of furniture that have been ordered for over a year,” Novak said.
The community has gone over budget as a result of the pandemic, but that’s not unusual, according to McRoberts.
Residents first moved into Meadowood’s McLean Memory Care building in September 2022, and the building is currently ahead of its leasing schedule, according to McRoberts.
Its 20 units are 18 composed of single occupancy units and two tandem or couple occupancy units, bringing the building’s potential bed capacity to 22.
The Design Awards judges cited the project’s biophilic design and infinite corridor as features that encourage resident engagement and a positive relationship with nature.
“Notable are the greenhouses/plant rooms that allow residents to experience nature even in inclement weather,” said Cynthia Shonaiya, Principal of Hord Coplan Macht, who served as judge for the standalone Memory Care category.
The community’s garden-filled courtyard is welcoming and relevant in all four seasons, and the on-site drawing room, drawing room, and dining facilities create space for multi-purpose events and programs
Proximity to Meadwood’s on-site physicians and nursing team makes it a convenient place to live for residents.
Additionally, RLPS worked with the culinary staff of Meadowood Senior Living to create a memory care cooking and eating experience that rivals other acute levels in the senior care continuum.
“It’s very special to have independently living residents who want to come and eat in your memorial care room,” McRoberts said.
But perhaps the biggest testament to the Memory Care Building’s appeal is the fact that it’s not just Memory Care residents who want to spend time there. In fact, a Meadowood resident who recently moved to McLean had a group of friends from the senior living community visiting the memory care community.
“You just don’t see a lot of IL residents wanting to come into memory care to spend time,” Novak said. “Usually they take out one resident of the Memory Cultivation… so while this is a Memory Cultivation, it was designed to appeal to everyone.”