John Dutton, author of the 2001 book New American Urbanism: Re-Forming the Suburban Metropolis, believes that retrofitting suburbs is one of the great issues facing American planners today. While current housing in these “naturally occurring retirement communities” leave much to be desired architecturally, he says, “if you don’t look at the dresses these buildings are wearing and instead look at the fact that they’re dense, that they’re mixed-use and create great streets, and that they offer different housing types—all of that is really radical. Senior housing has to be that radical.”
Not yet 50, Los Angeles architect Barbara Bestor isn’t in a demographic typically associated with aging, but she’s given serious thought to the future of housing for Gen Xers and Millennials—“generations that don’t identify with getting old,” she says. Blackbirds, her first non-single-family project, is a “first step” toward creating senior housing within an urban context. Scheduled to open in 2015, it consists of 18 stand-alone units built around communal and pedestrian-friendly spaces in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. “As an architect, I’m interested in making social hubs and creating communities that people feel connected to tribally.”
Dutton and Bestor have begun collaborating on models for modest, modern, and affordable housing for seniors—housing that Dutton describes as “much hipper and more creative, connected, and modern” than we’ve come to expect. “Modernism’s historical and social mission is well suited for this,” he says.