Manny Gonzalez – Tailoring Multifamily To Senior Residents

February 25, 2016

LOS ANGELES—KTGY Architecture and Planning principal Manny Gonzalez has been appointed to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects, one of the highest honors at the AIA. Gonzalez is known for his work in designing 55+ housing and has spearheaded a path toward research-influenced design. In light of his the honor, we sat down with Gonzalez for an exclusive interview to discuss trends in 55+ housing and what he feels still needs attention. How do you feel about being elevated to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects?

Manny Gonzalez: To put it in simple terms, I am thrilled about getting my “F”! I have been fortunate enough to win quite a few industry design awards over my career, from Gold Nuggets, to Best in 55+ Housing Awards, but to be recognized by my peers with the second highest honor an individual architect can receive from the American Institute of Architects was the last thing on my professional bucket list. The highest honor awarded by AIA is the Gold Medal, which is awarded to only one architect internationally each year. How does design for 55+ housing differ from mainstream home design? How is the approach different?

Gonzalez: The residents of 55+ communities have a different need than younger residents. In most cases, it’s a couple or single resident. Since there are no longer kids in the house, they aren’t generating the laundry anymore. So one of the simple things we do now is locate the laundry room adjacent to the owner’s closet and provide a horizontal laundry chute or even a door so that the residents don’t have to lug their laundry through the house. Entertaining is also a big part of their lifestyle, and it’s not just another couple that they are entertaining, it’s six or eight people, and they hang out in the kitchen. So creating a great island that is the new “entertainment center” of the home is critical. I like a rounded island or an “L” or “U” shape for seating to make it easier to chat than the traditional straight bar top. What are some of the major design trends dominating 55+ Housing?

Gonzalez: The design trend that I like the most is the way developers are blending 55+ housing with all-ages housing in master-planned communities like Gavilan in Rancho Mission Viejo, California and The Victory District of Verrado in Buckeye, Arizona. The 55+ residents can live in an age-qualified neighborhood with floor plans that meet their needs and they have their own clubhouse, but they also have access to all of the other amenities the overall community offers. If the grandkids come to visit, they can use the other family-oriented clubhouse. Residents literally get the best of both words without the stigma of living in a retirement community. How have you tried to change this space, and what do you feel still needs to be done? 

Gonzalez: I have been talking about Universal Design for years, as have other industry leaders, and it’s now become a mainstream part of the homebuilding industry. But there certainly is more work to be done. Electrical outlets have been placed at their height above the floor because that’s how tall a framer’s hammer is. He bangs the hammer against a stud and that sets the height of the electrical box he nails in. I think it makes more sense in hall locations or inside a bedroom door to locate a plug along with the light switch so that you don’t need to bend over when you plug the vacuum in. I am sure I am not the only one who just yanks the cord to pull the plug out when I vacuum. Universal design is about making a home more livable for anyone. It’s not about ADA, there are plenty of products that do everything the ADA is trying to do, but don’t have that institutional feel. We need to continue to evolve and allow homes to meet the resident’s changing needs. Last thoughts?

Gonzalez: When I started designing spaces for the 55+ sector over 25 years ago, I was designing them for old people. Today I can do a focus group on myself! And while I have enjoyed creating award-winning communities over those years, the one thing that I feel gets very little discussion in this space is the growing need for affordable assisted living and memory care. With 10,000 people a day turning 65 for the next 15 years, this will become a growing issue unless we begin to address it today. 55+ housing isn’t just about creating vibrant environments for homebuyers, it’s a broad sector and we need to meet the entire spectrum of housing needs.