Seniors' Housing With A Difference!

By Richard White, February 23, 2014

One of the toughest things to do for any architect is to do when starting to design a new building is to determine how to respond to the architecture in the neighbourhood. Some choose to just ignore it and build whatever they think is best. Others analysis the existing sense of place and look at how they can build on it.  In some cases the surrounding buildings don’t have a lot of architecture character so they are free to design as they see fit. 

This is the building directly across the street, which has recently been upgraded with a new entrance as it is the new home of Venture Communications.  Diagonally across the street is a single floor small strip mall with a convenience store, local pub and pet store. 

Make it attractive  

In the case of Lions Village, located on the triangular island that is created where Kensington Road, Memorial Drive and Crowchild Trail intersect, the surrounding buildings don’t have a lot of character.  Perhaps your remember the tiny cottages that use to dot the site a reminder of how seniors use to live in 500 square feet space – not today!  However, it is a prominent site given its connection to three major roads and Bow River pathway and is deserving of a building that is visually attractive.

Architect Bruce McKenzie at NORR was very aware of the site’s special qualities so the building is designed to maximize orientation to the river and sunlight from the south. The interior courtyard that is created allows for two large existing trees to remain as a focus.”  From a functional perspective the building has two entrances, one serving for drop-off and resident parking to the south and one on the northwest corner of the site right beside the bus stop.  The net result is a warm and inviting entrance even in the winter as there are no shadows.  It is also inviting for those driving, cycling, running or walking by.

This is the main entrance to the Village. As you can see even in the winter the sunlight penetrates to the front door creating a warm and inviting entrance. 

Another view of the entrance that gives a better perspective on the large tress and the integration of the different facade materials and massing.  I like the way the vertical element break up the massing to create what looks like a series of buildings along a street.  

This is a view of the building from the northwest which has its own entrance that is linked to a cross walk to get across the street and to a bus shelter that has an express bus to downtown. 

Modern Warehouse?

The overall design evokes as sense of a modern warehouse loft with rectangular shape, flat roof and industrial-looking façade materials.  Given Lions Village’s is next to an Enmax transformer and red brick auxiliary building the site invites an industrial look.   However, McKenzie and his team use modern materials called Hardi-Sheets to add colour and corrugated metal siding with just a bit of stone at the base of the building to give it some warmth when viewed up close. 

A view of the Enmax transformer that is the Village's neighbour to the southeast. 

Less is more?

One of the most unique interior features of the building is a large community kitchen, which is used by the Lion’s Club for catering and also providing occasional healthy meals for the residents. In addition the building has a large common area for the residents on the second floor that offers a great vista of the river from the outdoor deck, as well as meeting rooms, exercise room and crafts studio.

The building could have looked very different, as at Planning Commission McKenzie was requested to provide direct access to Kensington road (north side) as well as the south entrance for residents and visitors.  He tried to argue against this based on security and safety of two entrances, CPC forced it upon us.  This meant he had to go to the Subdivision Development Appeal Board to have the CPC condition reversed, which they did!

Planning Commission also insisted on the street-oriented units along Kensington Road and a “green roof” as an environmental feature. During the construction “green roofs” were outlawed on wood frame buildings, which meant we had to go back to the City’s Subdivision and Appeal Board to relax these requests.

The need to go to the Appeal Board added cost to the project, but luckily Centron Construction Group who built the building donated $100,000 to the facility during construction.

McKenzie and his team are very happy with the outcome of this project saying “If we were to change anything we would have slightly less corrugated metal and more hardi-sheets on the façade.”

He also believes “the client (Calgary Lions Club) had a lot to do with the success of this building. Both Lions Otto Silzer and Bill Baux gave countless volunteer hours to this project to realize the results. They were very supportive of the contemporary design and trusted us and I believe we delivered.”

Last Word

Lions Village is located in the community of West Hillhurst, which is currently undergoing a wonderful transformation as new infill homes, small condos and some commercial projects are adding more diversity and density.  While some might be concerned about the gentrification of the community, there are a number of seniors complexes in the community that cater to individuals of different means.  There is also a growing population of families which means the schools and recreation centre are viable.  Calgary is fortunate to have vibrant inner city communities. 

An edited version of this blog appeared in the February 2014 edition of Condo Living Magazine. 

This senior's complex is just two blocks away from Lions Village and their is another seniors complex across the street.

The Train themed playground is just a few blocks away from Lions Village. It is one of several playgrounds that have been upgraded as a result of young families moving into an older established neighbourhood.