Rose Villa was founded in Portland, Ore., in 1960 as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC)—with a twist. Like many CCRCs established in the Pacific Northwest at the time, it offered residents the ability to band together in order to afford services and amenities that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible. But what made Rose Villa unique was its village concept, foregoing peers’ high-rise models and instead maintaining a small scale with one-story cottages and supporting its residents’ love for the outdoors with lush green space.
However, much of the 22-acre community remained untouched since that time. So when CEO Vassar Byrd arrived in 2006, it became immediately clear that the physical environment was suffering. “I appreciate that the folks who set it up were something of social revolutionaries and I laud their courage. But they certainly weren’t landscape architects and there wasn’t a lot of forward-thinking architecture involved. Over a long period of time, a lot of benign neglect occurred,” Byrd says. Her vision for the future ranged from updating the infrastructure for the 21st century and making the community more energy efficient to adding storage and a contemporary aesthetic to connecting residences more intentionally and rethinking the car-centric campus.
To complicate matters, though, Byrd also found the community in dire straits financially, with occupancy on the decline. With a background in economics as well as gerontology, the new CEO got to work. “For me, it wasn’t only how do we save this campus from bankruptcy, but how do we transform it and understand what the core meaning of Rose Villa is and make that more visible?” she says. “What was really obvious was the residents here are quite unusual. People show up here who tend to be very independent, who are used to working with neighbors to get stuff done. They’re the people who volunteered for the PTA and shoveled sidewalks for their neighbors. They’re the dudes who rocked the world, and that strength is something I wanted to build on.”
Some back-of-the-napkin planning began almost immediately between Byrd and Bob Boileau, former design principal with Myhre Group Architects (MGA; Portland, Ore.). By 2008 MGA had completed a master plan for Rose Villa, but the recession put the project on hold and Byrd instead took two years to build her management team and returned to the program in 2010. At that time, MGA was brought on board as design architect, RLPS (Lancaster, Pa.) as architect of record, R+H Construction (Portland, Ore.) as general contractor, and Craig Witz as project manager for Phase 1 of a campus redevelopment of independent living and amenity spaces.
However, the team came to realize that the previous master plan was too ambitious and strayed from Rose Villa’s core concept by considering larger housing types such as townhomes. “It came down to we are a garden cottage community, and how can we arrange that in the best, most efficient, most attractive way possible, increasing the number of people we serve and yet it still feels really open?” Byrd says.
Another challenge was the campus’s steep, sloping site that already housed 263 apartments in more than 70 buildings. “There was hardly any open space at all to work with,” says Craig Kimmel, architect with RLPS. “Through the master plan, [RLPS and MGA] tried to create some clustering of density and meaningful open space.” Soon a solution surfaced that succeeded in doubling the greenery available and increasing the number of residences—“that was one of those genius moments,” Byrd recalls. The model adopted is an “over/under” cottage plan that stacks two apartments on one another, building them into the sloped terrain (see drawing above). “We used the buildings as retaining walls to allow the open space to be flat and usable for the seniors, so the buildings themselves became the elements that allowed us to create this tiering effect of the site going down the hill,” Kimmel says.
The plan then organized five pocket neighborhoods, each with five to seven residences (40 in total) that have front doors leading out onto level open space that serves as shared gardens where neighbors might meet new friends and socialize. The neighborhoods are connected via greenway walking paths, too, providing additional means for residents to run into one another. The cottages include single-story units in four floor plans ranging from 830 square feet to 1,236 square feet, with one- and two-bedroom options available.
Up on the hilltop
Another critical element of Phase 1 was adding a Main Street and Town Center at the top of the site. The addition jointly addressed the need for a sense of arrival at the community and centralized destinations where residents could gather and socialize.
The team started by demolishing about 70 independent living units and garages that flanked the existing entry and campus center and in their place put an updated casual restaurant and new fine dining venue, a wellness center, an aquatics center, garden center, art studio, library, and performing arts center with a stage. “We’d had many of those things, with the exception of the pool, in a much smaller form or in some odd part of campus. So we decided what we really needed as a successful community is to make them the right size and put them in the center so everyone can get to it,” Byrd says.