Adaptive architecture

The 2004 National Nursing Home Survey reported that more than 1,813,655 Americans reside in nursing homes, a number one USF graduate student hopes to drastically reduce.

Christine Sanchez, a graduate student in the College of Architecture, placed third in the 2007-2008 Ethel Percy Andrus House of Freedom Design Competition, sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons and the American Institute of Architecture Students. All students of architecture and design in North America were encouraged to submit entries by the March 14 deadline.

The competition challenged students to design a single-family home that allows its inhabitants to live comfortably throughout their lifetime and enjoy all of the home’s features regardless of age or physical ability. Other objectives, according to competition’s Web site, were for students to “build knowledge about materials, products and installation related to universal design and design for aging” and utilize principles of sustainable design.

“I wanted to learn the standard Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. It’s an ADA-accessible home,” Sanchez said. “My favorite features tried to bring the outside in. That was one of the concepts I tried to do with the porch that encloses and wraps around the entire house.”

She wanted something that would age well, along with its occupants.

“I wanted it to really be a place for kids to play outside and then carry you on until you’re an older age and might be limited to a wheelchair,” she said. “It’s always great to have that sense of security around your house and still feel like you’re capable of using all of its features.”

While Sanchez’s participation in the competition helped her thesis research on elderly living facilities, she had personal reasons for submitting her design.

“My grandfather passed away recently. He had to be in a wheelchair and it was hard seeing how he had to go through the house he started his family in,” she said. “He was a big inspiration on my thesis and on doing this project.”

“The U.S. Census reports that by the year 2011, a citizen will turn 65 every eight seconds. By the year 2030, more than half of all Americans will be over the age of 50 and one in every five persons will be age 65 or older,” states the competition’s Web site. As the economy strains the pockets of Americans, it is growing increasingly difficult for citizens to plan financially for their retirement. Sanchez had this in mind as she planned features of her home to allow residents to “age in place with dignity.”

“There is a need for homes to be more age-appropriate and to be useful throughout your entire life. You never know where you are going to end up because circumstantial things happen throughout life,” she said.

For Sanchez, adaptation is key.

“You need a home you can easily adapt to and design needs to be steering toward that way, especially sustainable design because it’s a bigger issue nowadays. Everyone can benefit from these designs.”

The second element of the competition asked that entries incorporate aspects of sustainable design. Sanchez said her home was both familyand eco-friendly.

“I focused on the house’s orientation and sun exposure. I tried to give it maximum views without too much direct sunlight, so there’s enough shading. There are angles on the roof so you can easily do solar panels and drain rain water. It collects rain water you can use for a sprinkler system,” she said.

After graduation, Sanchez said she hopes to turn her designs into real projects.

“My thesis is focused on the negative connotation of placing older adults into elderly communities. I’m working on a design facility that makes the transition easier. Not everyone is able to take care of family members once reach they reach older age. I target Latin American cultures, and the plot is set in Puerto Rico,” she said.

To learn more about the competition or see the rest of the winning designs, visit