THE SUMMIT AT BRIGHTON, ROCHESTER, NY 1995-2002

A few weeks ago I wrote about Re-Imaging Retirement which featured Orchard Cove. A few years after that project was completed we had an opportunity, through introductions made by our Orchard Cove client, to meet the president of JHR, The Jewish Home of Rochester in New York.

At the same time we met Avery Rockefeller who was the CEO of RLS, Retirement Living Services, a consultant to not-for-profits focused on services for seniors. Avery had been hired by JHR as their developer consultant to guide them through the complicated process of expanding their facility to include a new independent and assisted living campus adjacent to their existing skilled nursing facility (SNF). RLS had been instrumental in guiding the state to amend their existing legislation to allow for this first CCRC, continuing care retirement community, in the state of New York.

RLS was responsible for creating a select list of architects from which the owner would select their architect, ultimately us. They were also responsible for coordinating the efforts of the construction manager, LeCesse Construction Company who was the favored local contractor who built the original nursing facility.

Throughout the project, selection of ideal building systems and materials for the site and buildings was very much a collaborative effort among the contractor, architect and RLS, as all parties had significant expertise and opinions to offer. For us, this process even started as early as preparing for our interview to secure the project!

UNDERSTANDING THE SITE MAKES FOR A WINNING INTERVIEW

In preparation for the interview we spent time talking with LeCesse to better understand the unusual characteristics of the soil geology which included significant amounts of clay that was common to this part of NY State. The ground water table was only one foot below the grade—a condition we had not encountered before. We learned that with these conditions buildings had to be built on additional gravel fill brought into the site and that the most effective method of controlling the water table would be to create several retention basins. We decided that the flat, bland site could greatly benefit from the creation of several artistically designed water pond features that could transform the site into a garden oasis anchored by the buildings.

Site Plan.

The focus of our interview was the site. Our credentials in senior housing were strong and growing but our new understanding of their site and the suggestion to create three new water features to both control the high water table and thereby create a memorable marketing image for their new residential community clinched our interview with the JHR Board. The Summit at Brighton, as the project ultimately became known, became our new project.

THE DESIGN CONCEPT

The 25-acre site, located in Rochester, New York, presented a great challenge to the design team. To the north was a major highway and to the east a six-story nursing facility. The design solution included the creation of three ponds to provide a focus for views from the apartments and common areas, while also controlling the unusually high water table. The ponds, bordered by weeping willows trees, now attract a variety of wildlife, including ducks and geese. In addition, the edges of the parcel were molded and planted to create buffers to the adjacent highway and nursing facility.

View from the front entrance porch.

The placement of the buildings in the landscape is purposefully somewhat casual, resembling a loose collection of farm buildings indigenous to this part of New York. The residential buildings for independent living and the fitness center are all joined to the Commons by transparent single-story glass and brick pier colonnade-like connecting links, which offer views to the outdoors. The central 19,000 square foot gable-roofed Commons which contains all the social spaces is purposely given an over-scaled roof to provide a visual anchor for community.

The organization of the Common interior spaces provides for casual ambulation along a main interior promenade to encourage chance occurrences for bumping into friends and therefore reasons to socialize. Ample daylight and views to the exterior are everywhere to be found.

The interiors have a decidedly arts and crafts style in their proportions and cherry wood accents. The furnishings, artwork and choice of materials all contribute to creating a senior environment that is clearly not the traditional “old folks” home of the past.

Left: Library. Right: Dining Room.

A BRICK STORY

The design of the residential buildings was greatly influenced by the then current NY State building code that required the roofs of the residential three story buildings to be supported by load bearing fire-proof masonry walls. A broad mixed-range of yellow-orange brick became the preferred option, especially after learning that Rochester has one of the least number of sunny days anywhere in the United States. (That is why Eastman Kodak located its corporate headquarters here—to perfect their photographic chemistry). We selected the “sunniest” brick mixture so that the smallest amount of light on the masonry surface would appear as if the sun was shining. The choice was very successful especially in combination with the large dark sloping roofs which tend to draw one’s eye to the sunny brick color.

CHIMNEYS

The individual Magic-Pac mechanical unit for each apartment was the economic favored product. These units required direct access to the exterior wall which led to the development of a “brick chimney” vertical design element to house the units, to help modulate the building facades and to provide a recognizable residential building element.

We don’t build a lot of “real” fireplaces in our residential buildings these days (and the gas versions usually vent directly through an outside wall instead of needing a chimney). Many of our earlier multi-family projects, such as Shadow Farm and James Landing did have real open hearth fireplaces with large chimneys extending up through the roofs. In addition to the functional aspect of smoke exhaust, these chimneys also served architectural functions as well—to punctuate the roofscape, to begin or end a shed dormer, and to create a dynamic silhouette against the sky. This project uses a traditional element in a clever and unconventional way—chimney as unit ventilation—that is also a critical component in strengthening the building’s residential character.