Home for the Aged

Home for the Aged

Where do you want to live when you are old?

The Eden Alternative is a philosophy of eldercare that emphasizes interaction among older people and the natural and human worlds in order to relieve the kind of suffering that especially afflicts them – loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.

Its guiding principles are illustrative (as is word choice – the aged are referred to with the honorific  ‘Elders’, rather than as patients, clients, or even seniors).  

Here are a few:

“ Loving companionship is the antidote to loneliness.  Elders deserve easy access to human and animal companionship.”

“ An Elder-centered community creates opportunity to give as well as receive care.  This is an antidote to helplessness.”

“ An Elder-centered community imbues daily life with variety and spontaneity by creating an environment in which unexpected and unpredictable interactions and happenings can take place.  This is the antidote to boredom.”

“Meaningless activity corrodes the human spirit.  The opportunity to do things that we find meaningful is essential to human health.”1

While an improvement on the corporate nursing home model prevalent when the Eden Alternative was first conceived, this new focus was still limited. It accepted the troubling paradigm of collective yet separate, away and out-of sight warehousing of the elderly. Elder-only residential homes are isolating at the community scale. Quality of life improvements that can be made within this framework, while important, are insufficient and ultimately ineffective.

Landscape architecture can be practiced critically, by challenging societal conventions with design proposals and professional advocacy. I was wearing this hat when I proposed an alternative to the Eden Alternative in 2005, for an assisted living center (ALC) in Springfield, Oregon. The owner, Riverbend Hospital, wanted to build an assisted living center on the McKenzie River, and operate it according to Eden Alternative principles.

Master Plan (site in red)

For me the very site was problematic. Although close to the hospital, it was an isolated parcel on the river, too far from the city of Springfield to make interaction with the wider community easy or likely. This condition greatly challenged the Eden Alternative precept of continual, informal, spontaneous, and broad human contact. The elongated site worked against communal spaces within the facility too, further confounding daily interactions among residents. There were compelling amenities, though. Beautiful river and farmland landscapes surrounded the parcel, and it was next to a main roadway.


In order to mitigate the disadvantages and deeply support the Eden Alternative mission, I proposed an inter-fingering building + landscape design.  Like an ecotonal2 system, this parti (foundational concept) encourages and promotes interaction and integration in many aspects and at many scales:  building with landscape, facility with community, residents with nature, residents with each other, and river with land.

The design expresses these relationships directly with material, tangible connections, and also implies them abstractly, for an intuitive understanding. Here are some specifics of the design:

Building Plan – program

The proposed building faces the street and orients to the sun (very much a desired good in rainy Oregon), while reaching towards the river, allowing landscapes in, and providing views for everyone.  The works of Louis Kahn, Alvar Aalto, and Frank Lloyd Wright are precedent for buildings conceived both as ground (a backdrop, to nature in this case) and figure (the main visual object).

The building spine – its central nervous system – is arrayed along the roadway edge to greet the community. This welcoming and integrating part features retail businesses and community services that both serve and employ the public and residents; it also houses administrative, reception, and staff functions.

The residential wings have private homes, and semi-private communal spaces which offer distinct activities wing by wing for residents and personal visitors.

Glass-enclosed hallways connect residential wings to the main building, and to each other.


Site Plan

The adjacent farm, river, and building environments are brought into the ALC grounds where they overlap and meet in different ways, creating a variety of private, semi-private, and public spaces.

Semi-public spaces include the chapel grounds, a community garden + orchard, and lawns where neighbors, residents, and visitors encounter each other informally.

More public spaces integrate the ALC into the larger community:  a river boardwalk + dock, a bandshell pavilion with seating, and walking/biking paths throughout the property.

Plan Detail (birds eye view)
Chapel, Residences & Gardens

Home gardens are designed to consider resident preferences. These private spaces are set in semi-private farm, forest, water or built contexts that vary by residential wing.

All of the elements proposed by this design meet and expand upon the Eden Alternative vision to provide enlivened environments: “habitats, not facilities”.

If they built it, would you come?


For more insight see the booklet below that illustrates my design process and the resulting ideas.

  • Riverbend text building
  • Riverbend-Parti-OPT
  • Riverbend-BLD1
  • Riverbend-BLD2
  • Riverbend-BLD3

  • Riverbend-text-LS-OPT
  • Riverbend-Parti-OPT
  • Riverbend-LS1-OPT
  • Riverbend-LS2-OPT
  • Riverbend-LS3-OPT


  1. From a handout of Summer Hill Company, Inc., December 9, 2004.  For more about today’s Eden Alternative see: http://www.edenalt.org 
  2. Ecotones are the transition zones between biomes where different plant and animal communities meet and integrate.
error: Content is protected !!