One of the most diversified architectural firms in the West is expanding its work in a field that can only grow.
The Denver-based OZ Architecture is currently in the process of designing what is being called The Lodge at Grand Junction, a 48-unit senior living community measuring nearly 39,000 square feet going up on Colorado’s Western Slope, across the street from St. Mary’s Medical Center.
The work seems a natural for a firm whose practice areas span the range from schools to restaurants and hotels, and government buildings to public spaces, among other specialties.
But with more than 74 million Baby Boomers in the country at or near retirement age, the Grand Junction project also symbolizes the possibilities for OZ Architecture tackling with imagination and sensitivity the facility needs of seniors.
“One of the biggest challenges in designing senior living spaces is looking for every opportunity to maximize the building’s functionality for an aging user,” notes Jami Mohlenkamp, an OZ Architecture principal architect who is also a member of the firm’s senior living team.
“This goes far beyond just accessibility and can include things like providing access to daylight and the outdoors, and incorporating the project into the surrounding community,” continues Mohlenkamp.
With 36 assisted living studios and one-bedroom units, along with a dozen memory care units, the Lodge at Grand Junction also reflects the needs of a generation determined to remain forever young with the construction of a gym, salon, and wellness clinic.
Uniquely, residents at the facility will additionally have access to a greenhouse, allowing them to plant and grow their own produce, as well as an interior sunroom and outside landscaped garden.
An emphasis on designing for the memory challenges of seniors is yet one more sensitive component of OZ Architecture’s approach to such projects.
Notes Mohlenkamp: “Environments for memory support require strong attention to creating a home-like atmosphere in an environment where safe and secure care can be administered.”
Pointing out that many of the people who live in a memory care environment are usually understandably restricted in terms of their own movements, Mohlenkamp adds that it’s “critical in a memory support environment that the building offers every opportunity to facilitate independence” for them.
The senior housing work is just one of many practice areas that OZ Architecture, with a staff of more than 170 architecture and design professionals, today specializes in.
Launched in 1964, the firm, whose unique name is an amalgamation of the initials of its founders, Tom Obermeir and Alan Zeigel, has taken on award-winning projects well beyond Colorado in Africa, China, and Antarctica.
Selected for the Top Company Award last year by ColoradoBIZ and lauded for such assets as community involvement, achievement in innovation, financial performance, marketing effectiveness, and overall operations, there is no sector of Colorado’s building history in the last five decades that has not been impacted by OZ Architecture’s work.
The firm’s past projects include the four-block Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder, completed in 1977; the Boulder Community Foothills Hospital in the 1990s, the first LEED certified hospital in the country; the big Spectrum Building in downtown Denver; the urban living complex called Waterside Lofts, also in Denver; and the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Building on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Animating the work on all of these projects and others is the firm’s tradition of encouraging its architects and designers to follow their own visions, developing specialty interests and talents, while still brainstorming collaboratively.
But staffers at OZ are not enthralled with just the quality of the firm’s work, contends the Colorado Real Estate Journal.
“It’s not the terrific clients who challenge and trust the team with meaningful projects, or the co-workers whose encouragement and complementary talents bring about all the great projects,” says that publication. “It’s not even the firm’s strong support of professional and personal growth.”
Instead, thinks the Journal, the loyalty that staff members feel for OZ Architecture is a combination of all the above factors: Inevitably, in talking to a person about the firm, “you will hear about how much each values the culture.”
Reflecting the ongoing project diversity that has driven its success, OZ Architecture is currently designing the new World Trade Center in Denver; the Richardson Design Center at Colorado State University in Fort Collins; and the new Limelight Hotel in Snowmass, Colorado.
The firm’s senior living practice area, meanwhile, is tracked to grow, a pleasant fact of the business that Mohlenkamp naturally attributes not only to the aging of the Baby Boomers, but also to “our team focusing our design efforts towards celebrating the daily experience of older adults, which is resonating with owners, operators, and residents in senior living communities.”
By Garry Boulard
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