Pi Architects President Greg Hunteman shares his experience in hospitality and wellness designs for senior living.
Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have another exciting guest here at the ASHA conference in California. We are pleasured to welcome onto the show, Greg Hunteman. He is the president of PI architects out of Austin, Texas. Greg, welcome to the show.
Greg: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Josh: Happy to have you.
Greg: A lot of fun watching you guys.
Lucas: Thank you so much. You know, Greg, you, you’re in the conference sector as much as we are. So we get to get to see you a number of times throughout the year and you’ve seen us from the beginning. You’ve been to a couple of our mastermind dinners and been a big supporter of ours and we really, really appreciate that. And so today we’ve brought you on so that our guests can learn more about you. And but also, we’re going to talk specifically about a topic surrounding wellness and design. It’s a big topic. And when we reached out to you about this, this came up specifically because you’re seeing this more and more. Before we get into that specifically, we want to hear more about the human being behind the architecture and a little bit about your background.
Greg: Oh, great. So went to UT, so I’m a Longhorn. In college, we did some projects and one of our projects was actually a senior living project. There was a lot of fun to kind of get into kind of the how’s and the why’s and kind of ended up setting it up so that it had a little bit more interaction of the community, had a farmer’s market and stuff like that. I mean, real preliminary being in college, but it was a lot of fun there. And then when I got out of college actually started doing hospitals. So it was much more of the higher end and needs for the residents. And at that time especially, it was a lot less for the residents than it was for the doctors and the equipment in hospitals. It’s changed a bit. It’s a lot better now.
So whenever we would do a senior living project that would be tied in with the hospital, there was that human factor that was huge. It was a real benefit there. So we really enjoyed that. And then when I had a chance to join a firm and, and kind of have a little bit more of the day to day control of that, we actually pulled out of the health care and then when a 100% senior living, so that’s Pi architects. And that was really neat.
And one of the coolest things we did is working with Clifton Lutheran Sunset Home. And they had an older memory care building that they needed to replace. It was actually the campus, but it was one of the pieces on it that we were replacing and we got to know them really well. And we did a brand new memory care community for them as part of it. And it had two households of 16 folks on it that kind of had a core that served both sides. You’ve got the benefit of staffing, but then it was a much better environment for the residents, but we actually helped the residents move from their old building to their new building and the joy in the residents to see this new home that they had and just the appreciation was so cool. And then it was funny even some of the design things to do that it’s like, ah, this should have been a bigger door not a pair doors and stuff like that. So it was kind of really neat to do that. So being able to kind of work with the community, the residents, the staff has a lot of fun. Some of our best ideas actually come from, you know, the janitorial staff that are seeing a staff member run back and forth and they’re saying, why don’t we just put it there so they’ll just have it. So it’s neat to get everybody involved in it. So there’s just, so it’s real rewarding from that standpoint.
Josh: So I’ve got some questions. You just covered a lot of stuff, right there. And one of the things I loved is you were just touching on how so many people are providing feedback and you mentioned the housekeepers and stuff like that, but how are you guys capturing that? There’s gotta be some secret ingredients that you’re working with a lot of partners and you’re intentionally seeking that out because I know as an operator you hear these things all the time, but it’s actually, you have to be very intentional I think to actually jot that down and not just let it go over. Yeah. Right. And so how do you talk to, like, how do you formulate that and how do you take that constructive feedback mind for it and then put it into action? Because I think that’s really important about what you guys are.
Greg: It’s a lot of fun. It depends on the client. Some clients want us to talk to everybody and some are, you know, a little bit more specific on what they want to do. So the goal is to set up where you actually meet with each department essentially and take the time to do it. We’re probably a little bit more apt to get to do that on a not-for-profit project than a for-profit project. Now we’re doing a lot more on the for profits than we used to, which is really neat.
So the goal is to sit down and take the time and really what’s really good for us. If we can get a client that we really get to know, we usually do a pretty deep dive initially. So we’re actually asking them, what’s your brand? What’s your strategy? How are you, what are you selling to people? Cause a lot of times what they’re selling may not be with the community showing. So how do we put the two together? Which is a little awkward for them because they’re not used to kind of sharing all that information. But once they understand the why’s we can do that. Or they might not have actually defined what that is. And we’re like, well this is an awesome opportunity to really figure out what that is because if I can make this community just ooze what it is that you’re trying to do, then it’s just a win-win. So a lot of trying to figure that out.
So it’s worked out really well from that standpoint. So really telling the client, okay, we really need to talk to these folks. A lot of it is, you know, if we do talk, we may not talk to everybody, but we’re going to learn through the folks that we do. And then we can think smartly there because if we can make the building efficient, then you can either A) get more efficient with staffing, but what might be even better is you get more quality time with the residents. Because right now, you know, they can only do so much. So if you can give them, you know, three to five minutes or an hour even is huge. And especially as you’re looking at more of a small house design, it’s even more difficult.
Josh: Sure, sure. I love that. Well, another thing that we talked with you just a little bit you know, before the show is you guys get to see a lot of trends of what’s happening out there, what’s important to people, how design’s changing, how programming’s changing and you’re designing towards that. But you said you’re spending a lot of time on wellness. So can you talk to us a little bit about, and even what that means, kind of give us some context around that and how you guys approach that.
Greg: Perfect. So right now, you know, there’s a lot of folks that will say, well, let’s talk about how you’re doing wellness. What’s your programming? What are you doing? And they’re like, well, we have an exercise room and we have whatever. I’m like, well, that’s only one aspect of what we’re doing. So the simplified version is it’s the body, the mind, and the spirit. Everybody thinks about the body, but it’s really full tilt. And then the National Wellness Institute actually defined it as six or seven different levels or dimensions as they call it. We actually like to think it’s seven or eight and one being in the environment. So we really think that has a huge impact.
But basically what we want to do is really feed the body. So we want opportunities for exercise. We want to have a good diet, we want to have rationales for them to kind of get around, get out of their apartment. A lot of people have a tendency to self isolate and so really want to do that. As far as the spirit, there’s a lot of depression, there’s a lot of loneliness. And actually part of the reason I wanna get them out of their home and into a community, but even into the community, if they don’t, you know, acclimate well or they don’t kind of get out, it’s huge. So setting up the types of activities and amenities that they want to be a part of, whether it’s an indoor amenity or an outdoor amenity. So there’s a lot of opportunities for wellness on the outdoors and then there’s the spiritual, which really means different things to different people. It could be coming to grips with kind of where you’re at in life and kind of what’s next. It could be just a kind of community with other folks, social, a lot of different things.
So that’s kind the simplified thing, but otherwise you really want to figure out ways to engage them. So what is it they did? How can they mentor? How do you appreciate it? It’s kind of interesting, although, you know, memory care, although there’s a lot of stuff that they’re dealing with, it becomes a very exaggerated form of what we do. So it’s a lot easier to see the feedback on a space or a program or an activity to engage a resident to see, you know, maybe, you know, minor kind of feedback to wow, this really works. In AL, you don’t get quite that direction, but almost everything that we do in memory care is going to have a similar effect on assisted living to a certain extent. Independent living, active adult, a little bit different.
Josh: So mind, body…
Greg: That’s the simplified version. If you really want the six dimensions, I have a cheater here. Emotional, occupational, the physical, the spiritual, the intellectual, that’s big. So we do a lot of the education whether it’s them doing it themselves or group activities, the mentoring is really cool for that. And the social is actually probably the biggest one actually. They’re actually saying right now that your genes are a much smaller portion of your wellbeing. We used to think, okay, good, bad genes that’ll make a big difference. Now it’s really the lifestyle that you live, how socially engaged you are, how happy you are is just huge. I mean, that’s why you see, you know, in some communities, you know, the biggest relationship is between the caregiver and the resident. You know, cause that is the person that they see every day. And then the quality of that relationship is huge.
Lucas: So this is one of the things that we talk about frequently and it’s perfect, it proves kind of like one of our points is that in this industry it’s really important to work with people that understand the industry. Because I’m sitting here listening to this and I’m thinking, wait, we’re talking about architecture.
Lucas: Yeah. But no, no, we’re, we’re talking about so many, much more than this.
Lucas: And you know, it’s like we’ll just build a building. Well it, it, it goes a lot deeper than that, which is what you’re talking about.
Greg: You can have a really well organized building that’s not as attractive, but it’s more cost effective maybe. Or you can have a beautiful building that operates really poorly because it might be amazing to walk in, but it’s really complicated to utilize. So you want to kind of put them both together. Obviously it depends on who you’re serving, what the market is and try to put together a way that makes a whole lot of sense.
So it’s fun to kind of, doing the hospitals first, we were taught to learn about how it was run even more. Sometimes than the quality or the cost of the construction, it was how will it function? So when we got into senior living, we kind of did it the same way. So that’s just kind of in our DNA I guess you could say.
Josh: I’ve got a question in these. This probably gets way down in the weeds Greg, but you probably see it a lot. I go into so many communities and they’re beautiful communities, right? And you’re like, oh man, I would love to live there even in mind. And, but then you go in and it just so much stuff not being utilized. I.E., like for example, I’m talking about the fitness or the wellness as it relates to the body, I see a lot of design around these fitness centers or fitness gyms, wellness gyms, everybody calls it something different. But then you’ll see sadly and just nobody in there using them. And I don’t know all the reasons for that. I can kind of assume sometimes cause it’s like it looks like workout equipment that I would use, you know, or something like that. What are some, like, really practical trends that you see that you guys are doing that you’re, you’re helping to design, that you’re actually seeing benefiting and utilization of, because I think our listeners are trying to get a pulse on this, this changing group. And you know, we always hear like you’re kind of designing and selling to the adult son or daughter, but that’s a very different person than the person that’s living with you.So maybe they’re designing things to appeal to that person that show. How are you guys tackling that?
Greg: It’s really interesting cause right now, you know assisted living looks like independent living and you want a lot of the amenities because the resident almost doesn’t want to admit they should be in assisted living. So you want them there, but you can, you can still get all the pieces and parts there. So what we want to do is understand the programming and how they’re going to utilize it. Because like you said, we can put all kinds of things in the building, but if they’re not going to utilize it, I’d rather do one better thing that they’re gonna utilize than a bunch of them. So understand that placement is huge. So a lot of people will do it where they might have all the amenities, but it might be on all different floors or it might be at the end of a hallway. You want to have the majority of the energy in one spot. So if you can do it where they have to walk by the space to get to another space, it’s easy for the staff to manage it. So right now, like the, the best example on that is, say, you have an exterior space that you create and it’s beautiful, but it’s hard to get to and the staff can’t see it. Now the staff’s not gonna encourage them to use it because they’re afraid of somebody falling. If it’s not designed so they can be seen when they fall, the residence can be afraid to utilize it. So if you can almost wrap the building around that exterior environment, the utilization will be huge.
Josh: I love that.
Greg: So that’s really the key is to just think about how everything kind of interrelates a way finding’s huge on that as well. So there can be some kind of multiple benefits of that.
Josh: Does that kind of apply to each of the kind of dimensions of wellness that the same logic kind of applies when you’re building out the programming?
Greg: Exactly. So you want to think through that as you’re, as you’re getting the operator and developer to think about it, get them to think outside of their normal box and okay, how are we going to click this off? Now, one space can hit five of them. So it’s just figuring out what spaces do fit. And then as you’re going through the programming and maybe the budget, you say, well I’d love these seven spaces but I can only do four or five, whatever it is. Now let’s figure out how to interrelate those and overlap them so that they can work.
So you can do, I get, you know, multipurpose rooms are almost the hardest because they’re dark half the time. And so if you can take a multipurpose room and have it be more multifunctional. So we’ll take one and do like say half might be a table seating and half might be more of a theater type seating that’ll work for the majority of the time and you don’t have to redo the furniture and stuff. And it can also be self kind of done, right? The staff can put on a nice movie or a series of shows and have that going, but you can still go play games. Close the door for quiet for, you know, different types of games and stuff like that.
So look for that, but then do it where it’s almost an open space so it actually encourages you to go into it. A lot of multipurpose rooms, they’re a destination, a pair of doors into a wall. They don’t really open up to everything. So if you can get them more interconnected or a neat trick is to connect. Say we’re doing a lot of art studios and so you take your kind of specified activity room and you connect it to either another activity room or to the multipurpose room and it’s an overflow. So you can set it up where the activity room’s really set up for say 12 to 14, 16 people. But yet when you do the bigger activities as good, cause we can just overflow in the multipurpose, so then you can do maybe a smaller, better kind of art room that’ll integrate more with kind of what they’re doing and stuff like that, have the ability to go outside and do outdoor kind of art activities and stuff like that. So really, really intertwine the two.
Outdoor spaces are a good way to make a building feel bigger and better. Large windows will always sell. So to be able to really integrate those two are huge. So if you can get the natural flow, you kind of want that, ah, it’s just comfortable. I don’t feel stuck. I don’t feel kinda cornered. So if we can figure out a way to flow it, it works real well.
Josh: I love that. Well, you mentioned I think a term multipurpose, I’ve heard that a lot. I’ve also heard I think the term that I heard use was flex space. And I’m wondering now when you were, I’m probably going to transition a little bit. I don’t want to chase too many rabbits here, but I, you know, one of the challenges I think I hear a lot of operators and even, you know, myself thinking and talking about, I’m wondering how that’s translating to what you’re doing, is the industry the population rather that we’re serving the client right now is, is not the boomer generation, but we know they’re coming in there’s kind of a, a little bit of a gap here in between the two.
And for those developers, those operators, they’re designing communities for the now that are coming out of the ground or they’ve got to be relevant now, but maintain relevancy and be able to pivot. Are there any design trends as it relates to all of these dimensions of wellness that you’re thinking, here’s some smart ways that we’re almost call it future proofing to be able to have that flex space? Is there any thoughts around that?
Greg: I think we’re going to find people wanting smaller separate areas, but that does so, but you want to have larger spaces that flow, right? It could be, I mean, imagine if you are stuck in your house, it rains, right? You get stuck in the house all weekend. It’s, oh my gosh, what am I going to do?
Josh: There’s only so much Netflix you can watch, right?
Greg: Exactly. And so you want to have a multiple of spaces that they can go to. So if you can have a bunch of smaller areas that have a different feel, a different vibe, or even if you think away the sun is going to go across your building, right? Sometimes a sunny spot in the wintertime can be amazing. Because you get the heat and the vitamin D and stuff like that. So it can be a sunroom, it could be the outdoor space, but well, you know, the opposite in the summertime, you want the shade. So think through that process and how it flows. So I think you want to have a variety of that. I think we’re going to have a lot more things that are self-driven.
We’re talking about in someone like the group exercise rooms going to the point where it is, you pick your program and then you get your best friend and you kind of do it. So kind of prepping for a lot of that stuff, whether it may be there now or not. I think it’s real important from that standpoint.
I’m hoping we’ll do a little bit more intergenerational. So having a lot more opportunities for the kids to come in and want to go see mom because there’s this really cool, you know, play gym, putting set, bace, whatever it is. And we joke about yard darts, that’d be kind of fun to do at some point. But trying to figure out a way to really encourage them to come in. So if they can come in and it’s comfortable.
We did a grand opening on a nursing home and it was kind of a small house one where there is multiple houses at 24. The environment was so comfortable because of the way that it was that usually you’ll do, you know, ribbon cutting your way says hello and then everybody wants to run to wherever it is. Everybody actually just hung out for a couple of hours and talked because it felt like you’re in this nice comfortable environment that had multiple activity spaces. So it’ll be interesting I think in some areas we’re going to break it down into smaller groups and be a little bit more flexible cause a small house model actually allows you to do AL, memory care, assisted living plus whatever you want to do. As you know, assisted living caters to the nursing population a bit more.
So I think there’s going to be a lot of that type of stuff. The big challenge is the travel does incest, the irony about what we do, right. A one story building is a whole lot cheaper, but the travel distances are, you know, pretty great. You know, the perfect building would almost be a tower where everybody walks less than 150 foot to the elevator and then another 150 foot to their destination and then that would actually be easier for them to integrate.
Greg: So sometimes it’s hard when we’re trying to do this building, but yet the travel isn’t so far. And then you start trying to put the different activity centers in different area and put the staff there because they want to be where the staff is.
Josh: Well again, I could sit here and geek out with you all day, but one of the things you just said you know, going vertical basically what is some strategies you’ve used? Cause I know we always have to think about these like life safety code things and like evacuation and all that. Like, what are some design tactics where you can go vertical with a population of, you know, moderate to severe acuity sometimes and still filled like good that you can get them out. And so in those situations the elevator and so forth, can those be used or are there other design ways?
Greg: They can, but you need to make sure that each floor has enough amenities for them to be comfortable there so that they don’t have to go down if they don’t want to. Or you may do it. We have one client that does like a hybrid where it’s a memory care at night than AL during the day. So everybody can kind of flex through the building, but then they’re more at risk in the evening. And so at that point, the elevator actually becomes a nice control point. It’s kind of a different way of thinking about it. And you can just tell when Ms. Smith, I’m sure the elevators don’t work after 5:00. So, and then it’s hard for them to say so, but then, but on the level they’re on, we have the living, the dining and the activity space and say a sunroom or something so that we have some quieter areas.
So yeah, so that’s been real beneficial kind of from that standpoint. The big thing to think through is your staffing ratios. So, you know, there are so many times that there might be an initial thought, but then when the performa’s put together and then you kind of look at it and say, well, this is good. We have, you know, 18 units per floor, whatever it is. And then you say, okay, what’s your staffing ratio? And it could be let’s say one-to-20 for whatever it is. And there’s that nice synergy between us, like, well, why don’t we add two more rooms to this floor? And then you’ve just done a bunch of grade with the same staff. So kind of working backwards and dissecting it.
And then what’s interesting is a lot of people always think about the daytime staff and not the nighttime staff. And that’s really where you live and die is by the nighttime staff. So if we can get them to kind of think through that and share with us as we’re putting together the building that you know, and it just makes it that much more successful.
Josh: Yeah, they get, you to buy in too. That’s a, that’s a huge factor. So love it man.
Lucas: Well, and Greg, you’re known for a lot of your ground up stuff, but you also do existing buildings and we were just having an interview. I mean it’s a big topic of conversations is value add acquisitions. The, the, the stock of inventory or an aging you know, the industry got its boom in the 90s, early 2000s even as we enter into 2020 and a lot of new development is coming online, which is causing not only are these buildings old and maybe a little antiquated on design, they’re having to beef up to be marketable, to be competitive against the new new stuff. So does this flex space idea also apply to an existing building that may be 20, 30 years old?
Greg: Well it’s, it’s interesting because we’re actually working with a group right now, a bigger group. So what we’re trying to figure out is do it in a way that works well. A lot of the older buildings, the challenges, they’re really cut up right? We don’t like, we don’t like a building that’s just a corridor with spaces off the corridor. We want to walk through spaces as you progress through the building. So a lot of the older buildings is a lot of is just taken out walls, open up spaces to one another. Getting that, you know that cool hotel lobby, you know, where there’s a lot of different activities and energy and funds. So if you get somebody that, you know, they get the really social guys are going to be right next to their front door, you know, talking to their kids.
Lucas: I love those guys.
Lucas: They’re sitting up there, greeting you as you walk in.
Greg: Exactly And then you’re going to have other folks that are a little quieter and they actually get as much joy as sitting back here watching him talking to everybody. And then the in-between. So you get people sitting in a different location. So provide enough spaces to do that, which is a form of the flex space. I’m from there, but really a lot of it has an opening up, getting the new amenities. A lot of people have a tendency to think more about the inside of the building, not the site and the landscape and the amenities you have there. So the next thing is, okay, now what can we do on the outside to let this thing flow outside for a lot of buildings just don’t have very good exterior spaces. So what do we do that, and that’s actually in some ways is more cost effective than some of the interior renovations to do there.
But again, we need to make sure it connects well to everything and it’s not at the end of a hallway and you know, hard to get to. So it may be that it’s worth taking out a room in some instances where you can get the connection, you can get the amenity to the outside. So a lot of the older buildings have a tendency to have cores that don’t have a whole lot of windows or connection to the outside because they were trying to maximize the efficiency. But yet that also means less windows, less connection to the outside. And that’s what makes it feel more old. Whereas the newer buildings we’re doing, we purposely need to bring that in in different ways. And so it’s making it feel a little bit more like that.
Lucas: Sure, sure. Well, and there’s this balance between, okay, we’re hoping that this, the cost of renovation it’s going to help also reign occupancy. And there’s this balancing act between, okay, yeah, we can change all these spaces, but it’s gonna involve a lot of constructions, it can be expensive. How do we balance that out in between you know, the cost and the ROI and the occupancy and the benefit and disruption back to the residents. I’m sure that you’ve seen that in conversation.
Greg: Oh yeah. And this actually ties back to wellness because wellness is, you know, a third of the building and two thirds of the programming, right? So if we can get them to rethink wellness and how they’re going to do it and accommodate that, it should in theory help their census because you’re not going to get as much turnover in the population because they should live better longer. Which we all want to do. So that’s really important. And then on the programming side, making sure we have the spaces that are really easy to manage and operate.
Even in the active adult side where the staffing levels are super low, if we can still take that same approach and do it where one or two folks can actually do you know, what would, you know, in a typical IL be, you know, say four, six people that’s sweet. And a lot of it is just, you know, the flex spaces, how well things overlap. It’s hard because you don’t want to change furniture a bunch. So it needs to kind of always be, or at least most of the time, good from that standpoint. So I think if you can do that, I think that makes a lot of sense. And then it’s not just a pretty space, it’s a pretty space that’s actually gonna be marketable. It’s gonna have a benefit to the residents.
And I think if you can, you know, the goal is, and I think some of the groups I know masterpiece has done this where they’ve kind of gone in and done analytics to say, okay, if you do a pretty hefty wellness program here is the benefit of this. So if I’m a senior and I’m going to go to community A and community B and community A says, okay, you know, we, we generally have, you know, information statistics that says, you know, your family member or in an AL elective adult, you are gonna live another two, three, four years, whatever it is, you know, every once in the nine bump that they’re kind of talking about now. Now that’s a huge amount of time.
And if that is a competitive advantage that you have because you’ve integrated this, all these wellness amenities now, it’s a lot easier to build them in than to program and operate it that way. So we need to make sure that is a core value and they’re really going to manage it that way to promote it.
Josh: So I have one last question and we could spend a lot of time on it but just give us the highlights. But, so we’ve talked a lot about wellness and design and flex space specifically geared towards the operations, the residents’ wellness, but this growing problem and that we have of labor force and recruitment, retention and then wellness for them. I mean is, do you see it as a changing trend or there things being done where now? I know used to, you couldn’t find a break room in these places.
Lucas: And if you did, you didn’t want to go in it.
Josh: No, and it was stuffed back in a corner somewhere.
Greg: The millennials love breaks. I mean, that is really a big part of them. So we’ve been focused a lot on that. We actually did our own office when we kind of kind of acquired and got to do our own building. We rethought how we wanted it. Instead of having a lobby and a waiting area and a break room, we need a break room. So we actually did a space as this really cool kitchen. It has an Island. You’ll have staff there, you’ll have visitors there, we might have people in town for a meeting and they’ll hang out there and work. So I think it’s the same way with the staff that we really want to make it feel like it’s this really cool kitchen cause everybody loves the kitchen. They always go to the kitchen parties and stuff like that. So everybody can kind of go to the Island, hang out and talk, charge their device and do that. Or they can sit at a couple of the tables. So there’s a lot of focus there in having windows.
So typically what we really like to do is put in spot where I can get windows into that space. We’re actually putting windows into kitchens now to just to have the feel of the outside is huge. So to do that in show that you respect them and then we’re actually doing another community right now outside of Nashville that we’re actually focused on an exterior environment for them to not just a smoking area, but you know, where can they go and be able to kind of recollect themselves, especially when they’ve had a tough day or you know, maybe a resident’s passed away. So really focus on that, which is really neat. And you know, that would have been, you know, not as, you know, prioritized in the past.
Josh: And I think it’s to marry those two because there’s gotta be a kind of an equal focus on our team so that they’re well-equipped well and able to-
Greg: – the staff get all the benefits to.
Josh: That’s right. So they’re getting the benefits, therefore the residents are getting the benefits. So some, some great, cool advice from reshaped you touching on that for us.
Greg: Thank you.
Lucas: Yeah. I really appreciate that Greg. Thank you so much. It’s a, this is a great conference. There’s a lot going on here and we appreciate you taking time to come and sit with us and give us your knowledge on this. It’s been really good.
Greg: Well, thank you. Well, thanks for all you guys do. This is a lot of fun seeing this and kind of bringing the ideas to people, getting them to think about it.
Josh: Having a blast.
Lucas: That’s right. You guys have been great supporters of us. Thanks Greg. And thank you everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.