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Melrose Manor Senior Living Estate

by Justin

PROJECT FEATURE: Kunz Raubenheimer Architects

The Melrose Manor Senior Living Estate by Auria Senior Living was a refurbishment project which involved the transformation of a grand old building in a quiet cul-de-sac. This gracious old lady, over 50 years old, was once the Don Peppi Hotel, consisting of a hotel section as well as separate serviced apartments.

Over time it was sectionalized, resulting in the hotel section being sold off to become Pembury Lodge, which was then run illegally as an old age home. The Pembury Lodge operator extracted as much revenue as possible without putting anything back for upkeep or maintenance of the building. It slowly deteriorated over time and this led to it gaining an appalling reputation in the retirement sector and the surrounding community.

The brief from the client was thus complex as it entailed completely removing the negative legacy that Pembury Lodge left within the wider community. The building needed not only a refurbishment but also had to be rebranded completely to establish its new identity as a leader in the retirement industry, able to achieve A-grade sales prices.

Instead of disregarding the existing building and completely demolishing it, the refurbishment had to be guided by its unique Mediterranean character and had to enhance the unique existing ambience by introducing new elements that would complement it in a contemporary manner.

Open-plan spatial configuration conducive to contemporary living

The architectural response required a two-fold approach which entailed interior and exterior renovations and additions. The communal space on the ground floor had to be completely redesigned to create a comfortable environment where residents could meet and interact, and where different functions were organized in a logical and practical manner.

Facilities had to be added to the existing ground floor, including a new reception foyer and concierge, admin offices, a coffee shop, a library and lounge, a cinema, dining room, cards room, private dining area and bathrooms.

The coffee shop spills out onto a deck with a pergola, where a series of arched steel screens with cut-out patterns serve multiple functions: providing privacy from the street, acting as a security barrier to the coffee shop at night, and functioning as a solar control device during the day. Internally similar cut out steel screens are used to differentiate between spaces with different functions and to establish clear thresholds between these spaces.

A wellness centre also had to be added which consisted of Biokineticist and Physiotherapist treatment rooms, a salon, an exercise room, a gym, admin offices, bathrooms and staff facilities.

All these functions had to be accommodated within the limited existing space of the ground floor level and basement parking as the client did not want to lose lettable/saleable areas on upper levels. The layout of the apartments on the first, second and third floor had to be redesigned to allow for an open-plan spatial configuration which would be more conducive to contemporary living.

Welcoming the external community into the senior living space

The existing building, which was unsafe due to the renovations that were made over the years, had to be made completely safe for senior citizens as outlined by the Elderly Person’s Act. Wheelchair ramps and unobstructed and continuous thresholds had to be included to allow for universal access while adhering to the various aspects and regulations of senior living and impaired movement ergonomics.

Externally, the renovations consisted of a new porte-cochere, coffee shop, swimming pool courtyard area and a series of planted courtyards.  The new entrance and porte-cochere had to be lit at night to give new life to the quiet cul-de-sac of Kernick West Avenue and invite visitors into the warm interior.

The existing courtyards between the building wings were also redesigned to rejuvenate these under-utilized spaces in view of the apartments, with the layout of the apartments being redesigned to allow for an open plan spatial configuration which is more conducive to contemporary living.

It was important for the senior residents to be integrated into society and the surrounding community and therefore the coffee shop had to be designed in such a manner that it would become the interface for engagement between residents and the public, welcoming the external community into the senior living space. The existing courtyards between the building wings were also to be redesigned to rejuvenate these under-utilized spaces in view of the apartments.

All of this had to be achieved in an occupied building, with many residents being very frail. This would entail after hours working and strict supervision and access control on site. In essence, the new design language had to respect and enhance the unique existing character of the building, while removing the flawed changes that were made by the previous owner to create a timeless design solution that would remain relevant to the milieu of future residents.

A varied spatial experience

The architects’ design approach was to retain and enhance the unique ambience and character of the existing Mediterranean architectural typology. They did this by introducing new elements that complement the existing style and accentuate it in a contemporary manner, while removing the flawed changes that were made by the previous owner.

This was achieved by adding a new porte-cochere, a series of pergolas, planted screens, vaulted ceilings to give more volume to the dining room, new natural finishes and by bringing in more natural light. Through these additions and alterations, the goal was to provide a varied spatial experience throughout the building and to create comfortable and inviting spaces to spend time with family and friends.

A timeless design solution

Looking back at the project, the architects say they were “pushed out of our comfort zone” in having to work with an existing building with a specific character which required them to develop a new design approach and language that would respect and enhance the existing personality of the building.

“At the same time, we had to be wary of not just following a stylistic design approach but rather implement a timeless design solution that would remain relevant to the milieu of future residents. We thoroughly enjoyed this process.”

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