The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and AARP, the national nonprofit organization for people 50 years and older, recently announced the results of their joint 2009 Livable Communities Student Design Competition. Three designs were chosen for top awards and three for honorable mention.

Though the competition generated compelling single-family house designs in 2008, in 2009 AARP wanted to explore whole-community design that supports the lives of its members by providing access to services, multiple transportation options, and venues for social engagement, as well as safe, accessible, and affordable housing.

"So much of what [AARP] is concerned about—our members having active, productive lives—is not just about the house, but about getting out and about in the community and thinking about the community as a broad cross section," says Amy Levner, AARP's manager of housing and mobility options and the student competition manager. "The competition helped students think about the community as a whole: not just the aging population, but everyone living together. The kind of designs we got from these students are beneficial for everyone, not just people who are aging."

Students were required to design a new-construction, mixed-use urban development with 30 ADA-accessible or adaptable residential units, an assisted living wing with 24-hour health care, street-level retail space, and community recreation and social spaces. They had to address accessibility to transportation, plan for basic community services, and create a plan for the site's orientation, access, walkability, views, and daylighting. They also were encouraged to incorporate sustainable features.

According to the competition jury, the winning designs demonstrate originality and cleverly accommodate the daily needs of a wide range of people. "The finalists who won didn't design the typical assisted living center," says Matthew Fochs, director of design and outreach programs for AIAS. "Looking at the designs, you don't immediately think it's a home for elderly people; you'd think it was a regular mixed-use development. The students really approached the challenge with the goal of designing an environment that they wouldn't mind living in themselves."

The winners are:

First Prize ($6,000 + $1,000 for AIAS chapter)—John Vierra of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif., for "Flexible Framework," a design for a mixed-use development in Venice, Calif. The judges appreciated this design's approach to the urban environment, with retail on the street and common space for residents off the street. The panel thought the circulation within units was well-designed, and commended the entry's use of universal design and shading devices. They especially liked the movable walls incorporated within the units, which allow owners to change the space as their lives change.

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Second Prize ($4,000 + $550 for AIAS chapter)—Sandra Schwartz, Dan Reed, Alice Chiang, and Anthony Maiolatesi of the University of Maryland, for "A Model for Aging in Place," a design for a site in Silver Spring, Md. The judges lauded the design's urban context and cited its provisions for off-street access for residents. They thought the entry employed universal design very well, and they liked the functionality of the units.

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Third Prize ($2,500 + $400 for AIAS Chapter)—Kristy Swann of Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., for "Livable Community at Camp and Girod," a design for a site in New Orleans. The judges felt this design had a good relationship to the street and liked the way it separates public and private spaces.

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Honorable Mentions were given to Jason Roberts, Ryan Browne, and Joseph Juhl of Judson University, Elgin, Ill.; Samuel Lima, also of Judson University; and Nick Hubof of the University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho.

Comprising the jury were Bradford Grant, AIA, NOMA, director of Howard University's School of Architecture and Design; Eric Zaddock, Assoc. AIA, former AIAS president, and urban planner/intern architect at DBI Architects, Washington, D.C.; aging-in-place expert and remodeler Louis Tenenbaum of Potomac, Md.; and Scott Windley, architect for the U.S. Access Board.

While accessibility and universal design are part of the curriculum at architecture schools, the concepts are not an everyday focus. The AARP and AIAS Livable Communities Student Design Competition reminded participating students to design for the largest common denominator to prevent isolating any individual or group.