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Mixed-Use Senior Living in Silicon Valley

The Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto, Calif., builds an entire community around senior housing

By Leigh Franke

As cities embrace vibrant, walkable, mixed-use models for the general population, the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life in Palo Alto, Calif., has made sure they don’t leave out those over 65. Designed by Steinberg Architects and featured in the 2012 AIA Virtual Convention session “Welcome Home: Universal Design, Sustainable Design, and Baby Boomers,” Taube Koret combines affordable and market-rate senior and family housing with a fitness center, daycare, and an 8,000-member Jewish community center.

Unlike some senior facilities, the Moldaw Family Residences at Taube Koret follow the “continuous care” model, combining multiple levels of support for aging residents. From independent living to assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory support, the model gives residents the convenience of remaining in the same place, maintaining friendships and familiarity without sacrificing the availability of care.

A tale of two Taubes

The 12-acre site was jointly purchased by two unrelated Bay-area organizations: the Jewish Home of San Francisco, a 142-year-old Jewish senior housing nonprofit; and the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center (now the Oshman Family JCC). Neither had any intention of combining the two facilities until Rob Steinberg, FAIA, principal of Steinberg Architects, suggested an alternative. Steinberg had spent time at a continuous-care senior facility with his own relatives and liked the housing model, but he saw some flaws. “People would come up to me and say, ‘Rob, we love it here, but a lot of old people live here.’ That’s kind of tongue in cheek, but [the residents] were hungry to be a part of the larger world,” he says.

Steinberg began presenting designs to the two organizations and connected the two programs. In the final design, the team placed the senior living facility directly on top of the community center. “It was a model that you would find in an old European city, an Old World model where you have the housing over the shops,” Steinberg says.

Steinberg Architects’ San Jose office designed the residences as smaller-scale “wings” with six to eight apartments each, rather than one large monolithic building. Glass walkways join each wing, providing common space in between. “It really broke the community down into a neighborhood,” says Steinberg.

With its range of housing options, fitness center, cultural hall, daycare, classrooms, and religious spaces, the diversity and level of activity at Taube Koret is reminiscent of a miniature city. Aspects of each program are distributed throughout the campus and within each building, encouraging connections between different types of users passing through the campus. “We created intersections where a mother taking her child to preschool might cross paths with a family on its way to a movie that might cross paths with a senior on their way to the fitness center,” Steinberg says.

And these interactions aren’t limited to sidewalk exchanges. Outdoor gathering places create shared space for special events and socialization, while JCC programs provide opportunities to connect with different age groups. Children and teenagers help seniors navigate the digital world during after-school technology courses, but also come together for a more timeless pursuit—tending the campus garden.

Making the move

Lily Anne Hillis, 75, a longtime Palo Alto resident, first attended an early presentation to potential renters as a favor to a friend in real estate. “I realized that this was going to be a town with the JCC, a preschool, and all these activities on the campus,” she says. “You weren’t going to be able to isolate yourself with just seniors. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was an immediate click in my brain—‘I’m living there.’”

A yoga instructor for the past 23 years who still teaches seven to 10 classes a week at the Taube Koret Center and in the surrounding area, Hillis was one of the first residents to sign on to Taube Koret, leaving behind her 2,300-square-foot home of 49 years for a 900-square-foot apartment. “I loved every minute that I lived in that house, and when I moved away from it, I never thought about it again,” says Hillis. “It’s just the best decision I’ve ever made.”

With 193 housing units, Moldaw allows residents to remain independent while still being a part of the larger community. “I make friends with people here that—I have to be honest—I wouldn’t have had any opportunity to run into if I still lived on my own,” explained Hillis.

Outside of Moldaw, the JCC’s Cultural Arts Hall, fitness center, pool, preschool, and teen center bring in over 1,000 visitors of all ages and backgrounds each day, according to Mimi Sells, chief marketing officer of the Oshman Family JCC. “[The seniors] get to be a part of life—instead of separate from it—because the JCC attracts people of all ages and backgrounds,” she says.

New paradigm

Viably and sustainably integrating so many uses and programs onto one site required an impressive commitment to best practices by architects and builders. The financial complexities of developing affordable housing during an economic recession could have easily swayed them to forego striving for the LEED Silver certification the campus earned. “To get there,” says Steinberg, “you really have to use everything.”

Due to its proximity to nearby electronics manufacturers, the site faced a host of contamination issues typical of brownfields. Steinberg Architects restored the soil, making the site safe for residents by eliminating the toxins and raising the residential and community facilities over at-grade parking. The campus minimizes water use through efficient toilets, sinks, and showers, and recycles gray water. The rejuvenation of the site, coupled with its proximity to public transportation, attention to air and water quality, use of local materials (such as locally sourced concrete), and construction best practices all contributed to the project’s LEED Silver certification. And these green accomplishments don’t just fade into the woodwork for residents and visitors. Throughout the campus, video monitors educate passersby about the site’s energy-efficient components.

The campus is ADA-accessible throughout, integrating standard barrier-free design with thoughtful solutions such as raised planters in gardens that reduce the need for bending and stooping, and a beach-style roll-in pool entrance for wheelchair users. Residential units are designed for aging in place, with senior-specific acoustic and visual adjustments such as noise-mitigating walls and color-contrast carpeting.

While the campus is one of the first of its kind in the United States, Steinberg Architects is currently working on one of the first continuous-care models for senior housing in Shanghai. “I am so convinced that this is the way of the future,” says Steinberg. “This will be the new paradigm for senior housing.”

Often the most innovative and successful design solutions tend to fade into the background of everyday life, normalizing a new level of ease for the user. The enthusiasm of residents at Taube Koret indicates the project has already achieved this level of success. “We’re really spoiled here in a lot of ways,” laughed Hillis about her new life at Taube Koret, “but I don’t know what this has to do with architecture.”


The senior housing courtyards are uniquely designed to accommodate elderly residents’ visual and movement challenges while encouraging family visitation. All images courtesy of Tim Griffith.

This pedestrian-friendly campus is organized around multiple outdoor communal spaces which encourage serendipitous intergenerational connections.

The Midrahov pedestrian street actively engages seniors, teens, preschoolers, and adults.

Town Square, the largest of the outdoor rooms, is the pedestrian crossroads between preschool, wellness, retail, and cultural venues.


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Visit the Design for Aging Knowledge Community website on AIA KnowledgeNet.

Check out the 2012 AIA Virtual Convention session “Welcome Home: Universal Design, Sustainable Design, and Baby Boomers.”

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See what else the AIA Virtual Convention has to offer.


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