Inspīr Carnegie Hill: A Case Study on Urban Senior Living

Date Published August 31, 2022
Category Senior Living, Urban Design

With Inspīr Carnegie Hill, we were challenged to redefine what a senior living experience could be.

Maplewood Senior Living, an upscale senior living provider based in Connecticut, approached Handel Architects with a goal: to reimagine senior living in a luxury urban environment. They gravitated to us because of our deep experience in luxury residential design as well as the hospitality industry, including many projects for Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Shangri-La.

Maplewood wanted to create a place where residents and their families could gather and create new memories together, supported by an environment and a hospitality staff that would be second to none.

It became clear to us at the very first meeting with Maplewood that the ideas for Inspīr Carnegie Hill were going to be about connecting the building and the people to the outdoors, to daylight, to nature. We talked a lot about what that means to people and their lives, and how it enhances quality of life. Every design decision in the creation of this flagship project was approached with the goal of providing Inspir residents with meaningful connections to nature, to the outdoors, to the city, and to their purpose in the building’s community - essential values in life as we age.

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Inspir is located on Manhattan's Upper East Side, close to some of the city's best cultural institutions and top medical facilities.

Often, as people age, they tend to withdraw from social and cultural experiences. Inspīr Carnegie Hill offers people the opportunity to stay close to the things they really love to do- whether it’s museums, shopping, or just simply enjoying Central Park. Having so many top medical facilities nearby also provides peace of mind.

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We began by translating the typically horizontal operational program of an assisted living facility into a vertical, urban context.

The program was organized to take advantage of the building setbacks to maximize access to the outdoors, while also thoughtfully considering the varying levels of care provided throughout the building. Residents that require more care and who have difficulty moving without supervision are located on the lower levels, proximate to the common spaces of the restaurant, library, wellness, and skypark, while the more independent residents are located on the upper levels. The skypark separates the different levels of care and creates connections between the wintergarden and outdoor terrace.

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Higher acuity care floors are located at the lower tier of the building where there are larger floor plates, allowing for larger support spaces where they are needed the most. Here, because of the residents' restricted movement, there are gardens and planted terraces interspersed throughout and emphasized on the exterior through planted balconies at the common rooms. Lower acuity care floors are located on the set-back upper tier of the building where less support is needed proximate to the residents’ units.

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The board formed cast-in-place concrete structure is exposed as the building’s facade with a simple elegance and order that acts as a framework for allowing the outdoors inside.

The concrete exterior was hand-crafted with a textured board forming technique, and connects through its materiality to the limestone and masonry buildings inherent to the Upper East Side.

The building is reduced to its essential elements: a monolithic and lasting masonry frame, big glass windows and warm, bronze metal and wood storefronts at the communal gathering spaces.

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By creating a deep façade of exposed structure, the board formed exterior columns can be seen from the interior, adding texture to residents’ views and a protective, interstitial space between inside and out.

Structural thermal breaks were integrated to the building slab edges to enhance building performance and thermal comfort. The horizontal projecting slabs serve as a sun control device and contribute to the energy performance of the building by reducing air–conditioning needs and providing glare-free natural light. Complimenting the concrete structure are bronze colored windows that tilt in or slide open allowing for natural ventilation.


The interiors at Inspīr Carnegie Hill provide a balanced backdrop to nature that is simple and modern in form, yet luxuriant with hand-crafted details and natural materials.

Building on the connections between inside and out, each space was layered with a material expression that would provide a warm compliment to the building exterior’s concrete frame. Accent walls were added using natural colored stones and metals, acting as landmarks and wayfinding for residents. More intimate spaces for dining, leisure, and physical activity are further defined by texture and detail using custom-made bronze and brass light fixtures and hardware, timeless hand-crafted furniture profiles in richly textured and colored fabrics, and curated artwork.

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Interconnected Communal Spaces

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The lofty lobby space is entered from bustling 2nd Avenue through a set of custom teak wood doors framed by bronze planters and a planted entrance canopy above.

The building’s board formed concrete exterior is transformed to boarded oak wood interior creating a subtle transition while the rich planted entrance canopy extends over the interior entrance vestibule further bridging between inside and out.

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The lobby was designed with a calm, neutral palette, setting the tone for the rest of the interior spaces.

Hand-set, honed ivory Roman travertine floors, flat-cut white oak wood wall-paneling, and Statuary white marble act as a backdrop for the planted garden and light-well connecting to the library above.

A massive green onyx wall identifies the lobby and is book-ended on the other side of the lobby by a yellow onyx wall at the lounge. The design team further layered the backdrop with a custom hand-blown, fluted glass chandelier over the marble reception desk. A classic grand piano and curated art create a sense of sophistication.

A series of slatted oak and glass screen walls separate the lobby from the restaurant spaces.

The screens allow light from 2nd Avenue to filter through to the dining spaces while defining a layered enfilade of rooms in which residents can choose to dine.

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The main dining area is defined by an inlayed travertine mosaic ‘rug’.

Dining tables are made into intimate rooms using high backed arm chairs and a silk fringed light fixture above each table. The eastern most screen terminates in a custom ribbed, leather banquet surrounding a garden enclosed with sliding oak doors and open to the 2nd floor terrace above.

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The 2nd floor overlooks the lobby and gardens below.

Here, flexible resident activity areas include a library, screening room, and an art and potting studio that opens directly to the terrace garden. A peaceful salon and spa looks out over a classic New York City scene of neighboring treetops.

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Below the lobby level is a wellness suite carved out of the ground.

The swimming pool is surrounded by textured board formed concrete retaining walls juxtaposed with luxurious travertine stone and anchored by an accent wall of earthy colored metallic mosaic. The pool is connected to the fitness and physical therapy areas by a colonnade of travertine walls separated by slatted wood screens allowing a light, open feeling throughout the spaces.

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At the center of the building is the sky park, a monumental multi-functional space inspired by lath house structures.

The lath frames shelter a space that is interspersed with large indoor gardens that separate the main structure into smaller seating and activity areas. The interior is connected to the outdoors and to the city below with a wrap-around terrace where residents can meander through the garden around the building’s perimeter, or sit on the intimate sun porch and have a meal or meeting with friends and family.

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Interconnected Communal Spaces

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A two-sided bar bridges between the main space to the west and the sunny breakfast room to the east allowing both sunrise and sunset views of the city.

The bar and other connections between east and west are clad with slabs of red onyx stone elevating the wood with luxurious color and pattern. A cozy library sitting area at the north is separated from the main space by a two-sided fireplace clad in oxidized copper. At the center of the main space, an indoor and outdoor cafe is furnished with seasonal fabrics that can be changed from light cotton in the summer to plush velvet in the winter connecting residents with the time of the year and transforming the feeling of the space. Lantern-like pendant light fixtures illuminate the space.

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Large floor plates on the lower levels give way to big, open common areas offering natural light and planted balconies.

Back of house support spaces were aggregated towards the core of the building to allow staff seamless vertical circulation between care floors, the building’s main kitchen and additional support spaces separated from the public areas. Each floor offers an abundance of communal spaces that are open and accessible to residents, visiting families and staff, creating smaller ‘neighborhoods’ within the larger building community.

The living and dining spaces on each floor were finished with a serene palette of quartered white oak millwork, open kitchens with clean white quartz counters, and custom furnishings in green, brown and ochre-colored fabrics allowing the focus to remain on the gardens.

Common rooms continue up the building through the different acuity levels, differentiated by their own unique set of support spaces suited to the level of care provided, and personalized with different custom furnishings and color compositions.

Units were designed to provide private and purposeful accommodations for the resident’s every need. ​

Door entries are marked with white oak portals and modern bronze door levers, signage and light fixtures that were designed specifically for the project. The lights have a square perforation pattern reflecting the geometry of the building’s exterior, and providing a soft, welcoming glow at every door. Unit interiors were designed to maximize natural light with floor-to-ceiling tilt-in windows, easy to operate crank hardware, window shades, and sheer drapes allowing residents to control their own fresh air and quality of light.

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White oak engineered wood floors and elegant, built-in white oak wardrobes, pantries and mirrored display niches allow residents to personalize their spaces.

The design team meticulously designed the bathrooms in luxurious Calacatta Gold marble with a warm vein pattern that compliments the surrounding oak and white quartz materials. A custom light at each entry foyer turns on automatically at night for safety and wayfinding.

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Inspīr Carnegie Hill presents an environment that truly nurtures whole-person wellness.

From the masterful design of the residence to the immersive experiences, innovative programming, and world-class care, every decision has been driven by a philosophy of vibrant, intentional living and meaningful connection.

To learn more about this project, please visit Inspir Senior Living.

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