KATE RUSSELL shares the joys and challenges experienced by Dalman Architecture in breathing life into Christchurch’s Russley Village.

In 2007, when Retirement Assets set out to transform the iconic Russley Hotel site in Christchurch into The Russley Village, they envisaged developing a new form of retirement living. They wanted residents to feel like they lived in a highly desirable village with character and with no perception of it being an institution or an old folks’ home. Equally important was the development of a place where residents could feel at home in a social, friendly environment and continue to pursue a full life and a myriad of hobbies and interests– no matter what their age.

The inspiration for the village grew out of concern for a New Zealand trend to maximise the number of units on a site. Compact living arrangements typically mean sacrifices are made in design and functionality and often result in institutional- looking buildings. A gap in the market was apparent and they set the goal to develop an integrated community where residents would be proud to live. The solution was to design a village full of character in buildings, interior design and landscaping.

Dalman Architecture and Boffa Miskell were brought in for their expertise in the design of aged care and retirement living developments and urban design respectively. Their brief was to minimise construction costs but strategically design an entire village that gave the impression it had been individually crafted.

A key design goal was to achieve a character environment for residents within a village atmosphere. The result is a village filled with a variety of modern, spacious interiors and attractive buildings, all comprising high quality fixtures and finishes.

Residents can choose from different levels of care to suit their lifestyle requirements, including independent living to fully serviced apartments and hospital care. The village is being completed in stages, and once finished, it will consist of 38 villas, nine terrace villas, 63 apartments, 21 assisted living apartments, and 19 care rooms. Currently under construction is an underground car park and a second stage of apartments. A community centre, swimming pool, and hospital care facility, which will have 24-hour nursing care, is in the next and final design phase.

To achieve the appearance of individually crafted villas, nine floor plans were designed consisting of either two or three bedrooms. This compares with standard retirement living, which normally consists of only one or two unit designs. Each villa has its own unique position on the site to provide a variety outlooks and privacy. Another point of difference for The Russley Village is the spacious floor plans.

Apartment blocks are largely a new concept for retirement living in Christchurch. However, based on the popularity of the first stage two-storey apartments, three-storey apartments are now being built. They all provide excellent outlooks, including to The Pavilion, which is the interim community centre that overlooks the village bowling green. The village is also security controlled, with gates shut after hours, a village manager and various alarm systems.

At the heart of the village will be the Russley Homestead, the main village facility. This is a comprehensive community centre that will offer a wide array of amenities to residents. It is an important design feature of the village as it caters for a range of needs with a public area, café, restaurant, bar, movie theatre, library, computer room, billiards, health, beauty, and medical rooms. The function rooms in the community centre offer flexibility and can be utilised by residents for hobbies, music, seminars and private use.

The design of the community centre has been carefully considered to cater for intimate or large gatherings and will be a popular place to take visitors. Through adaptive design techniques, residents can enjoy large communal occasions like Christmas dinner, yet host a family party in a private room or meet a friend for coffee without feeling overwhelmed by a void some cavernous halls can create. Once complete, The Pavilion will be converted into a full gymnasium on the lower level and the village bowling club on the upper level.

With all these features on offer, residents have everything they need within close proximity. They can choose to venture out of the village, either by themselves or in the village Mercedes minivan, or enjoy the activities and facilities the village has to offer without transportation or mobility concerns.

Landscape architects Boffa Miskell designed a Cantabrian-inspired landscape and village townscape that links to the architecture. It is an element that adds interesting views, spaciousness and optimised common and private gardens to delight the residents. With each view from the buildings and street taken into consideration, the residents have a different outlook, from indoor-outdoor living to pergolas, vegetable gardens, a bowling green, and a petanque court.

The September 2010 and February 2011 Christchurch earthquakes did not have any lasting effects on the village. Construction was underway on some of the villas during the February earthquake. However, they stood up well and were undamaged by the event. Since the earthquakes, all buildings at The Russley Village have been built to the updated seismic standards of the building code. There was an increase in building costs to meet the standards but no compromise was made to the level of finish and quality.

The collaboration between Dalman Architecture and Retirement Assets has been successful as both companies shared the same vision to develop a high quality village. Graham Wilkinson, director of Retirement Assets states: “To get the best outcome in a village, a client needs to have a firm vision of what they are trying to achieve and the architect needs to be able to listen, interpret and deliver. In the case of The Russley Village, Dalman Architecture have certainly achieved that.”

The success of The Russley Village is the knowledge that residents enjoy living there. In acknowledgement of this achievement a resident says, “They have made this village, and the culture of this village to be such a successful, happy place”.

The Russley Village will be fully complete in 2016.

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