The Science of Safety and Sustainability: An Interview with Mitch Elliott, RDG Planning and Design

Magnolia Manor The Lodge Columbus Georgia
The lobby at The Lodge Columbus Georgia

Can wellness actually be part of the plan when you’re constructing a community? It is at The Lodge, where safety and sustainability have started right at the architect’s drawing board. We met with The Lodge’s architect Mitch Elliott, AIA, Principal of RDG Planning and Design, to discuss the features that go into creating a health-focused community.

Q. What is the idea behind the wellness features at The Lodge?
Mitch Elliott: We call them Well Being Strategies, and they incorporate body, mind and spirit. And here, they’re not just a reaction to the recent pandemic. The Magnolia Manor leadership team had this vision long before COVID, to create a community that really does address the well-being of the resident.

Q. How do you incorporate this wellness-centered approach?
Mitch Elliott: Creating distinct neighborhoods is an important part of it. The five neighborhoods here are independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled short-term rehab and skilled long-term rehab. Wellness starts right at the entrance to each neighborhood’s building, with multiple, controlled entry points. This helps minimize contact, and allows us to easily use health technology such as temperature checks at entrances, if they are needed.

The Lodge is also structured so that each neighborhood has its own permanent staff, minimizing cross-traffic. Separate dining venues and food prep areas significantly reduce the amount of exposure. And each neighborhood has an independent HVAC system for more control over air quality. This can all help with issues like the pandemic, and it can curtail influenza and other contagious illnesses as well. Also, this neighborhood approach helps reduce issues with personal isolation and encourage connection, which is an important part of total wellness.

Q. What about personal safety issues – can design help with that?
Mitch Elliott: It definitely can. For example, with our lightning – studies show that for a 75-plus eye, we need to provide 50% greater light levels than you would for younger eyes. Glare has to be minimized as well. We do that by reducing shiny surfaces, using matte finishes for flooring, countertops and other areas.

We’ve also paid special attention to flooring transitions, which can often cause falls. Our designers have done a great job of flattening thresholds to minimize hazards. We have even gone above the standard with grab bars. Ours are designed for flexibility and customization, so if a resident has a specific need, we can adjust the bar to accommodate.

Q. The Lodge is also incorporating features that help the health of the environment, too, correct?
Mitch Elliott: Yes, we’re definitely committed to sustainability in this community. We’re using highly energy efficient lighting, low-VOC paints and stains for minimizing toxins, and we have made it a standard to recycle materials as much as possible. Also, our HVAC system uses an energy recovery system, which is very efficient. And as for appliances and other major electronics, they all must be energy star rated.

Q. All of this will make The Lodge a great place to live, correct?
Mitch Elliott: It will – but we also have to remember that this is a workplace, too, and we must keep attracting the best people to join us. By creating an environment that underpins the positive culture of The Lodge, we’ll create a great place to work, and a great place to live. It’s a win-win.