Case Study

Amira Choice Sarasota Aging in Place Independent Living and Assisted Living as Lifestyle Choice and Immersive Memory Support

The Challenge

HKS had to develop a design that would provide a more equitable, open and blended type of senior living continuum of care that supports seniors as they age in place, while also breaking down common barriers between different levels of care.

The Design Solution

The story of Amira Choice Sarasota (formerly Watercrest Sarasota) is about the people. It is a stage, custom designed like a Cirque du Soleil experience in Las Vegas, but for a play that never ends. Amira Choice Sarasota seeks to make assisted living more independent living-like to attract more people.

Assisted living is designed to appeal to potential residents as a lifestyle choice, not just a need. Amira Choice Sarasota features resort-style service, extraordinary care and luxurious residences with boutique amenities. Normally, these types of communities have separate entrances, but Amira Choice Sarasota has implemented a single entrance that welcomes all residents and visitors with the same, equal level of elegance and service. Centered around service, amenities include a main dining room with exhibition cooking and a multi-function venue that serves as a fast breakfast/coffee shop in the morning, a light café/grab-and-go venue at lunch and a bar in the evening. Throughout, there is a spa with a salon and massage rooms, fitness, activity, art and socialization spaces, a room for grandchildren to play while their parents and grandparents visit, gardens and a water feature.

The memory support wing features the “Market Street” concept with an indoor streetscape populated with storefront openings for a bakery, art gallery, post office, salon and spa. Within the bakery, residents relive moments of life while experiencing the smells and tastes of freshly made pastries and other items designed to trigger memories. In addition to places to sit and visit, a section opens out into the secure outdoor Discovery Garden. At each end are faux, but purposeful, home facades to help visually cue as many residents as possible to find their way, a key goal of dementia care.

The Sarasota market needed more flexible senior living communities to support aging-in-place, so HKS created a hybrid independent-living choice that fit the Amira Choice philosophy. There are four buildings, three floors each with each floor containing six apartments clustered around a shared living space. The apartments are senior-friendly with kitchens carefully designed to help a resident age in place for as long as possible. The units include drawer dishwashers so residents with balance issues do not have to bend over. This also allowed designers to move the microwave lower, over the oven, to reduce the high reach risk residents faced when mounted over the range. Balconies are offered with three different choices– covered but open; covered but screened; and partially shaded with a trellis. The largest apartment type provides two of these options in one wrap-around balcony. All hybrid independent-living buildings, named “Garden Apartments,” are grouped around gardens, a senior-friendly pool and Café. 

Also, most assisted living/memory support communities only invest in certifying a few staff who work with those residents who need support for Alzheimer’s care. Amira Choice Sarasota certifies everyone who works there, from the nurses to the cooks, accountants, housekeepers, maintenance staff and nurse aides.

The Design Impact

Today, more than 4.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s Disease, one of more than a hundred different forms of dementia. By the year 2050, that number will grow to more than 13.8 million. Amira Choice Sarasota is a crucial step in creating environments that celebrate later life.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of seniors will live there, and it will be the last home many of them will ever know. Our design strove to be worthy of them, to help enrich their lives even after a devastating dementia diagnosis. The America Choice Sarasota care model implements features that will hopefully inspire others to include them in their communities.

For the broader community, the space brings flexible senior living into the heart of a large suburb of Sarasota enabling loved ones to stay in their community close to their families, favorite restaurants, places of worship, volunteering opportunities and more. It’s also a great source for jobs and a stepping stone for care partners in the area as they build careers.

Project Features

  • 72 independent living apartments
  • 96 assisted living apartments
  • 32 memory support suites
  • Shared entrance
  • Indoor streetscape
  • Bistro
  • Private dining
  • Exhibition kitchen
  • Outdoor pools
  • Wellness center


  • 2021 Senior Housing News Design Awards
  • Environments for Aging 2021 Design Showcase – Finalist
  • Aurora Awards 2021 – Grand Award Best Service Enriched Senior Community