MEREDITH OPPENHEIM: In the business of architecture, it's very much-- particularly the work that my brother does is creating value for his clients that are about pushing the envelope, creating new product types to create new innovative ideas. For example, some of his clients have been icons in the industry such as Barry Sternlicht looking to create a green hotel. So Oppenheim has been on the forefront of innovation and has been setting new standards of green design. So Chad was part of the genesis of that one brand.
So we, as an advisor, continue-- as an advisor, specifically, my role is I go out and identify new partnerships and clients that we would be able to do this type of innovative work. So a lot of the work we've done has been with Disney, for example. We're always looking and in conversations with production homebuilders who are looking to do next-generation suburban homes. So my brother's real craft is design. And I have a business background and a background in health care real estate. So we look at these opportunities holistically-- the opportunity to combine our expertise and find clients who want to create better environments to enhance life, which is really the mantra of the firm.
Years ago, in roughly 2001, we were part of building a lifestyle residential condo building in Miami. So it was part of a non-developed area of downtown Miami. But by creating a very novel product, we were able to create this marketplace. And it's right adjacent to the arena in downtown Miami, which has become one of the most emerging and successful real estate stories in Miami. And so the project that we did there was combining residential units with a massive spa and wellness component.
And so Chad and I went to the Philippines by the invitation of the government to talk about this new, innovative housing model as possibly the beginning of housing stock for aging people in the country. So we went there and presented this as a concept and a prototype with the possibility of doing new, healthier design work for their growing aging population, and the population of Filipinos that left to the US that they're hoping to get back with new, appealing products.
Another opportunity as a result of that trip was to do the first green office tower in the Philippines, which, as we learned today, the built environment is critical to have these higher, better standards for air quality, energy utilization. And so we were hopefully on the cutting edge of creating this whole new-- it's called BERDE standards. It's the Filipino equivalent of LEED. So by designing with these very innovative developers who wanted to create a new product type, we were a part of that as well. So we look for those clients who want to do things differently, better, to enhance and help their clients and the future users of the real estate.
I spent 13 years in the senior housing industry working for leading owner-operators, including Marriott, Sunrise, and Atria, and most recently oversaw 55 building portfolio for the REIT Ventas. And in that job, I had the opportunity to be part of and go into various different buildings of different shapes and sizes. And what I learned is that design is critical to the success of a property. We were just talking outside. The buildings that are too big are hard to sell and keep full. And the buildings that are too small often are challenging because the units are too small. And the residents don't have the space that they're accustomed to having or hoped that they could have once they downsize. So I think the physical and built environment is critical to creating an environment where people feel they can thrive.
My position on the panel is very much to enlighten the audience about where I feel the opportunity in the industry is. I've spent so long working with assets that are here today. But I feel the opportunity is very much to think through what can we do differently in four key dimensions-- the people we serve, the product we offer, the processes we operate, and the places where these communities are. So I laid out a four-pronged approach, hoping that we could begin the conversation in this institute to create the prototype of the future that could be the standard, like we've done with Oppenheim Architecture to create the standard, the next-generation products.
This institute is at the intersection of where I've spent my career-- the intersection of health care and hospitality. And feel very committed that I could be part of the evolution of this organization. But more importantly, I think Cornell plays such a critical role in this interdisciplinary approach. It's very difficult-- and I worked at Marriott Senior Living, so I saw it firsthand-- to be within a hotel environment but do hospitality and health care well. This is an industry-- particularly senior housing-- that you have to be as good in hospitality as you are in health care. And that's difficult to execute.
So I think, in an academic environment where you can study best practices, best providers, better innovations, you have the opportunity in a non-commercial environment to do these explorations, to rigorously study what's possible, and then roll it out into a commercial application when it's better tested. Because in general, the providers that I've worked for are very reluctant to make change happen, because it's costly to build the wrong building, and it takes a lot of time to make a big mistake, and it's too late when it's already a mistake. So I think the essence of the opportunity of this organization is to have the disciplined approach to studying and evaluating and presenting new models of excellence that then could be brought to industry and replicated widely.
Initially, at Marriott, it was understood that our buildings were too big-- that the corridors were too long, so the distances from the elevators to the end of the quarters were challenging for the residents to navigate. So the units closest to the elevators were often rented at a premium, but therefore the first to go as well. And so inevitably, we would have units at the end of the hall that were very hard to sell.
So what we used to do-- in the real estate environment, you have a specific building. And there's very little that you can do once it's built. So what we decided to do was take out, perhaps, the top floor on one side, and we would create early-stage dementia. So we kept the building structure and the building footprint as it was, but we added a different level of care to help us have more diversified products so we can more easily market and sell the property. So those buildings were too big. That was the solution.
But I believe that the opportunity now is to say, what is the right box? And as I said on my panel, is it a box at all? I mean, is the next generation of senior housing consumers even want to be affiliated with any definition of senior housing? I believe the opportunity for the industry is to start looking at inter-generational concepts where you move in with family members or people who become like family.
I equate the opportunity of the product, as my second dimension, to be very much like when I was in Cornell as a freshman, to be living in a dormitory with like-minded people who are as energized and excited to be on campus, and have very meaningful and exciting collaborations and conversations nightly. So to have that product that facilitates that. And it could be participating in philanthropic activities, other areas or places that you want to give and get from. So that was the second.
And then I think the processes that we, as an industry, have used have been very traditional. So the idea of shifts-- health care providers at these communities working in shifts-- as well as the people who are buying this service are buying increments of time for the support of activities of daily life that are required for their loved one. And I feel like, in this industry, there's an opportunity to think of it more on demand, as needed, when needed, and pay for the services you need when you want them, as opposed to more of a model where you pay for everything and you hope to use something.
And then I think the last pillar of my model that I think is really important is the place. For the most part, most of the properties I've worked with and for are in suburban America, right outside major markets. Also, some have been in the middle of Manhattan. That being said, I don't know that it's one place where seniors ultimately want to live. I think it's a portfolio of places that are of interest to them-- to spend some of the time someplace warm, some of the time in a place in the country, some time in the city, so have that flexibility and variety to really go out and enjoy many aspects of life, and not be limited and secluded in one property, on a main highway, in a suburb.
Cornell has always been a trailblazer in its thinking and its approach. And I feel the students are very lucky to be part of such a forward-thinking university, to have an opportunity to be part of an institute like this that wants to innovate new ideas and thinking. So I think the students really have great choices. They don't have to go to traditional industry and do things the way that they've always been done. This institute will facilitate them going to more progressive-minded organizations to make a bigger, better impact quicker.
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Meredith Oppenheim, A&S '95, discusses her role as a strategic advisor at Oppenheim Architecture and some of the challenges associated with the balance of healthcare and hospitality in senior living. Oppenheim Architecture is working to improve senior living facilities in the US and abroad through an interdisciplinary approach to healthy design.