You really got to hand it to architect Matthias Hollwich for zeroing in on the needs of a segment of the population that doesn’t have much say when it comes to matters of architecture and design: the elderly.

In an interview with Fast Company back in September, Hollwich, who co-founded Architizer and created New Aging, a much lauded international conference that tackled aging and architecture, said something that really stuck with me: "I believe that sustainability (saving the planet) and designing for an aging society are the two biggest topics we as designers have to tackle in our lifetime.”

It makes sense then that Hollwich is the force behind BOOM, an eco-retirement community/architectural fever dream to break ground in 2012 near Palm Springs. Although open to everyone, the community is skewed towards the aging LGBT community. And if you’ve been to Palm Springs, you’re probably aware that there are two things the area doesn’t lack: the gays and the grays.

There are a total of 10 architecture firms, including Hollwich’s own, HWKN, involved in the creation of BOOM’s eight distinct neighborhoods spread across a 100-acre plot. Several of the firms such as Diller Scofidio + Renfro, LOT-EK, and J. Mayer H. are notably green-minded. The international rooster is rounded out by Rudin Donner Design, Joel Sanders Architect, Arakawa + Gins, SADAR + VUGA, and L2 Tsionov-Vitkon. San Francisco’s Surfacedesign is overseeing BOOM’s landscape design.

There’s a heck of a lot more than housing — 300 residences will be built during the project’s initial phase — planned at BOOM where the mission is “inclusion, not seclusion; about living, not retiring.” There will be nightclubs, multiple restaurants and cafes, a hotel, wellness center, sports complex, event center, something called a “healing funhouse,” and much more. One of the residential areas designed by Joel Sanders Architect called the Commons features “flexible unit layouts [that] accommodate a spectrum of gay lifestyles including two made famous in iconic television and film — Roommates ('The Golden Girls') and Partners With Children ('The Birdcage')." Brilliant.

As Bridgette Meinhold over at Inhabitat notes, the entire, $2.5 million BOOM project will be aiming for LEED certification and each architectural firm will incorporate various sustainable design elements into their respective neighborhoods including rainwater recycling, thermal massing, natural ventilation, and the possible use of a centralized geothermal heat exchange system. The entire community will be car-free and built on a pedestrian-friendly scale.

Although Hollwich's overall vision for BOOM is incredibly strong and each architectural contribution is dazzling, the project is not without skepticism. Meinhold’s post (which weirdly circumvented the whole LBGT aspect of the project) got commenters buzzing about the not-so-green aspects of building a mammoth resort community in the middle of the desert.

Also, there’s the whole “will it actually work?” issue. In a Co.Design post titled, "BOOM! Palm Springs Plans a Wacky, $250m Old Folks' Community for Gays," (ha!) Alissa Walker sums up my own reservations about the project:
Still, BOOM will have to work extra hard to win the right kind of socially-focused, culturally-savvy resident. It's not nestled in the resurging hipness of Palm Springs, rather, it's on the fringe, in a community called Rancho Mirage, where sleepy golf courses and stucco-covered condos aren't a huge draw. For BOOM to succeed in luring the right brand of design-enthusastic retirees, it will likely have to draw them out of big cities where they have access to urban amenities like world-class restaurants and well-funded museums.

And while catering to active older people with non-traditional draws like a "rooftop disco" — insert visions of Cocoon in the desert — there are some issues with designing what's essentially a theme park for gay retirees. Healthy, young tourists likely won't want to spend their vacation staying at a retirement home, even if they're welcome, and locals might not want to do their shopping at a nursing home, where extensive healthcare facilities — however well-designed — are so prevalent. There's also the possibility that many potential straight residents who are interested in the design won't feel comfortable in a community driven by gay culture.

Want to learn more about BOOM? Head on over to Architizer for a basic overview of the project and then check out, the project’s fabulous (if a bit overwhelming) community portal where potential residents and those interested in the project can get involved by sharing feedback and ideas.
Let me know what you think of BOOM in the comments section. I'm much more interested in the social aspect of the project than the sustainability — Hollwich makes some interesting points about the LGBT senior citizen roots of BOOM in the aforementioned Co.Design article noting that, "in the gay community, many people go back into the closet after they go into assisted living facilities." And I certainly can't wait to see each of 10 firms involved work their magic. As you can see, the renderings are pretty wild — certainly more South Beach by way of Dubai than Shady Pines ... I only count two wheelchairs! — so I'm curious to see how things turn out.
Via [Co.Design], [Inhabitat]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Grandparents gone wild: BOOM to break ground in 2012
The jaw-dropping plans for BOOM, a $2.5 million, 100-acre retirement eco-utopia for the elderly outside of Palm Springs, are revealed. And visiting your grandpa