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The Benefits of Living With a View

It’s hard not to picture floor-to-ceiling windows with abundant light, a grand sky deck or a private terrace with unmatched views when thinking of a dream home. And whether you live in a gorgeous desertscape or a bustling metropolitan, nothing beats panoramic views of the surrounding environment. Since one of our favorite aspects of creating elevated living environments is celebrating and embracing the surrounding atmosphere, today we’re exploring the benefits of living with a view. 

Location has always been an integral part of our development process at Optima. From the breathtaking mountains that surround Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Kierland Apartments & Optima McDowell Mountain Village to the endless city and lake views at Optima Signature, Optima Verdana and Optima Lakeview, each of our communities offers its own unique views, but all come with the same enriching benefits. 

Apart from the picturesque scenes, living with a view, especially one of nature like mountains or water, has a powerful effect on reducing stress. Rejuvenation and refreshment are all but guaranteed with access to a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle around you, like at any of Optima’s sky decks. From the fresh air to the panoramic views from sunset to sunrise, stress decreases, and your health is automatically enhanced. 

Optima Lakeview’s sky deck view of the Chicago skyline

For creatives, little is more inspiring than a sprawling view. Similar to how living with a view boosts certain areas of our health, it also promotes happiness and creative thinking. While mountains catalyze creative expression, water views, in particular, will leave you with a “blue mind effect”. According to marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols living on or near water shifts typical “red mind” feelings, like tension and anxiety, into “blue mind” feelings of relaxation and cheerfulness. 

Whether you’re looking for creative inspiration, need destress or just want to live with breathtaking perspectives of your surroundings, living with a view comes with a number of unknown perks, all of which can be experienced in any of Optima’s communities.

Women in Architecture: Sophia Hayden Bennett

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting a master of technical design and someone who played a critical role in advancing the field for women, Sophia Hayden Bennett. While her builds were limited, Hayden’s talent and enthusiasm led her to achievements few people had reached at the time. Learn more about her impressive life and accomplishments below: 

The Life of Sophia Bennett 

Sophia Hayden Bennett was born in Santiago, Chile, on October 17, 1868. Hayden’s mother was of Peruvian descent, while her father was originally from the northeast United States. She spent her childhood in Chile but later moved to Boston to live with her grandparents and attend high school. In high school, she found her love for architecture, which emboldened her to apply to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1886. 

Sophia Hayden Bennett, MIT Thesis, 1890, Courtesy of Rotch Library, MIT

Hayden was the first woman admitted to the MIT bachelor’s program in architecture and one of only a few women attending the school at the time. She became the first woman to graduate with a degree in the program four years later, in 1890. Throughout her time at MIT, Hayden’s classes ranged from niche drawing topics to construction and business courses, and she exuberantly mastered each subject, steering her to her final thesis, a design for a Museum of Fine Arts. 

Notable Works and Achievements 

Following her graduation from MIT, Hayden continued her passion for technical drawing as a teacher of mechanical drafting at a school in Boston. However, in February 1891, the World’s Columbian Exposition announced their competition for a design of the Woman’s Building, an exhibition hall for the 1893 Chicago exposition, and Hayden saw an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. 

The Woman’s Building designed by Hayden at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1983

Entries for the contest were limited to only designs made by women, and advertisements specified that each entrant must have professional architecture training. In the end, only twelve total entrants submitted designs, all under the age of twenty-five. Hayden’s design was eventually chosen as the winning design by a jury, which included Daniel Burnham. Along with being appointed as the building’s architect, she received a $1,000 prize. 

The winning design featured an Italian Renaissance classicism style, similar to the characteristics Hayden employed in her MIT thesis. The rectangular, two-story building utilized a wood structure and featured a central portico bordered by two symmetrical wings. At its interior, a central rotunda acted as the heart of the building, with rooms featuring exhibits of works by women across the world surrounding it. 

The interior of the Woman’s Building, 1893

Following the construction of the building, both Hayden and her design received public acclaim. Even with its praise, the commission – which was Hayden’s first – ended up being her last. However, she continued lending her design and drawing skills elsewhere, none of which became constructed. 

While Hayden’s physical contributions to the architectural world were limited, her expertise in technical drawing and passion for expanding opportunities for women in her field helped shape a storied legacy of her own.

Being a Good Neighbor Makes a Difference

With a commitment to community as one of our core beliefs at Optima®, it’s no surprise that we are tuned into the notion of neighborliness and what it means to be a good neighbor. We take great satisfaction in nurturing the desire for connection and engagement with residents across all of our communities and love to keep abreast with research that lends new insight into why it matters to know your neighbors.

In a recent Axios piece, published on July 27, 2022, Erica Pandey explores “The power of knowing your neighbors.” Drawing data from a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2019, here’s what we’ve learned:

A majority of Americans don’t know most of their neighbors — and they barely talk to the ones they do know.

Why it matters: Strong communities boost the health, happiness, and longevity of their residents. Befriending neighbors ensures a helping hand in times of need and provides new friends to explore your larger neighborhood. But over the last several decades, our connections with our neighbors have been fraying.

What’s happening: We’re leaving our homes with screens in our hands. And since the pandemic made us even less likely than we were before to stop and chat with new folks, most of the people living around us are strangers.

Optima Lakeview’s communal sports lounge, golf simulator and basketball/pickleball court

Thankfully, each of our Optima Communities supports plenty of opportunities to engage with fellow neighbors, whether you know them or not! We design spaces that inherently bring people closer to each other, closer to their environment and closer to themselves. This intention manifests itself from the thought-provoking artwork that fills the hallways of each community to the wealth of communal amenity spaces, including fully outfitted sports areas, movie theaters, party and game rooms and state-of-the-art fitness centers. 

Along with our state-of-the-art amenities, each of our onsite teams carefully curates a variety of social events and programs throughout the year. From hosting food trucks and music and cocktail nights to flower arranging courses and fitness classes, we take the time to understand each of our residents’ interests, so we can thoughtfully tailor our programming around them!

And because we not only see the value in having a tight-knit community within our walls but within our broader neighborhoods, we created the Optima® Connect Program. Through the program, residents in each of our multi-family communities receive exclusive benefits and discounts to local businesses around their larger communities, further fostering a friendly community ecosystem.

Supporting connection among our residents and neighbors is something we care deeply about at Optima. So, what’re you waiting for? Step outside and spark a conversation today!

Trending Now: A Brief History of Ping-Pong

If you’re unsure how to spend an open afternoon or a few hours of free time, look no further than an Optima® community! Ping-pong is just one of the many entertaining activities included in each of our multi-family developments. And while you might remember playing the lively game as a kid, what you might not know is its rich history. Today, we’re exploring the ever-evolving story of ping-pong.

The popular pastime of ping-pong that we know today arose in England in the late 19th century. At the time, it was more widely known as table tennis. The fast-paced game originated in Victorian England as an adaptation of the popular lawn tennis game to transfer the activity inside for the cold winter. And unlike the simple ball and paddle used today, participants in the game’s early years would get creative with their equipment, regularly using champagne corks as the ball, cigar boxes as the paddle and books as the net. 

However, it wasn’t until 1890 that the pastime enjoyed by the wealthy class of England attracted a greater appeal when David Foster patented the first table tennis-style game. It quickly became a favorite across Europe, and Hungary held the first national championship in 1897. During this time, the game became termed ‘ping-pong’, originating from the onomatopoeic sound of the bat striking the ball and the ball hitting the table. 

The Optima Lakeview® game room, featuring a ping-pong table

While the sport slowed down in the early 20th century due to a lack of governance, it experienced a revival in the 1920s following the founding of the International Federation of Table Tennis and its first-ever world championships. After the game equipment transitioned from a hard bat to a sponge bat in the mid-20th century, elite players from Japan and China helped to revive interest in the sport once again. Concurrently, ping-pong diplomacy advanced, contributing to enhanced relationships with Eastern and Western nations. 

While many don’t know the rich history behind the sport today, ping-pong’s dominant presence across the world remains. Seoul, South Korea, was the city to first introduce ping-pong to the Olympics in 1988, and following that, the activity gradually turned professional in the 1990s. Today, it remains the most practiced sport in China and an integral part of the country’s culture.  

A semi final ping-pong match between Chin and Korea at the 2012 London Olympics

Ping-pong’s attraction is rooted in more than its entertainment value, as it’s known to boost the health of both the body and the mind. Everything from the speed to the ball placement is crucial in the game, which is why routine players are highly skilled in creative and critical thinking. The fast back and forths and short distance nature of the sport also help with improved flexibility, hand-eye coordination and balance over time. 

Constantly bringing together people from different walks of life, the game of ping-pong embodies our commitment to connection and wellness within each of our communities.

Gjenge Makers: Transforming Tradition and Community

Sustainable design is a valuable part of our ethos at Optima as we strive to create vibrant communities built with the surrounding natural environment at the forefront. Now more than ever before, changemakers across the world are expanding the possibilities for what sustainable designs resemble. Today, we’re spotlighting a leader in sustainable design and affordable construction: Gjenge Makers and its founder, Nzambi Matee.  

In 2017, Nzambi Matee, then an engineer working for Kenya’s oil industry, threw everything she knew away to create a startup aimed to address the need for affordable and sustainable construction materials in her home country of Kenya and across the world. Her first thought immediately went to plastic, a material creating pollution problems across Eastern African countries like Kenya, where Matee has resided her whole life. 

A member of the Gjenge team collecting recycled plastic to use for their sustainable bricks

Thanks to her academic background, including a major in material science, along with experience working as an engineer, Matee understood which plastics would easily bind together and built the needed machinery, allowing her to mass produce the building alternative. Today, Gjenge collects waste materials from local factories and other recyclers and then uses a mixture of plastic and sand to form durable bricks and tiles. 

Gjenge Brick’s various colors

The designs aren’t just sustainable and durable. Matee and the Gjenge team wanted the finished products to emulate a sense of beauty, and today, bricks come in an array of colors, including red, blue, brown and green. Since its founding, Gjenge has transformed more than 22 tons of plastic into various alternative building materials and created more than 100 jobs for local garbage collectors, women and youth. 

We can’t wait to continue exploring the ways innovative architecture can contribute to a healthier, more sustainable world, especially with changemakers like Matee impacting the lives of others daily.

Architectural Treasures of Phoenix & Scottsdale

From Taliesin West to Arcosanti, Arizona is filled with some of the country’s most stunning architecture. However, many people don’t realize that there are plenty of local architecture gems that often go unrecognized, even closer to the Scottsdale area. Forever inspired by the architecture surrounding us, we’ve been out and about to spotlight a few of the many architectural treasures found around Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights

Built from 1929 to 1931, Tovrea Castle is one of Phoenix’s most recognizable landmarks. The castle is named after the structure’s architect, Alessio Carraro, and former owner, Della Tovrea. Thanks to its unique Italianate Architectural Style, the building is known locally as the “Wedding Cake Castle”. Its construction includes a four-tier fashion, with each level utilizing materials such as granite block, pine wood and stucco. 

Intricate details, including parapets on each tier’s roof, Art Deco lighting and over 5,000 cacti, add to the castle’s extravagant character. Originally planned as a centerpiece for a destination hotel, the castle instead became a private residence after its completion and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Thankfully today, even if you don’t tour the castle yourself, the stunning building is easily viewable to any passer-by thanks to its grand design.

Gammage Memorial Auditorium

Gammage Memorial Auditorium

Acting as Arizona State University’s performing arts center for nearly 60 years, Gammage Memorial Auditorium stands as one of Arizona’s most dramatic architectural works and one of the largest exhibitors of performing arts for universities around the world. Considered one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last commissions, the structure stands 80 feet high and measures 300 by 250 feet. Wright based his design on a Baghdadi opera house that he had previously conceptualized for the city but never built. 

Twin arch buttress walkways jut from the north and east sides of the auditorium while fifty rose-colored, “marblecrete” columns encompass the exterior, supporting the circular roof. Besides the round roof, the theme of circles are found nearly everywhere throughout the interlocking circular arcs of the building. Its shapes, colors, textures and materials all pay tribute to the surrounding Arizona landscape, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. 

Rosson House Museum

Rosson House Museum at Heritage Square

More than 125 years old, Phoenix’s Rosson House shares a story of Arizona’s territorial past. Designed by San Francisco architect A.P. Petit, the 1895 home mainly displays a Queen Anne Victorian style. However, unique French and Chinese architectural elements are found throughout the home. Because of the home’s style, Petit utilized fired brick and wood for the home, shifting from the standard building material of the time and location, adobe brick. 

Standout design elements of the house include the Victorian Era gold-infused ruby glass windows, a Chinese-inspired half-moon arch on its veranda and a French-inspired octagonal turret at its peak. After being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, the historic house, now owned by the City of Phoenix, is a museum and remains a popular destination for architecture lovers today. 

There’s no better way to celebrate the robust and compelling architecture of Phoenix and Scottsdale than by getting out and discovering the treasures yourself. Stay tuned as we continue to explore more of our community’s remarkable art and architecture!

Women in Architecture: Isabel Roberts

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting one of America’s most overlooked architects. As one of only two women in the original Prairie School, Isabel Roberts immediately became an inspiration for women architects in the early 20th century. Learn more about her riveting life and career below: 

The Life of Isabel Roberts

Isabel Roberts was born on March 7, 1871, in Mexico, Missouri. Her parents were natives of the eastern coast; her father was a mechanic from Utica, New York, and her mother was from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Growing up, Roberts and her family moved often; traveling from Missouri to Providence, Rhode Island, to South Bend, Indiana. 

The Isabel Roberts House, by Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, 1908

At 18 years old, Roberts moved to New York City, where she studied architecture at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers from 1899-1901. The atelier was the first in the nation to teach architecture with the principles used by École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Architects Emmanuel Louis Masqueray and Walter B. Chambers founded the school to forge more rewarding educational and professional opportunities for women in architecture at the time. 

Notable Works and Achievements  

In 1901 after completing school at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers, Roberts moved to Illinois to take a position under Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park office. She worked with Wright alongside a team of six others, which included Marion Mahony Griffin, the only other woman in the group that would become known as the Prairie School. 

Eola Park Bandshell, Ryan and Roberts, 1924

Roberts’ impact while working for Wright is commonly underestimated as she contributed her design expertise to various projects, primarily after he left Oak Park for Europe in 1909. Some of her most notable projects include K.C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana – a commission for a friend of the Roberts family – the Laura Gale House in Oak Park and the Stohr Arcade Building in Chicago. 

St. Cloud Veterans Memorial Library, Ryan and Roberts, 1923

Commissioned by Isabel’s mother, Mary, the Isabel Roberts House in River Forest, Illinois, was another of Roberts’ illustrious designs with Wright. Completed in 1908, the home’s intricate arrangement contained a warm brick hearth at its core and utilized a mixture of half-story levels to connect living areas. The Prairie School design featured other innovative additions for the time, including a vaulted ceiling, diamond-paned windows and a grand octagonal balcony.

Scottsdale Public Art: Windows to the West

As part of our ongoing public art series, we’ve been exploring exceptional creations to be found across Scottsdale, from the unique Water to Water, to the latest installation, Pinball Wizard. Today however, the spotlight is on Windows to the West, Scottsdale’s first public art installation and one that still inspires the city today after more than 50 years in the city. 

In June 1970, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded the City of Scottsdale a $20,000 matching grant to commission its own notable work of art by an American sculptor. The NEA program, Works of Arts in Public Places, would go on to fund more than 700 works of public art across the country, and Scottsdale was the first small city they approached at the time. 

Two years later, in February 1972, the City of Scottsdale finished raising their $20,000 of the matching grant, and the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commision chose acclaimed sculptor Louise Nevelson to create the first work of public art for the city. Nevelson, who is regarded as one of the best sculptors of the 20th century, completed the expressionist sculpture out of monochromatic corten steel designed to patina with time. Its abstract structure and shapes resemble some of her other iconic creations. 

Louise Nevelson, the creator of Window to the West, Gazing at her other artwork, 1978, Courtesy of Dixie Guerrero, ©Pedro E. Guerrero Archives

Although the sculpture was originally titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII, thanks to its westward placement after its completion, it quickly became known as Windows to the West. Since its dedication in 1973, the sculpture has remained a treasured landmark of Scottsdale and continues to showcase how far the city’s appreciation for art has come.

Today, due to renovations on the Scottsdale Civic Center where the Windows to the West lived, the sculpture is in storage until the construction is finished in 2023. When it returns, art enthusiasts can expect the beloved sculpture to find its new home closer to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but with the same western spirit as before.

Trending Now: Backgammon — Fun and Then Some!

If you’re feeling sheepish about using your “free time” to settle into the card room at Optima Verdana® with a friend, relative or neighbor — and a backgammon board between the two of you — worry no more. You are about to engage in a high-value activity with a game that is a perfect combination of relaxation and stimulation.

That’s because backgammon, one one of the most classic board games, is a treasure trove that offers you far more than entertainment.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to discover its delights, backgammon is a two-player game. It uses a board with a series of narrow color-coded wedges and two sets of 15-pieces, one for each player.There is also a pair of dice and a cube used for betting, called a doubling cube. The ancestors of backgammon date back nearly 5,000 years to Mesopotamia and Persia; the earliest record of backgammon itself dates to 17th century England, where it descended from an earlier game called Irish.

Backgammon involves plenty of strategy, coupled with the luck related to rolling the dice at the beginning of each player’s move. With each roll of the dice, you must choose from numerous options for moving your pieces, while anticipating possible counter-moves by your opponent. And when you get the doubling cube involved, you raise the stakes during a game. What fun!

And the good times don’t stop there. Backgammon has the potential to boost memory and cognition abilities, regardless of your age, since the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are given a workout. These areas are responsible for memory formation and complex thought processes. And with the exercise your brain gets through playing, you’ll also decrease the risk of cognitive diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Optima Lakeview’s game room, Chef’s kitchen and dining area

Playing backgammon is fun and confidence-building. When your opponent pulls ahead or you roll double sixes three times in a row, you can’t help but crack a smile. And that means your endorphins are flowing and your blood pressure decreases — as you experience a moment of pure pleasure — all the while enjoying the company of another person. If you are able to organize regular sessions of backgammon with a group of people, imagine how good it can feel to sharpen your skills and strengthen your relationships.

It’s somewhat of a cliché to say that games are for all ages. But a simple truth about backgammon is that it is a fantastic way to teach math and probability concepts to children, while providing a forum for children and adults to relate on a level playing field. Literally.

Backgammon boards/sets come in all shapes and sizes. Choose the one best suited for you and your comrades and head up to the Optima Verdana® game room!

A Brief History of the Attached Garage

For those tireless fans of Frank Lloyd Wright — unarguably one of the greatest architects of the 20th century — we are delighted to shine a light on one of his innovations that rarely attracts attention. It’s the attached garage.

In a brilliant process of cultural sleuthing, conceptual artist Olivia Erlanger and architect Luis Ortega Govela embarked on a project that culminated in the 2018 publication of Garage by MIT Press. With elegance, wit and panache, the authors tell this tale of Robie House, completed in 1910:

“In the quiet darkness of South Woodlawn Avenue, Frank Lloyd Wright molded and adapted the American home for the automobile. The small rectangular windows of Wright’s Robie House cast rectilinear shadows across the sidewalk. In the moonlight, the red hydrangeas lining the second-floor balcony appeared black, to be identified only by their smell. With no “front” or “back,” the building looms, imperious and totemic. To the pedestrian it looks like a Japanese woodblock puzzle: the riddle of how to enter, or exit, persists until one encounters an oversized gate leading to a three-car garage. The Robie House is known by many as the cornerstone of modernism, but its status as the first home with an attached garage seems to have been forgotten. The garage struck architectural academics as so banal that it became nothing more than a footnote in Wright’s illustrious history.

The garage was invented to domesticate the car. At the end of the nineteenth century, the car made its entrance into the stage of history to replace the horse. Initially it was a temperamental machine, and people were reluctant to incorporate it into their daily lives. The machine had yet to develop the technology necessary to be used regularly, so it was mostly kept in the stable, next to the other animals. Yet at the same time the car needed so much upkeep that mostly they were stored in communal parking lots where the first auto mechanics would constantly be preparing cars for the type of local roads that existed at the time.

Following the completion of Robie House, Wright was commissioned by Emma Martin to design an attached garage for her Oak Park home in his characteristic Prairie style

If the human entrance to the house was secretive, the one designed for the machine was not. Inside the yard, the garage doors dominate the space. It is here that the garage claims its rightful position on the front of the plot with a direct and easy connection to the street. If we go by Wright’s poetic hand, in 1910 the garage was symbolically integrated into the familial structure. This relationship between home and garage, family and car, would not reappear in architecture until the early 1920s, making the Robie House a premonition of the future.”

For a deeper dive into the history of the garage as a space of creativity (think tech start-ups and musicians), grab a copy of Garage and make time to visit Robie House. Enjoy!

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