Enso Village - Zen-Inspired Senior Living Community

As a collaboration of the San Francisco Zen Center, a landmark of American Zen practice, and Kendal, a visionary provider of communities, programs and services founded on Quaker principles, Enso Village offers a radical departure from the conventions of senior living as you know them. The residences are contemporary. The culture is inclusive and socially aware. The food is incomparably fresh. The healthcare offering is unsurpassed. And here, life is active and joyful as well as mindful.

project overview

The $100 million project took almost 10 years from conception to completion, navigating challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain issues, labor shortages, weather delays and escalating costs.

The Enso Village project presented a unique design and construction challenge. As the consultant overseeing schedule and budget, zumBrunnen’s role was to integrate the client’s vision while adhering to pragmatic construction realities and some unavoidable obstacles. This case study outlines the key initiatives undertaken to deliver this pioneering 15-acre, 275-unit senior housing development on time and within budget constraints.

Project Inspiration

“There was a need at the San Francisco Zen Center to take care of our aging teachers, so we started to look for a solution that might include being related to a senior living developer and work out a format that would take care of some of our people, and also let us share our way of thinking about life and death and sickness and happiness with the wider world,” said Susan O’Connell, Spiritual Director and former president of the San Francisco Zen Center, helped found Enso Village.

As the first Zen-inspired senior community in the U.S., the architectural design featured natural materials like wood and stone, with intentional spaces promoting tranquility — including the country’s inaugural Zendo (meditation hall) within a senior living facility. Supporting a holistic lifestyle, the community comprised retired Zen teachers implementing a mindfulness-based “Mindful Community Training” curriculum.

Rob Milam

Project Manager and CEO

from rob milam, CEO, zumBrunnen

“zumBrunnen is proud to have served as Construction Monitor for Enso Village, overseeing construction that concluded with resident occupancy beginning late October 2023. Construction was successfully completed despite the disruptions caused by the COVID19 pandemic and by historically abnormal rainfall during critical construction phases.

We continue to operate under a philosophy and take pride in our role as a neutral third party who’s goal is simply the successful completion of the project.”

In his capacity as construction monitor, Rob Milam with zumBrunnen provides valuable reporting to bondholders on a monthly basis with regard to construction schedule and finances, and provides support and insight to project owners like Kendal Corporation and the San Francisco Zen Center.

Insight from Ben Butler, Vice President of Development and Special Projects at Kendal

Ben Butler joined the Enso Village project about 25% of the way through construction. He credits the involvement of zumBrunnen, the project’s third-party construction monitor, as critical for keeping the complicated development on track.

“Rob [Milam] was viewed as a neutral third party who was an authority and could synthesize back to us what he was seeing in the field,” said Butler. “Having Rob at the monthly owners, architects and contractors (OAC) meeting as a voice that backed up the ownership was also critical. Each project takes on its own ethos and when I joined the project we weren’t really happy with the ethos of the project. There was a lot of shouting at those OAC meetings which just wasn’t productive. So we made some changes which I vetted through Rob on our end. We also requested for example the general contractor replace their project manager with a different project manager. We made a lot of changes based on discussions we had.”

Butler appreciates zumBrunnen’s experienced perspective and trusted their input when major decisions needed to be made. “We looked for his approval based on his experience, we trusted his opinion, and his approach – we’re in this together, we just want to get it done.”

According to Butler, one of zumBrunnen’s key roles was providing detailed reports and documentation to the project’s bondholders each month. “That allows us to not have to do that. If we had to do that, I mean, that would be a part-time job, if not a full-time job for us.”

Overall, Butler was extremely positive about zumBrunnen’s partnership and Rob Milam’s involvement on Enso Village, summing it up as: “He became somebody that we would vet decisions through before we made a final decision.” Their expert monitoring helped keep the long-awaited project moving towards the finish line despite numerous obstacles along the way.

Complex Senior Living Construction Management Projects Need Experts to Help Teams Collaborate and Perform their Best

  • multiple stakeholders

    Large-scale senior living construction management projects involve specialized facilities, funding, and teams of people to complete the project successfully. With so many factors, it is easy to overlook details or miscommunicate. zumBrunnen utilizes its decades of experience to help teams work together toward successful project completion on time and budget.

  • safety is a top priority

    With hundreds of staff and elderly living in the community, it is a priority to keep them safe and operational without any surprises. The zumBrunnen team understands the dynamics of senior living construction management and is able to facilitate the progress of projects without risking the day-to-day operations and life quality of the residents.

  • specialized buildings and facilities

    Due to the comprehensive nature of amenities offered at senior living care facilities, specialized teams and contractors are brought in for various projects. Residential apartments may be stick-built and use a traditional multi-family construction approach while skilled nursing facilities require specialized healthcare facility construction. Having a team of experts that understand the best practices and complexities of senior living construction management is a must.