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Project Mandy

Architecture students unveil home makeover plans for disabled Aggie finance student



Designs by 29 Texas A&M University architecture students aimed at enhancing handicapped accessibility in the home of fellow student Mandy LaCombe, a finance major who was paralyzed in a tragic car accident nine years ago, were unveiled during a Sept. 30, 2005 public presentation in the fourth-floor studio of Texas A&M's Langford A Building.

As part of the semester-long project, students working under the direction of George J. Mann, the Ronald L. Skaggs professor of Health Facility Design, developed scale models and drawings for expanding and upgrading the disabled 34-year-old student's home to create a more accessible and livable environment. The designs include both short-term and long-term remodeling projects to be phased in as funds become available.

"One major project objective," Mann said, "was for the students to consider issues of sustainability with respect to energy conservation and other "green" building concepts aimed at conserving natural resources."

"Project Mandy," as the studio effort has been dubbed, received much needed support from Professor Jim Smith's construction science students who provided cost analyses for implementing the architecture students' designs. Also consulting on this multidisciplinary endeavor were Joseph J. McGraw, professor emeritus, and faculty from the College of Architecture's Center for Health Systems and Design.

"I and all those involved in Project Mandy are very pleased with the progress," said David Ruiz, a 1981 graduate of Texas A&M and president of Energy Smart Consultants in Houston. It was Ruiz who alerted Mann's studio to LaCombe's predicament.

"You can see that the students have come to care a great deal for Mandy, and that's reflected in their design ideas," Ruiz added. "This project has been a true testament to the Aggie Spirit."

Ruiz and LaCombe, formerly of Bridge City, met when both were engaged in volunteer work for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

"Despite her disability and the many day-to-day challenges she's encountered since recovering from her August 1996 accident," Mann said, "Mandy has worked tirelessly as a volunteer for the Texas A&M's Student Affairs Department and for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Her commitment and perseverance have left an indelible mark on the hearts of family, friends and all those she comes in contact with, and has become an inspiration for all those involved in the project."

"Mandy's home is very unique in character, but not accessible for her," said Kimberly Bearden, a senior environmental design major working on the project. "Our objective is to improve her home by removing frustrating obstacles to everyday tasks. She has a spirit about her that encourages us to do our very best to make her life a little easier."

To kick off the project, on Sept. 5 LaCombe invited the architecture and construction science students to her home where she demonstrated her unique needs and the obstacles she encounters daily. On Sept. 14, she participated in the project's mid-point review, suggesting further modifications to the students' preliminary designs.

"I was deeply touched by their caring spirit, and compassionate attitudes towards me, and their creative work," said LaCombe, noting her amazement at the variety of design solutions the students presented. "I feel blessed that the Department of Architecture undertook this project."

"The enthusiasm of the class is contagious to all who come in contact with it," said McGraw. "One leaves them to their efforts with the feeling that Mandy's future and ours are in good hands. In redesigning a modest individual home to more fully accommodate the physical and financial realities and long-term hopes and interests of their client," he continued, "the students show a broad range of interest in better health for all of us."

"The students were tremendously motivated to create an accessible and functional tailor-made architectural design," said Mann. "In responding to Mandy's needs on many levels, they learned that architectural design has a tremendous human element. Now the next step is to raise funds to make these visions a reality."

A fund has been established to help pay for the student-designed enhancements to LaCombe's home. Anyone interested in contributing may send a check to:

Mandy LaCombe Benefit Fund,
Attention Donna Roberts,
P.O. Box F.B.,
College Station, TX 77841-5102.



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LaCombe meets with students and faculty

The kickoff event for "Project Mandy"

Student design work

Another student design

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