Scientists have long known that natural settings and cuddly animals have a unique ability to positively affect the health and well being of humans. In fall 2001, a group of architecture students from Texas A&M University were asked to consider that relationship in design concepts they completed for a unique community health center in Florida.
The project was undertaken by Professor Mardelle Shepley’s graduate
design studio on behalf of the Harmony
Institute, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to
the support and research of the beneficial relationships between
humans, animals and the environment. Founded in 1996, the institute
funds educational and research programs that foster sustainable
development for the public health of individuals and communities,
the welfare of animals and wildlife, and the protection of the
Shepley, a professor of architecture and associate dean for student services at Texas A&M’s College of Architecture, is a member of the Harmony Institute Campus Advisory Board. She learned about the institute from fellow professors Chang-Shan Huang, in landscape architecture, and Roger Ulrich, in architecture. Ulrich, director of A&M’s Center for Health Systems and Design, is also on the Harmony Institute Campus Advisory Board.
“The institute has identified the need to understand and promote interactions among humans, animals and the natural environment in such a way that they become integral parts of our communities,” said Shepley. “Although this seems like an intuitively simple concept, it is revolutionary in the context of current cultural models.”
Currently located in St. Cloud, Florida, the institute will soon
be moving its headquarters to the Town
of Harmony, Florida, a master-planned community being developed
within the 11,000-acre Triple E Ranch by Birchwood Acres, L.L.L.P.
Inspired by the vision of The Harmony Institute, the new community,
including a golf course, parks, housing, and commercial facilities,
is being developed with strict environmentally friendly guidelines.
Last October, Shepley and her students made a preliminary visit to the proposed health center’s 23-acre biologically diverse site characterized by lakes, wetlands and open meadows.
In addition to the site visit, students met with Harmony Institute representatives to discuss their needs, as well as the numerous health concerns common to both humans and animals. Subsequent meetings, conducted via teleconferencing resulted in several alternative conceptual designs for the health center. Additionally, the students prepared an architectural program, literature review, code summary and site analysis for the project.
In keeping with the Harmony Institute’s mission, the students’ health center designs included facilities for both humans and animals, with certain spaces shared by physicians, veterinarians and their medical staffs. Additionally the designs included space for the institute’s education, conference and externship programs.
“Students were challenged by the difficulty of incorporating humans and animals into a single clinic setting and by the importance of providing a sustainable environment,” said Shepley. “The projects that were produced, however, were well-received by the Harmony Institute and embraced core values of healing environments.”
“The [Harmony] Institute
has identified the need to understand and promote interactions
among humans, animals and the natural environment in such a way
that they become integral parts of our communities. Although this
seems like a intuitively simple concept, it is revolutionary in
the context of current cultural models.”
College of Architecture
Texas A&M University