A&M student teams design intergenerational campus

157-acre Boston community to support retirement facilities, schools, sports parks

A group of Texas A&M architecture students traveled to Boston April 2003 to unveil designs for a 157-acre master-planned community for the elderly to be constructed along the banks of the Charles River near the historic Boston suburb of Canton, Mass.

The students' design models and sketches, in the works since mid-February, were shown to the administrative staff and board of directors of the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for Aged (HRCA), the project's sponsor. The unveiling took place April 24 at the Daniels Art Gallery of the HRCA facility in Boston, Mass.

"The total square footage of the buildings proposed in some of the students' designs exceeds 500,000 square feet, making the scope of this project that of a small town," said George J. Mann, the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professor of Health Facilities Design at Texas A&M who arranged and directed the project.

The HRCA, which funded the A&M students' two trips to New England and paid for their project supplies, is a not-for-profit, nonsectarian organization that oversees a network of care facilities and services for the elderly, and maintains close research and teaching ties to major universities and medical schools in the Boston area.

Mann said the national reputation of Texas A&M's Architecture for Health program, founded in 1966, is what prompted HRCA to ask for assistance with this large-scale, multifaceted project.

According to Mann, HRCA envisions the 157-acre riverfront site as an intergenerational community that caters to its elderly clients while providing facilities, such as a Kindergarten-through-Eighth-grade school, daycare, playgrounds and sports fields, that promote interaction between young and old. Their plan calls for healing gardens, picnic areas, walkways, nature trails, and scenic views, along with independent living units and assisted and skilled-care nursing facilities for the elderly. The campus will also include a synagogue, an all-faiths chapel and basic community amenities like a post office, bank, restaurants, delicatessens, barber shops, hair stylists, libraries, bookstores and parking for up to 500 cars.

The students' involvement in the project began February 2003 with an HRCA-sponsored, four-day fact-finding trip to Boston. The students visited existing HRCA facilities and the proposed site and heard presentations from the professional architects and landscape architects in charge of the design and construction of the new HRCA campus.

"The project offered students a unique hands-on and very real opportunity to work in tandem with visionary clients and top-drawer design professionals," Mann said. "It also gave them an opportunity to visit another part of the country and relate to a different cultural-ethnic milieu."

While in Boston, the students also visited the Harvard Graduate School of Design and viewed the city's significant historical and contemporary architecture.

"We arrived at the tail end of the great blizzard of 2003, with several students in our group who had never even seen snow," Mann said. "Not only did they get a taste of the New England winter, they learned that their design solutions should address such contingencies."

As a result of the initial visit, Mann said the students' design models and sketches reflected the culture and climate of Boston. Many opted to incorporate the New England village green concept with common areas or parks surrounded by churches, civic centers and retail establishments. Some responded to the inclement winters in the region with covered walkways connecting the various campus buildings.

At the Boston unveiling, the students presented nine projects including research, concepts, models, and drawings. Three Master of Architecture students presented individual projects and the 13 remaining undergraduates were divided into six, one-project teams.

"HRCA was looking for fresh ideas to share with their consultants, and that," Mann said, "is exactly what they got from us."

The professional firms who worked with the A&M students on the HRCA project were Geller DeVellis, Inc., landscape architects from Boston; Perkins and Eastman Architects from New York City; and Chan Krieger & Associates Architects, from Cambridge, Mass.

Recent Texas A&M architecture for health projects for the elderly and infirm include an independent living retirement community and Alzheimer's facility for the E. F. and Bertha Memorial Lutheran Village in Brenham, Texas, and the St. Joseph Rehabilitation Center in Bryan, Texas. A&M students have also conducted research on hospital-related facilities for the elderly and Alzheimer's patients in research projects sponsored by the American Institute of Architects/American Hospital Association (AIA/AHA).

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