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a study of the how architectural decisions can encourage and stimulate health regeneration and sustained longevity in an elderly population

1.1 (prompt)

2.1 (material)

1.2 (existing qualities)

2.2 (wall)

1.3 (site analysis)

2.3 (program)

1.4 (path)

1.5 (focal points)

2.4 (inhabitable walls)

2.5 (circulation)


FEELING THE SITE (juxtaposition)

EXPERIENTIAL READING (prompt) (existing qualities) (site analysis) (path) (focal points)


Friendship (in green) is a retirement community of over 600 residents and staff, located largely just outside the Roanoke City limits. The community itself offers various levels of retirement care, including independent living, assisted living, and long term care. It is also home to one of the largest rehabilitation and elderly care centers in the area. It currently consists of several complexes of homes, but their request is for several new standalone, independent living, “cottage” homes to be built on the undeveloped part of the site (in blue). These would be for those who have just moved into retirement, and are looking for a community of peers, but have the ability to live on their own and wish for the comfort of “aging in place.”


LIM 1.1

The natural beauty of the site is due to the variable topography in a relatively small area. The existing conditions of the site allow for an easy reading of natural qualities that are already present. Two treeless “zones� are separated by a small central wood. These two areas are diverse topographically, and the wood serves as a porous gradient that smoothly transitions one to the other, while all of the time keeping them apart.




One zone is high and flat, exuding a plain-like or mesa condition. Here, an architectural intervention would likely be placed on the land, much like game pieces on a board. The architecture would be of itself, independent of the earth. It is a place of life, a focus on self, motion, and the concerns of everyday. This is the place of independent homes. The other quickly falls to meet the creek, presenting a response to the laws of nature. Nothing “sits� on land so sloped and variable. Water moves down, flowing and pooling in accordance with the lay of the land. An architectural intervention here would be of the surroundings. It is outwardly focused, musing, a realization of what exists other than human existence and control. It is not that we live, but where we live. This is a place of energy and human nature.


Like many things in life, the opposition of the zones further enforces their identities. Without one, the other wouldn’t hold the same power. It is important, though, that the wooded area be kept simultaneously as a barrier and transition space between the two. Visibly and spatially it holds the areas apart, so that one does not impose on the other. Its mass is easily transversable, and is the perfect place for a path - a movement that slowly fades out the qualities of one zone and fades in the qualities of the other. With movement from the “plain� to the hill, a view to the mountains is slowly revealed. As the community disappears to the back, nature appears to the front. Mentally, focus begins to be stretched

outward in a denial of self-concern toward an appreciation of nature. This

thought translates itself all of the way through the architectural decisions of the health center. 1.4

Several points of focus are very apparent when moving around the site. They are simple acts of nature that stand out from the normal occurrences. The most instantly noticeable is a small field of human-sized boulders that are surrounded by grass and have a meditative quality about them. Also, there are two significant trees on site - one stands alone near the “plains� zone, the other sits on the boarder of the retention pond. Another has been created in the new traffic circle, marking the end of the main street. These focal elements became very important in the forming of the architecture.


The program of “health center� was chosen early on in the project. Environment is so important in the process of healing, and the site provides an interesting environment, indeed. Such everyday exercise routines as yoga, tai chi, and other balance-based activities have been shown to significantly reduce falls in the elderly population. The expansion of the existing health center to include a building for mental and holistic prevention techniques was too great an opportunity to pass up. The site was not only physically conducive to the center, but programmatically as well. Residents of the community could gain a health boost from the natural atmosphere of the building as well as the activities that were designed to take place there. Since the limited time allowed for only one major focus for the project, the health center became the piece on which my time was spent. The homes, I thought, could be informed by the creation of the center, and as my current interests were invested in the outward-focused zone of the site, I thought it best to apply my attention there, first and foremost.


PROGRESSION AND HIERARCHY (material) (wall) (program) focus scale structure internal separation external connection light (inhabitable walls) (circulation)


be in nature.

Like the rest of the project, the material palette was picked for its relationship to the site. Chosen for color and texture, the overall makeup of the materials are earthbased or wood. Though no specifics were chosen initially, the inhabitants of the building were to experience being a part of the earth, with a direct visual relationship to the surrounding site and sky. To the left is an advertisement for the new facility that simultaneously displays the desired qualities and experiences of the space, materially. 2.1

Two walls were constructed, inspired by the material excavated from the site. They are created with many intentions: to separate the building from the bustle of life and the community behind, to frame the land and views that belong to the inhabitants of the facility, to provide lines of sight that lead from inside the building toward the points of focus (boulders and tree), and to hold back the earth that wishes to cascade down the hill into the retention pond. Though they were both built with these four qualities in mind, they are different in nature. From the intersection point of the two walls, one continues along the slope of the land until it disappears into the hillside, and the other runs almost perpendicular to the hill, jutting outward and eventually freeing itself to cantilever slightly above the boulders.



The only way to place such structures onto the sloped surface of the hill is to dig them into the ground, allowing the top of the wall to become functional as a guard rail, but not rising too far out of the landscape that it is offensive to the surrounding area. This also allows the entirety of the building to be placed below the horizontal of the wall, so that it does not rise to break the view when one is inhabiting the higher ground. From this perspective, the facility appears to simply be a sculpture that celebrates the good views of the mountains at the horizon.





Each program gives its focus to a particular aspect of the site. The meditation rooms point along the left wall toward the field of boulders, the bar looks along the retention wall toward the outstanding tree on the edge of the wood, and the classroom uses those two spaces to focus its attention over the wood toward the mountains on the horizon. This decision was manifest even before the size of each program was set, giving it great importance in the formation of the overall project.


(human scale)

Programmatically, it makes the most sense to set each space’s floor area according to the human scale. Each space is to contain a certain density of people, according to its purpose. A meditation room (A) is for one. It contains much more wall area than floor area, and is purposed to be introspective. The class space (B) is for many, and the “module� is a yoga mat with enough space all around for movement without collision. The bar space (C) is for socialization. It accommodates some elements of social living, including a bar and a few small tables.



(structural system)

Keeping the programs to the human scale, the dimensions largely landed in the 4’ to 8’ realm. The 8’ grid easily accommodated many standard building construction elements, including concrete panels, plywood boards, and structural steel members for the trusses. Therefore, it was decided that the structure of each space aligns with the 8’ truss module the best that it can with the obtuse angle created by the direction of the walls. On this spread, you can see the dimensions of the structure in the lofted central room tieing back to the steel structure of the left wall. The pivoting windows then stem from that grid, hanging from the structure in the roof. 2.3


With just a little leniency, everything in plan begins to respond to the placement of the structure. From the termination of the floor space to the walls, lockers, and benches in the locker rooms, all elements respond to the convenience of the gridded structure. Of course, all openings carved into the walls that allow for the inhabitation of the truss are positioned between vertical members for structural security.



The makeup of the truss wall system is relatively simple. 8’ by 16’ concrete panels are hung horizontally, with the seams falling in the middle of a structural truss. This creates one horizontal seam, mid wall, that serves to point the views outward. The panels are cast with metal angles on the edges and clipped and welded back to the angle of the truss. The extra space created by the thickness of the steel members is filled with insulation, exhaust, and HVAC systems. The green roof is a shallow seedum style, set into planters that are sized to fit the grid in between the wooden structural beams of the classroom space. The strength of the roof comes form the concrete, which holds the seedum, growing medium, water retention medium, drainage mat, and waterproofing/root barrier. Drainage from the roof moves toward a gutter in the central “valley” and runs downward to be discarded a safe distance from the building.


(internal separation)

With the creation of the very particular use of each space, it was decided that they should have as little of a relationship with each other as possible. There is visual disconnect, where in each space, the others are blocked completely by walls. There is material disconnect with the concrete box structure of the bar and mediation rooms, the wood and glass lofted classroom space, and the steel structure with red concrete cladding for the walls and locker rooms. In section, as you move down the hill, there is also a 2’ floor height difference between the meditation rooms and the classroom, and between the classroom and bar, helping to disconnect the areas spatially.


B-B 2.3

(external connection)

One goal of the building was not only to draw the eye to the surrounding views, but to bring the natural qualities of the site in. The wall of windows at the corner of the classroom is operable, allowing breezes flowing down the hill to be collected by the lofted roof and filtered through the space. There are also planters that surround each of the spaces on the interior of the building skin (represented by the continuation of the tan into and around the floor spaces). Here, local grasses can be planted to allow a bit of the site to be part of the building even during the winter months.





This spread, in particular, reinforces the separation of the spaces. The exploded isometric shows the different spaces separated physically, and how they relate to each other formally. The perspectival section demonstrates well the material differences across the space and the relationship of the “lofted� green roof of the classroom and its neighboring spaces.



(light) Each of the programmed spaces called for different qualities of light. In the locker rooms, it was not necessary to provide natural light, and the quality of inhabiting the wall allowed the perfect feel for a more private area. It was essential that the classroom was as carefree as possible, necessitating a flood of natural light and a material with warm qualities. The meditation rooms ask the opposite, wishing to be dark and contemplative. They are north facing, allowing for reduced glare while maintaining views to the field of boulders. The bar area receives direct light in the morning, allowing those who take a class early to be warmed as they relax.



(inhabitable walls) The wall on the left required a slightly more structural truss system for the 30’ cantilever over the boulders. A vierendeel truss was the most reasonable solution and, when applied to the 8’ grid, became a place that could be inhabited. This raised an interesting question of what it means to “inhabit” a wall. The resulting entry and locker rooms are perceived to be carved out of the mass, aided by such details as the 5’ threshold rooms that result from passing through the thickness of the structure.



(circulation) The circulation through the space was simply a response to the rest of the design elements. Ramps are used to navigate the vertical movement between the spaces, flat areas indicate the transition of program, and punctures throughthe walls align with the programmatic spaces. An important moment is the “crossroads� that occurs when transitioning from the wall to the actual space of the building. Here, the bar lies up a ramp to the right, the meditation rooms down a ramp straight ahead, and the classroom on level. It also acts as the first moment of true separation from the community and introduction to the beauty of the site with a designed view straight out to the mountains.


I would like to end this book with the reiteration of the importance of this program. I owe the overall success of this building to the customization of the space and my own belief that these preventative aspects of health care are equally as important to the elderly as the recovery or “reactive� aspects. One does not cast shadow on the other, but rather they work together for the overall improvement of experience and life.

Self Improvement and the Natural Reverie  
Self Improvement and the Natural Reverie  

A portfolio outlining a 2nd Semester, 4th year project to add to a retirement community.