Architecture and Physical Therapy Students Collaborate to Improve Health and Community Engagement

They designed installations and wayfinding strategies for the Wyss Wellness Center.
Student presents their project

In the culmination of a semester-long project, Jefferson architecture and physical therapy students recently presented their proposals to enhance the Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center to support movement, mobility and community engagement.

Physical therapy and architecture students collaborated with faculty to design a space outside the Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center—located in the BOK building in South Philadelphia—to improve accessibility to its health and wellness services. These services include physical therapy (PT) and the use of outdoor space to improve health and community engagement.

Thanks to PT professors Drs. Louis Hunter and Stephanie Muth, along with architecture  professors Christopher Harnish and David Kratzer—who earned a grant through Jefferson’s Center for Faculty Development and Nexus Learning Pedagogy Grant Program, this collaboration allowed architecture students to design with the patient or client in mind.

PT student Madeline Reich and architecture student Wyatt Korb present their project to faculty. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)
PT student Madeline Reich and architecture student Wyatt Korb present their project to faculty. (Photos by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

“At the national level, doctor of physical therapy (DPT) programs have begun to incorporate the social determinants of health into their curricula,” says Dr. Hunter, noting the PT students acted as consultants for the designs created by the architecture students. “Faculty from both disciplines wanted to have the DPT students provide their input regarding how the patients and people in the community could safely access and utilize the space in the architectural designs to improve their health, especially from a functional and participation perspective.”

David Kratzer, who teaches the undergraduate design course, enjoyed seeing his students work together to design something that would motivate patients to do their PT exercises and therapeutic activities. The project considered the space, and importantly, the way individuals interact with it.

“The PT aspect really enriched the architectural discussion,” Kratzer says. “It was important for the architecture students to consider how one sits, stands, moves and interacts with the spaces around them.”

Architecture student Samuel Becker partnered with PT student Cristy Peterson on the
Architecture student Samuel Becker (pictured here) partnered with PT student Cristy Peterson on “Natural Escape.” They said they gained valuable insight from the collaboration.

Architecture student Wyatt Korb worked with PT student Madeline Reich. Korb proposed an installation that would have a towering wooden frame with shifting walls and roof moved by the patients. It would simultaneously act as a PT gym and piece of equipment in one. Its basic structure would allow for bodies to move and use space in a non-conventional way. For example, it would include a large rope that a patient could pull down to enhance strength and lift the roof to allow the sun to shine in.

“Working with a student from a different discipline grounded the project for me,” Korb says. “It was nice to have a critique from an outside source on the inside because we’re creating together. It helps to design with a purpose of use in mind.”

With limitations practically undefined, students had great flexibility in their designs, which Korb appreciated. “I love when a teacher allows that freedom,” he says.

“Natural Escape” features winding walkways and offshoots of empty space where patients can exercise.

Reich enjoyed working with Korb on this project. “I know the architecture students are always creating schemes and concepts and storytelling,” she says. “That’s something we do a lot in PT. I found it valuable to see another angle on a similar concept and case.”

Dr. Muth championed the project from a PT perspective. “As PTs, we usually focus on the individual,” she says, “but this type of collaboration allows us to have a larger impact on entire communities.”

Architecture student Samuel Becker and PT student Cristy Peterson partnered to create “Natural Escape.” Their proposed design is a garden path with green walls. The winding walkways direct patients down the path, and the walkways have offshoots of empty space where patients exercise.

Caption: Architecture and Physical Therapy students present their projects to faculty and classmates. (Photo by Professor David Kratzer)
Architecture and physical therapy students present their projects to faculty and classmates. (Photo by Professor David Kratzer)

“I didn’t consider putting railings along the path until speaking with Cristy,” Becker says. “She helped me realize the limitations of not having them. It would be difficult for patients with mobility issues to use the walkways without railings alongside them. She pointed out patients could even use them for their stretching exercises.”

Peterson equally appreciated Becker’s input. “It was interesting to look at the other side of PT where you’re interacting with your built environment,” she says. “I didn’t really know anything about ADA protocols, so considering dimensions was something I’d never done before.”

See all the student projects below.

Eudaimonia Sanctum /// Joseph Sepulveda, Architecture and Jessica Cestare, Physical Therapy /// The design focuses on how the mind can cure what ails the body by creating a safe place that can help calm the mind and allow the patients to have a safe space to talk about their frustrations. It includes narrowing and widening paths that rise and fall to activate the mind and engages those interacting with it. (Sketch by Joseph Sepulveda)
Wandering Pavilion /// Matthew Fimiani, Architecture and Brandi Pulley, Physical Therapy /// The design, by its nature, promotes wandering. The garden roof is slightly sloped, which allows for visual and physical interaction. There is a level below to create a place to explore underground. The change in grade, whether up or down, offers strategies to help patients promote movement. There are different-sized blocks, stairs and walls to stretch on and railings to address patients’ physical therapy needs. (Sketch by Matthew Fimiani)
Descending River /// Conrad Spence, Architecture and Brandi Pulley, Physical Therapy /// The design of this addition encourages users to wander inside the space and its changing forms. The square steel tubes continuously flow over the bents and are connected by steel pins, penetrating the concrete to create a floating effect. The ground surface continuously slopes down to the middle and carries water to the center drain. The constant flow of water and the steel tubes flowing support light and shadow effects. The light and shadow effects stimulate movement on the contoured surface to create a visual movement that also supports the circulation under the structure. (Sketch by Conrad Spence)
Moving Architecture /// Wyatt Korb, Architecture and Madeline Reich, Physical Therapy /// Moving Architecture’s structure allows the user to push and pull on its roofs and walls to exercise and gain strength in core areas of the body. As the body moves in its range of motion, so does the structure. It is one giant exercise machine designed specifically for physical therapists and their patients. (Sketch by Wyatt Korb)
Wyss Intertwined /// Gabriella Semaña, Architecture and Marielena Kotretsos, Physical Therapy /// This design implements multifunctional wooden arches spread out on the greenspace of the BOK building and the surrounding community to act as wayfinding markers. These wooden arches double as an interactive exercise structure that can be used for physical therapy treatment. (Sketch by Gabriella Semaña)
Wyss Backbone /// Alexis Manfre, Architecture and Marielena Kotretsos, Physical Therapy /// The design of this addition is a metaphor for the spine. It takes the natural curves of the spine, but the surface is carved to create spaces for exercise. It continues by spreading out part of the spine into other areas of the community. These parts could be referred to as nerve strands. They are visually connected to the main spine. (Sketch by Alexis Manfre)
Natural Escape /// Samuel Becker, Architecture and Cristy Peterson, Physical Therapy /// The project is a garden path with green walls directing circulation. The winding nature of the path allows for a number of offshoots, which are designed to host moving exercises, as well as four central programmed areas enclosed by the interwoven paths. This winding quality also provides a series of isolated perspectives, allowing for an individual experience of the path and some privacy for patients going through exercises. (Sketch by Samuel Becker)
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Design and Style, Health