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