Students at University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul—like students everywhere—often struggle with challenges to mental or physical health. The administration perceived a barrier to healing in that their health center and counseling services were in different buildings, daunting to students with anxiety or depression who worry they’ll be seen going to counseling appointments. To remedy the situation, St. Thomas wanted to repurpose a building Ryan had built years before, one of many projects together. They chose us for design, as well as construction.
The goal was a holistic space with one main entrance, where students could be discreetly tracked to medical or counseling services. However, the skinny, two-story building—originally designed by a different architecture firm as student housing with a first-floor daycare center—was not ideal for conversion. To overcome structural and fiscal limitations, we worked creatively with both the end users and operations. Using 3D animation, we innovated an acceptable universal exam room style and deployed a chilled beam HVAC system to achieve essential acoustical privacy, despite the low ceilings. By resourcing the main floor’s many windows, we created the desired light-filled atmosphere. In addition to exam and counseling rooms, the center includes a community room, physical therapy, laboratory, office practicum, large rooms for yoga and group therapy, conference and break room—united by an elegant, customized wayfinding system.