Collge of Design, Construction & Planning
Architecture Building

LAE students, alumni team up to help Gainesville Fisher House

September 26, 2012
Wonderful things can happen when DCP alumni team up with students.

Last spring, 16 landscape architecture students got an opportunity to compete for the ultimate design of the Fisher House Gardens, a therapy garden for the Gainesville Fisher House Foundation.

Jackie Owens, MLAE 1995, landscape architect for the planned Fisher House therapy garden, got the ball rolling on the project after contacting the department with the idea to work with

The project, the design for which will be located at the future North Florida/South Georgia Fisher House on Malcom Randall VA Medical Center property, was a combined effort between the Planting Design Studio, taught by adjunct instructor Amy Morie, MLAE 2007, and Kay Williams, associate professor of landscape architecture, and the spring Landscape Construction class, taught by Bob Grist, associate professor of landscape architecture.

The student proposals aimed to balance both occupational therapy opportunities and provide an inviting outdoor atmosphere.

The proposals included sensory elements in the form of water, artwork, an herb and vegetable garden and a soundproof barrier from the adjacent urban area. One of the most important elements The Fisher House aims to provide is the feeling of a “home away from home” for veterans and their families while a loved one is receiving care at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center.

This competition was managed and reviewed by a committee of board members overseeing the design process. Students also were aided by several meetings with the clients, including members of the Fisher House board, therapists and VA staff, VA physical plant, an occupational therapist, and former users of other Fisher Houses in other states.

“I feel we all enjoyed the feedback and support of the wonderful people who gave their time, including the Gainesville Fisher House Foundation, the medical and operational staff at the VA, and L.A. Jackie Owens, all of whom had an amazingly inspirational enthusiasm for the design work and inspired a new level of achievement in the students,” Morie said.

Since the site plan features paved areas, construction students also took part in a hardscape design competition sponsored by paver manufacturer Tremron. The company’s products served as the structural basis for individual student designs with an emphasis on creative and appropriate use of pavers and hardscape materials.

The student winners of the Tremron Competition were Jarrod Prentice, Joshua Roedell and Johan Bueno.

Concurrently, the design studio worked on developing therapeutic garden designs and solving larger site problems. The results included a master plan, planting plan and a series of sketches indicating character, uses and materials.

The competition winners included: Joshua Daniel Roedell, first place; Christopher Stidham, second place; and Adam McCollister, third place.

Winners of both competitions received cash awards/scholarchips from Tremron and the Fisher House at the Department of Landscape Architecture Awards Ceremony in April.

“The support of practicing alumni like Jackie [Owens] is a wonderful credit to the program, providing the students with an advisor, role model and working partner,” Morie said. “Working with alumni allows for interactions that can broaden students’ perceptions of the opportunities in the field.”

This summer, Owens will be working on combining ideas and finalizing a therapy garden design, as the Gainesville Fisher House Foundation plans its groundbreaking.

Landscape architecture alumni like Owens often continue relationships with the college through the years, Williams said.

“We have a lot of alumni who contact us and say, ‘hey, I’ve got this neat project; it’s a little unusual, but it seems like it would be a good educational experience,’” said Williams, adding that the influx of ideas from students makes the experience a mutually beneficial situation.

There were also many benefits to the students having an actual client, Williams said.

“It is an important project both emotionally and physically,” said Patricia Fabiani, BFA 1991, executive director at Gainesville Fisher House Foundation. “It will serve those who have put their lives on the line for our freedom and country. It specifically addresses those who are in medical crisis. This is very different than just an aesthetic-type assignment.”

Students agreed that the real-life project made it both more interesting and more meaningful.

“It was a real project which gave us a completely different perspective on the whole thing from the get-go,” said Johan Andres Bueno, a landscape architecture senior. “The fact that we had a real client allowed us to get very useful feedback that caused changes in our design for the Fisher House. It also forced us to think about certain aspects of the design that we might have not thought of otherwise.”

The students involved in this project also began to develop a sensitivity to the physical, emotional and psychological needs of not only the wounded veterans, but the family members who would be staying at the Fisher House, Williams said.

What makes this project unique is “the empathy – not sympathy, but empathy – in understanding how the veterans would feel and what their needs would be,” Williams said. “Any time you can teach designers how to be empathetic, that is a good thing.”

Bueno said that what he enjoyed most about the project was the potential to help “real people feel happier and healthier.”

“I was able to slowly connect with people we had spoken with and the project itself because of the great potential we had to change a few lives,” he said. “I think this type of experience is rare for a lot of students at universities and colleges. Being part of this project not only taught me a great deal about my field of study in terms of real world context, it helped nurture the passion I’m growing for landscape architecture.