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Wellness is now part of more colleges’ health services

Healthcare Facilities

Wellness is now part of more colleges’ health services

New center at the University of Virginia unifies major health departments.

By John Caulfield, Senior Editor | September 20, 2021
University of Virginia's new health and wellness center will be a safe place for students. Images: WMDO Architects
The University of Virginia's Student Health and Wellness Center is designed to serve a safe haven on campus. Images: WMDO Architects

Buildings offering wellness services are proliferating on college campuses.

Among the schools with student centers that include “wellness” in their titles and programming are Franklin & Marshall College, the University of Chicago, Cal State Fullerton, Texas Tech, Stevens Institute of Technology, College of the Holy Cross, New York University, the University of Utah, Duke University, and Rutgers University.

Wellness “is redefining the typology,” says Scott Baltimore, an architect with Duda|Paine Architects in Durham, N.C., which has carved out a specialty in wellness design. He elaborates that more schools are taking a “synergistic” approach that brings different services and academic departments under one roof, thereby making the building more of a destination.

This transformation has also been “institutional,” says Turan Duda, FAIA, the firm’s Founding Principal. Parents want to know where their kids can go if their educational journey suffers a medical or psychological setback, particularly in the area of depression. More to the point, says Duda, are the “preventive” services that wellness suggests, a “safe place” where students can turn to for help and interaction.


That colleges and universities are using wellness centers as part of their marketing and recruiting isn’t surprising. But what constitutes “wellness” depends on the school, and can be intentionally ambiguous, says Duda, because “this field is evolving.” To cite one unusual example, Duke University attracted more male students to its wellness center only after it introduced a “drumming circle” to its programming.

One of Duda|Paine’s projects is the recently completed University of Virginia Student Health & Wellness Center in Charlottesville, which the firm designed in collaboration with WMDO Architects, a frequent partner with the university. The project’s construction manager was Barton Malow, and the building pursued the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard certification.

This 169,000-sf building, which replaces the school’s Elson Student Health Center, emphasizes wellness and preventive healthcare. It integrates student life and healthcare by introducing students to critical aspects of social, physical, psychological, personal, and environmental wellness. The project also brings together all the major campus health departments—General Medicine, Gynecology, Counseling and Psychological Services, Office of Health Promotion, and the Student Disability Access Center—as well as the Kinesiology Department and student wellness spaces.

During the building’s design phase, WMDO conducted workshops that included a virtual-reality simulation of the center’s entrance to assess different scenarios of student well-being. Another workshop focused on “journey mapping.”

The resulting four-story building is organized around an open and light-filled entry and multi-story lobby, with generous daylighting into all departments, and improved orientation and wayfinding. On the ground floor, level with the exterior ground plane to optimize visibility and accessibility, the Office of Health Promotion presents the “first stop” for students, while the Student Disability Access Center is convenient and central, overlooking the south pond.

The Center is organized around a light-filled multistory lobby.
The Center is organized around a light-filled multistory lobby.


Spaces on the ground level create opportunities for program synergies and community outreach. These include a pharmacy and retail space, and a teaching kitchen that provides classes on healthy eating habits and nutrition. (Duda sees this kitchen as another of the center’s “preventive” services. “Wellness centers are giving special attention to experiences,” says Duda, from the parking lot to the “choices” in services the center makes available to students.)

An Education/Multi-Purpose space adjacent to the main lobby supports functions such as yoga, special events, staff meetings, and wellness education. These spaces facilitate interaction and the exploration of alternative methodologies in wellness education. 

The Center is part of a campus master plan
The Center will be a focal point of a campus master plan that will include housing.

The University of Virginia’s Student Health & Wellness Center is located close to the school’s historic quad. The building is also the first development within the Perkins and Will-designed Brandon Avenue Precinct Master Plan that eventually will include housing and other mixed-use buildings along a “green street,” and weave the university’s Central Grounds and the Health System Campus. 

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