California State University, Northridge (CSUN) is one of the first college’s in the CSU system to incorporate a wellness center that is specifically designed to contribute to student success and retention and enhance the student life experience.

The design of CSUN’s Oasis Wellness Center reflects the symbiotic relationship between mind and body. The existing Student Recreation Center (SRC)—also designed by LPA—delivered physical fitness on a bold and large scale. The Oasis sought to complement the recreation center in an intimate and contemplative perspective that would address issues revealed in surveys and research by the University Student Union Services. CSUN’s students were above average on the American College Health Association’s top two health impediments; stress and lack of sleep. The wellness center is to be a “learning laboratory” where students, with supervision by faculty and professional clinical staff, can find respite in unique spaces to address the student’s out of balance health.

The challenge of a remote and shady site on campus became an opportunity by creating a unique experience of disembarking down to the Oasis. While descending to the facility, one starts to sense the intimate scale of the project, attention to detail and density of lush planting. The contemplative gardens take advantage of the site to create “outdoor rooms”—private in scale and immersed in nature.

A multidiscipline team facilitated a holistic approach to the site. The existing building and under-utilized landscape were collectively transformed to support the program for the project. Biophilia and an interior/exterior connection inspired the site design. A new freestanding elevator tower and convenience stair now provides universal access to the project and a visual landmark on campus.

The outdoor “rooms” required shading devices due to the site’s temperature and exposure. Wooden trellises, fabric umbrellas, building overhangs and tree canopies were strategies used for the site to be usable year round in the sometimes harsh, climate of Northridge, California. For outdoor lounging, the center provides a sculpture garden, Zen garden, garden rooms, flexible yoga/meditation space and an amphitheater with fireplace to support the services offered at Oasis.

The program for Oasis elicited spaces conducive to engagement with nature, complementing the student life experience at CSUN on an organic, personal and human level. Inspired by a balanced approach to health and wellness, the project is a tranquil contrast to the active and energized SRC. The wellness center has created a new model for outdoor instruction with students engaging in the variety of offered programs including:

•Massage therapy
•Peer and Professional Nutrition Counseling
•Yoga and Meditation Classes
•Stress and Sleep Management Skill Series
•Painting/Art programs
•Wellness-Related Workshops such as Aromatherapy

From conception to execution, the undertaking was innovative and the client championed a facility where all were welcomed, and the individual’s needs were the priority. A respite in nature was the concept at the heart of the program—a relief from the stressful demands and hectic schedule the typical student confronts. As such, a group of student representatives sat on both the design and programming committee for the project.

An attention to the quality of landscape materials influenced the planning and construction, as they helped define and reflect the center’s mission and foster the feel of the space. Planting was selected to provide color, texture, scent and movement; creating an immersive space for retreat and respite. The use of mature specimen trees had an immediate impact and the tranquil lighting, unique to each space, contributed to the mood and the intimate scale.

Hardscape elements contribute to the overall composition of the project and provide texture, pattern, and color while helping to define the outdoor rooms, circulation, and wayfinding. Integral colored concrete with exposed aggregate highlights the connection paths between outdoor rooms. Student Lounges are defined by fields of exposed aggregate concrete paving with alternating integral colored, ‘topcast’ finished concrete bands. A concrete labyrinth provides for individual ritual and reflection and was an element requested by students. The use of decorative rock mulches and decomposed granite add to the permeability of the site, provide interesting “crunching’ sounds when walked upon, and create a true garden frame of mind. Cast-in-place integral colored concrete seat walls tie the horizontal flatwork and vertical landscape together.

Since its opening in August of 2015, the impact on students has been overwhelming. The Center averages nearly 500 visitors on peak days. There are numerous workshops offered including; mindfulness, yoga, art therapy and meditation. Feedback from students has been extremely affirmative; their general consensus being, “We needed this!”

Data on who visits Oasis is collected, with the goal of assessing the potential connection between facility use and academic performance.

The Oasis Wellness Center was a unique undertaking that was driven by a focus on the students and the belief that context can impact learning and health. While it has been documented that characteristics of an interior space such as—lighting, noise, air quality and thermal comfort—each have effects on learning. Lesser known are the effects that views and connection to nature have on both cognition and stress recovery. The project hypothesized that there could be a restorative effect on students through connection to, and emersion in, the natural environment.

CSUN’s goal for its students to carry these lessons in health and wellness with them when moving beyond their time at the university, and ultimately into their careers and influencing society. Oasis lays the groundwork for a focus on a balanced life with a connection to nature and mental health.

We believe the wellness center will be a wellspring for future collegiate models. While campus landscapes often focus on group activities for sports and athletic facilities, it is rare that a space be so carefully programmed and designed for individual rejuvenation of the mind and soul.

The Oasis demonstrates the universities’ commitment to promote lifelong learning with a unique approach to student’s wellness. The Oasis Wellness Center champions a connection with nature as a major contributor to students balancing their hectic and multi-tasked lives. It proves that big things can, in fact, come in a small package.

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