Engineering, Occupational Therapy Students Design Space for Exeter HealthCare
By Debra JohnyBear, College of Engineering & Physical Sciences
January 16, 2008
Interior of proposed atrium, designed by UNH civil engineering and occupational
therapy for Exeter HealthCare in Exeter.
An unlikely alliance of UNH students – civil engineers and occupational
therapists – has designed an environmentally sensitive atrium to
bring natural beauty to patients rehabilitating from major medical services
The 14 students and their faculty mentors, associate professor of civil
engineering Charles Goodspeed III and associate professor of occupational
therapy Lou Ann Griswold, presented their proposed atrium design to Exeter
HealthCare in December and will continue to move the project toward completion
during the spring semester.
The project, which the students undertook for course credit, matched the
structural engineering skills of the engineering students with the therapeutic
insights of the OT students to create a space that is functional, accessible,
safe and “so beautiful that I could cry,” according to Exeter
HealthCare occupational therapist Annie Harris, who initiated the collaboration.
Exeter HealthCare provides comprehensive sub-acute skilled care, including
rehabilitative and complex medical services during the transition from
hospital to home, outpatient therapy services, and driver training and
The students were tasked with designing a beautiful area for Exeter HealthCare
residents to retreat to, regardless of temperature or allergens. From the
perspective of the occupational therapy students, building parameters included
optimal functionality, aesthetics, heat and humidity, lighting, space,
and accessibility factors. Many Exeter HealthCare patients are long-term
and require ventilator care, and some have severe behavioral issues.
Engineering challenges included structural issues related to the unique
framing of the structure and shear loadings from wind. In addition, students
sought to design a space that would qualify for Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) Certification, the nationally accepted benchmark
for the design construction and operation of high-performance green buildings.
The end design integrated therapy and architecture by optimizing the large
open space, surrounding it with oversized large windows to amplify the
natural lighting. The design provides secure access to outdoor gardens,
a gas fireplace lined on both sides with a cascading waterfall, and art
and performance space. Floor heat uses a piping system that transmits hot
air upward resulting in uniform efficient heating.
Exeter HealthCare’s Harris gives the design – and the student
designers – high marks.
“The physical and emotional needs of the people who will be using
this building have indeed been addressed - this gives the structure a soul,” she
For the students, the opportunity to work not only outside their disciplines
but also outside the university community was rewarding.
“This project represented a unique opportunity to blend structural
engineering with the human emotions of hope and vision in order to create
a building that truly has a soul and a great purpose,” said civil
engineering student Jack Welch of Boston.
“It was inspiring to join forces with the engineering team to deliver
the beginnings of such an important community-based project,” said
occupational therapy student Rachel Bradt of Rye. “The heart of this
atrium project is securely based in the core tenets of occupational therapy
-- enabling and empowering individuals so they can participate in meaningful
Most of the students who worked on this project plan to stay with it through
the 2008 spring semester when the objective will be to further detail the
current design, provide Exeter HealthCare with a complete bid package and
Civil engineering students involved in the project include:
Jillian Sanctuary, Milford
J.R. Collins, Weare
Brittany File-Huntsberger, Kennebunk, Maine
Ryan Kline, Wolfeboro
Heather Newton, Sharon
Michael McGurl, Arlington, Mass.
Craig Shillaber, Deerfield
Adam Spraque, Epson
Jack Welch, Boston
John Westover, Concord
Occupational therapy students include:
Lindsey Napurano, Blairstown, N.J.
Rachel Bradt, Rye
Lindsey Parent, Walpole
Beth Geyer, Newmarket