Interdisciplinary studio yields plans, designs for central Texas children’s mental health center

Eric Bardenhagen

Kirk Hamilton

Zhipeng Lu

George Mann

Jorge Vanegas

See videos of all the students’ designs.

A capital campaign to build a new campus for the Phoenix Center, a central Texas facility providing low- or no-cost mental health therapy to children, is now bolstered by architectural and master plan concepts created by Texas A&M College of Architecture students in a multidisciplinary studio.

“The designs are phenomenal and will help us dramatically increase our fundraising because donors can now envision the facilities and structures we seek to build,” said Sarah Rosen Garrett, executive director of the Phoenix Center, after seeing students present their designs to center administrators and staff at a Dec. 5, 2016 unveiling at Lake Shores Church in Marble Falls, Texas.

Students participating in a fall 2016 studio designed three facilities for Phoenix’s proposed 100-acre campus — a clinic for counseling services, an activity camp offering hiking, yoga, a zip line and rope courses, and an equine therapy center.


The plans were created by 49 students, including Bachelor of Environmental Design students and graduate architecture and landscape architecture students, all equally distributed into eight groups. They collaborated with Phoenix Center administrators and staff to gain firsthand knowledge of the center, which mostly serves abused and neglected children, and the proposed site.

“The students listened when we expressed the children’s needs and they produced high-caliber, creative, schematic architectural designs,” said Garrett. “We were looking for designs of child-friendly, imaginative structures and landscapes that promote mental health and healing, and most importantly, benefit the children and families we serve.”

As a multidisciplinary project, the Phoenix Center provided architecture and landscape architecture students with numerous collaborative opportunities seldom found in traditional studio environments.


Victoria Villareal, a graduate architecture student from Sugar Land, Texas, said working with the landscape architecture students taught her the importance of a structure’s surroundings.

“If a building’s adjoining environment is unpleasant or disorganized, it can disrupt the entire experience of the building,” she said, noting that her team sought to design a seamless environment by integrating their structures with the surrounding landscape design.

Villareal said her team placed pathways, sidewalks and accented paving to subtly prioritize key building entrances.

The multidisciplinary studio mimiced real world projects, said Trevor Maciejewski, a graduate landscape architecture student from Buffalo, New York. “This is what we’ll be doing after graduation, working with people in different fields,” he added.

The project, which included two daylong charter bus trips to the center, was funded by a $25,000 high-impact learning grant from the College of Architecture.

College faculty leading the project were Eric Bardenhagen, assistant professor of landscape architecture, Kirk Hamilton and George J. Mann, professors of architecture, Zhipeng Lu, senior architecture lecturer, and Jorge Vanegas, professor of architecture and dean of the College of Architecture.

posted December 14, 2016