Architect: Carlson Studio Architecture  I  General Contractor: Willis Smith Construction  I  Photography: Greg Wilson

FL ASLA Environmental Sustainability Honor
FL ASLA Award of Honor in Institutional Design

This new 11,000 square foot state-of-the-art cancer support facility is a dramatic departure from the asphalt laden, strip-center building the non-profit had recently outgrown. The new five-acre campus is located on the edge of a 300-acre wildlife conservation area overlooking a pristine wetland hammock preserve. Conceived by its board of directors to be a worldwide prototype for Cancer Support Communities, this remarkable facility provides the optical healing environment for the social support and psychological services provided. The inspired building and surrounding landscape achieved a LEED Gold certification by the USGBC in March 2011 and was the first project in the area to embrace new Low Impact Development (LID) design strategies recently adopted by the county. Collectively, the facility and surrounding landscape were designed to impart a feeling of hope and freedom of choice to the participants, their loved ones and the staff for which it was designed.

The Landscape Architect worked as part of a collaborative team from the early stages of site selection through permitting and LEED certification including providing pro-bono illustrative sketches for the marketing material used in their capital campaign. Based on participants needs during recovery, it was determined that program elements should include a Tai Chi lawn, dining terrace, children’s and butterfly gardens, medicinal and therapeutic gardens, contemplative meditation spaces including a labyrinth and an interpretive nature trail.  The parking and general pedestrian circulation is designed as well with careful consideration for the people that will be using it. Although some of the garden spaces were deleted or postponed due to budget, the overall integrity of the design was not compromised.

Before the first design concept was put forth, hundreds of hours were spent researching evidence based design information to understand the myriad of ways in which thoughtful, informed design decisions can improve both the quality of care and outcomes for participants, caregivers and staff. Additionally, many intimate face-to-face meetings were held with past cancer survivors and current participants to understand each ones spiritual journey through the cancer treatment and recovery process. Although each experience was unique, a pattern of important information was revealed and used by the design team to make a number of key design decisions. Revealed was the rigid, prescriptive quality and regimented nature of the cancer treatment and recovery process.

As a result of the research, a plethora of garden spaces were conceived allowing one the freedom of choice. Full sun or shade.  A public, group setting for therapy or a more intimate private space. The white noise of moving water or the still qualities of a Zen garden. A space that is outwardly focused on views of the preserve or a location designed for inward reflection. Due to heightened awareness and sensitivity to smells and sharp objects, it was determined that plants with spines or perceptible aromas would not be used.

As a “green” facility, the design reflects thoughtful planning with respect to reduction of solar penetration and the heat island effect, as well as the use of bio-retention gardens to cleanse storm water and reduce runoff.  Careful plant selection, the use of recycled products and turf alternatives are also evident in this environmentally conscious design. Specifically, the sustainable practices implemented on this project protect the existing ecosystem, watershed, and wildlife habitat by supporting each component and integrating each system naturally as it existed prior to construction.  Porous paving, vegetated swales and bio-retention were used collectively to mimic the pre-development hydrology in an effort to re-establish the integral and essential relationship between this natural process and human activity.

By addressing user needs and preserving the best existing natural features of the property, conserving the protective support areas and developing the less critical areas in a way that does not harm the surrounding landscape, the design exemplifies a creative design solution while achieving harmonious relationships between the built and natural environment.