Structure and Design as an Expression of Nursing’s Ontology

“When I walk in the door of the College of Nursing building I feel different.  There is something deeply peaceful about this place.” “I can’t put my finger on it, but when I’m here I can think, feel, and connect to myself…I’m present ”. “It’s not like any other building on campus. It’s about studying nursing from the inside out”.

Over the 15 years that I’ve been fortunate enough to call Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing (CELCON) my home I’ve heard these and many similar comments about being in the College of Nursing’s building. I joined the faculty in 2006 when the building was new, and my direct experience of the building was one of the factors that drew me to this College. The ontology of nursing was vividly re-presented in the building’s architecture and design. The design of the building was an intentional process, meticulously planned and implemented by Anne Boykin, Dean at the CELCON for over 30 years, co-author of the theory of Nursing as Caring, and a transformational leader. The focus of the discipline of nursing: caring, human wholeness, and the interrelationship of wellbeing to the human-environment relationship (Smith, 2019) informed the creation of this “home” that truly reflected the heart and soul of nursing. Dr. Boykin collaborated with architects who understood her vision and captured it in the structure and design of the building. It is an example of creating living spaces that reflect foundational values (Boykin, Touhy & Smith, 2021).

The College of Nursing building was created to be a healing environment that reflected three guiding ideas: 1) the College’s philosophy of caring, including its definition of nursing; 2) a reverence for the environment and its centrality to wellbeing; and 3) the harmonious flow of energy through attention to structure and design, referred to as feng shui in Chinese philosophy. (Smith, 2019, p. 290). “The purpose of the building was to create a living, breathing place that invites, teaches, houses, protects and nurtures” (Boykin & Raines, 2006, p. 45).

Having a home for the College of Nursing was Anne Boykin’s dream, and a generous philanthropist and fellow nurse and friend, Christine E. Lynn, funded the building. The building is 75,000 square feet with three floors, with a circular design to reflect wholeness and connectedness. “The College is dedicated to Caring: advancing the science, practicing the art, studying its meaning, and living caring day-to-day”. Nursing is defined as “nurturing the wholeness of person-environment through caring” (https://nursing.fau.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/vision-and-mission.php). This core dedication to the mission is cast in the terrazzo floor of the atrium of the building as the “dance of caring persons”. It is a visual reminder of the College’s philosophy and model of relating. The dance is grounded in respect and valuing of all persons who are encouraged and supported in a culture that values persons living caring and growing in caring. (https://nursing.fau.edu/about/college-at-a-glance/index.php).

The atrium faces a garden with trees and plants known for their healing properties, rocking chairs and benches, and a labyrinth, an ancient symbol of self-reflection and wholeness. Walking the labyrinth is a journey to our own center and back again out into to the world. (Boykin & Raines, 2006, p. 46). This labyrinth is unique in that it is oval rather than round; its designer felt that the shape represented the face, the place of human connection between nurses and others. The healing garden is an environment for students, staff and faculty enjoy. Palm trees and other plants are around the building. Bamboo is on each side of the entrance of the building is a symbol of blessings within. The color of the exterior and interior of the building is mostly earth tones, a nurturant element that most closely represents nursing.

View from the 2nd floor of the Atrium that looks out at the garden, featuring the “Dance of Caring Persons” image embedded in the floor.

This unitary perspective on person-environment integrality led to creating a “green” building, one that embraces principles of sustainability and stewardship of the earth. The building is designated as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified building. It features minimal destruction of the earth surrounding the building, water savings through low flow toilets and recycled water for garden irrigation, healthy indoor air and natural light throughout the building, construction using materials and appliances that decrease impact on deforestation and the environment, use of products and supplies that are natural and non-chemical, and energy efficiency. (Boykin & Raines, 2006).

The feng shui design principles are based on creating environments in which people feel comfortable and supported. Feng shui masters and experts in healing architecture consulted from the beginning on the design elements. Before the groundbreaking the feng shui master engaged the College community in a ritual blessing ceremony to honor the land and prepare the earth to accept and nurture this new home. (Boykin & Raines, 2006). The front of the building faces north, the most propitious direction. The back of the building borders on a lake. Water is a source of life, and this water source is visually incorporated through river rock in the garden that visually is contiguous to a swath of black tile that flows throughout the building. A bagua or feng shui blueprint guided the placement of different areas in the College. The five elements of earth, water, fire, wood and metal are used in particular areas of the building along with the colors and shapes they represent. For example, “helpful persons” on the first floor is the office of Student Support Services housing advisors and assistant deans, while on the third floor it is the Dean’s Suite. The element of wood using block shapes permeates the design in this area along with the color green. Another example is that the Office of Research and Scholarship is located in the “prosperity” area of the bagua represented by the fire element with angular shapes and the color red.

The three floors of the building have different purposes; the first floor is the welcoming space for the community. The second floor is focused on spaces for students including large and smaller classrooms with connectivity for distance learning, a kitchen with communal eating space, the lab area for simulation and skills practice, and individual and group study areas, a large doctoral student study room and the Center for Nursing Research and Scholarship. The third floor has the suites for the Dean, administrative support staff, eminent scholars, associate deans, faculty offices, several conference rooms and a faculty kitchen and eating space.

Other unique features that reflect nursing’s ontology are open spaces for gatherings and events, a museum and the Archives of Caring (the only archive in the world that houses the work of caring scholars), a large yoga or exercise space with a bamboo floor, a holistic space for classes and a room with a massage table, and a “sacred space”, a room for meditation, reflection or contemplation.

The ontology, or essential nature of nursology, is reflected clearly in the structure and design of the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. It is an environment that nurtures the growth of students, faculty and staff in bringing the values to life in all missions of the College: teaching, research, practice and service. “Through intentional design features the concepts of reflection/mindfulness, aesthetic appreciation, healing environments, human-environment integrality, holistic health, and the significance of self-care to the being-becoming of the nurse are prominent”. (Smith, 2019, p. 290).

Sources

Boykin, A. & Raines, D. (2006). Design and structure as an expression of caring. International
Journal for Human Caring, 10(4), 45-49.

Boykin, A., Touhy, T.A. & Smith, M.C. (2021). Evolution of a caring-based college of nursing.
In M. Hills, J. Watson & C. Cara (Eds.), Creating a caring science curriculum: An
emancipatory pedagogy for nursing (pp. 187-200). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Smith, M.C. (2019). Advancing caring science through the missions of teaching,
research/scholarship, practice and service. In W. Rosa, S. Horton-Deutsch & J. Watson (Eds.), A Handbook for Caring Science: Expanding the Paradigm. (pp. 285-301) New York, NY: Springer Publishing.

Smith, M.C. (2019) Regenerating the focus of the discipline of Nursing. Advances in Nursing
Science. 42(1), 3-16,

4 thoughts on “Structure and Design as an Expression of Nursing’s Ontology

  1. Reading this post, I was taken back to the first time I visited CELCON for the 2009 Rogerian Conference. I remember a unique pandimensional awareness of calm and caring, a manifestation of a caring philosophy that flowed from the structure and design and the care and commitment it communicated. The environment “spoke” to me.Thank you to Anne Boykin and Christine E. Lynn for helping to manifest person-environment integrality and to Marlaine Smith for continuing that legacy.

    Like

  2. This sounds like a wonderful learning environment; one that envelops students in the experience and meaning of being a nurse.

    I recall being faculty in a large, impressive, but sterile building where everyone worked behind solid wood office doors. There were virtually no communal spaces. The halls were ghostly. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, to this day, that school of nursing struggles with toxic faculty relations. Architecture matters.

    Liked by 1 person

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