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Supporting Mind, Body + Spirit at Rocky Vista University Osteopathic School of Medicine

October 5, 2021

We recently had the privilege of attending the groundbreaking for the new Rocky Vista University (RVU) Osteopathic School of Medicine in Billings, Montana. This 135,000-square-foot facility is our team’s third project with RVU.

The first principle of Osteopathy is that the person is ‘a unit of body, mind and spirit’ – a concept that also happens to apply to much of the work we are doing as architects and designers on the project. Using the idea of connection as a guiding theme, our team created spaces and relationships within the building to support the life of a modern medical student while seamlessly supporting their own mind, body and spirit.

The first step was looking at the lifestyle and demands of the students, faculty and staff that would be using the building. Medical students have constant demands and grueling schedules, so we thoughtfully designed the distribution and flow of spaces so that students would never be far from the resources they needed to support their mental and physical health. A variety of study, social, play and focus spaces are dispersed throughout the building between the classroom and lab spaces.

To support student wellbeing outside of the classroom – a major goal of the campus – we included spaces like the demonstration kitchen, where they can learn about healthy cooking. Building users also have access to a fitness space with cardio and weight machines as well as a dedicated yoga space and meditation room.

When it came to the structure of the building, here again, we took cues from the idea of mind/body connection. The building itself became a metaphor for the body, and we sought to celebrate that by exposing much of building’s own ‘skeleton’. The north and east sides of the building are more protected, with more building skin and less glazing. As you move to the center spine, the building opens to a double-volume space with exposed columns, cross-bracing, wood glulams and large expanses of glazing, which look out to the landscaped quad on the exterior.

The building wraps this exterior quad space in a U-shape. The way the building’s form cradles the natural center, combined with the views to the outdoors, led us to consider this area as the heart of the building. This focus on structure and function further supports the osteopathic principle that structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.

Connection and trust in nature are also important elements of Osteopathy. In the words of Andrew Taylor Still, who was the founder of Osteopathy, “An osteopath is taught that Nature is to be trusted to the end.” We supported this concept in the architecture by creating a strong connection to the exterior with the extensive glazing and views as well as using many natural materials, colors and textures in the interior design. Once built, we are bringing greenery into the interior with built-in planters in the amenity spaces.

When it came to the classroom spaces, we took some key learnings from previous projects we’ve designed for RVU and helped them design this space to support some significant changes to the way their students learn. We provided two large classrooms that can be set up with tables of 8-10 people for team-based learning, or they can be set up lecture-style in the round for events and lectures with 300+ people.

Technology, as well as flexibility, is key for these spaces. Each individual team table will have its own display monitor for collaboration and sharing of information, and there will be four large overhead screens in each classroom – so no matter where you are sitting, you will have an excellent view of what is being presented.

Seen both as a whole and through every detail, the new Osteopathic School of Medicine at RVU is a reflection of the work that will take place within it and a celebration of the inherent connections between the mind, body and spirit. We can’t wait to see this project progress and look forward to continuing to work with the team at RVU, our construction partners Langlas & Associates, BCER Engineering, and DL Adams Associates to bring this space to life for students.

You can follow OZ on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to follow progress on this project.

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