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Sacred Heart University
Center for Healthcare Education

Landscape Architecture, Architecture and Structural Engineering by The S/L/A/M Collaborative



The plaza framework of Sacred Heart University's Center for Healthcare Education in Bridgeport, Conn., is based on overlapping elliptical shapes. Alternating blends of clay brick pavers transitions to 'Prest' pedestal pavers over the garage (below, right). The stair treads are granite. The turf is a 'Master Mixture' and 'Heavy Fescue' blend. The plaza evergreens are white spruce and Douglas fir. 'Kipp Post' LED luminaires are position atop round straight aluminum poles.

Sacred Heart University's new Center for Health Education, located 1.3 miles from the main campus in Fairfield, Conn., reflects the mission of the university to deliver exceptional facilities that inspire staff, students and visitors.

Located at 4000 Park Avenue in Bridgeport, the new Center for Healthcare Education houses state-of-the-art laboratory and classroom facilities in a three-story building on 8.7 acres. The center offers undergraduate programs in nursing, exercise science, health science, geriatric health and speech/language pathology. Among the graduate programs are nursing, athletic training, exercise science and nutrition, occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech/language pathology. The facility includes athletic training, human performance and motion analysis labs, a life and sport analysis clinic and a multipurpose amphitheater.

The approach to the 120,000-square foot center evokes an immediate sense of arrival, a sense of place and sense of community. The architecture and landscape architecture are interwoven. A main upper plaza receives arriving users and orients them to the main entrance and central atrium. The framework of the design is based on overlapping elliptical shapes, including the planted island in the middle of the shuttle bus drop off area, the pedestrian planted island, the main entry plaza, and a sunken hidden gathering area. A pedestrian plaza entices visitors to the main entry. A water channel, inspired by the water table at the Villa Lante in Italy, leads the eye to a sunken amphitheater and gathering area.


The 'Ash' granite water feature was inspired by the water table attributed to Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573) at the Villa Lante garden at Bagnaia, Italy. Bluestone veneers line the water channel, and black granite beach pebbles provide the texture for each basin beneath the still water of the reflecting pools. The tree pits and reflecting pool were strategically placed to fit within the dimensions of the paver banding to reduce modifications in the field. While the American's with Disabilities Act does not specifically address tree grates, Ironsmith ADA grates are based on the ADA's "accessible pathway" section (302.3) that specifies gratings with openings no greater than 1/2" wide. The U.S. Access Board recommends slip-resistant finishes or nonmetallic materials. All rails and guardrails are 316 stainless steel rather than 304 stainless steel to stand up to New England weather.

The 8.68-acre site transforms an abandoned development into a vibrant new amenity to serve the community for years to come. The landscape architectural team was among the decision makers on where to locate the building on the site. Working closely with a geotechnical engineer, the building and garage were placed into the landscape to reduce tree and rock removal.

Every detail of the project was considered to ensure the project will last for many decades. For example, 316 stainless steel is used for all rails and guardrails rather than 304 stainless steel, which will not perform as well in the New England climate. Natural stone is used throughout and mortar mixes are specified in detail for each unique use. Plantings were selected to be native and adaptive, and a team of arborists was employed to find the best specimens and to protect existing trees during construction.


The upper water table cascades into the lower reflecting pool through 17 weir troughs. The retaining walls are veneered with natural fieldstone from New England ('Pioneer Blend') in an ashlar pattern. The wall caps are 'PA Blue' bluestone.

The design features an intricate alternating pattern of brick paver banding. The paver bands are laid out in a repetitive basket weave pattern, which required precise calculation by the mason to achieve the design intent. The tree pits and reflecting pool were strategically placed to fit within the dimensions of the paver banding to reduce modifications in the field.

The shape of the reflecting pools and plazas dictated the shape of the building to create a sense of place throughout. Interior space, such as the cafe, spills outside and extends to an elevated terrace. The exterior entry plaza serves as an extension to the entry lobby. The sunken amphitheater, waterfall, and reflecting pool serve as an entry sequence from the garage. The landscape architecture surrounds and commands an experience of arrival and naturally accommodates the desire for an outdoor respite.



The upper plaza leads students and instructors to the main entrance and central atrium. The hardscape is a '50 Series Blend' of clay brick paver bands laid out in a repetitive basket weave pattern, which required precise calculation by the mason to achieve the design intent. The upper plaza trees are 'Street Keeper' honeylocust (Gleditsia Triacanthos 'Draves').

The plaza and the sunken gathering area provide a variety of opportunities for small and large group gatherings to serve diverse needs. Faculty, students, and staff can transition those moments of contemplation and learning to the outdoor amphitheater. An adjacent lower plaza features a reflecting pool and a mirror-polished stainless steel Torus sculpture by David Harber. This more sheltered, contemplative space is flanked by an amphitheater of tiered stone seating that encourages formal and informal gatherings or relaxation in between classes. The soothing sound of falling water is provided by a granite spillway that connects the upper and lower plazas.



The lower plaza's reflecting pool features a mirror-polished stainless steel 'Torus' sculpture by David Harber. The sculpture's convex curves and central void, positioned to view the waterfall, create a tromp l'oeil effect. The David Harber workshop is in Aston Upthorpe, a village just southeast of Didcot in South Oxfordshire, England. The company, which has three locations in the U.S., was honored with the 'Queens Award' in 2016 for international trade and commitment to British design and craftsmanship.

The Team
Client: Sacred Heart University
Landscape Architect: The S/L/A/M Collaborative
Architect: The S/L/A/M Collaborative
Structural Engineer: The S/L/A/M Collaborative
Civil Engineer: Milone and MacBroom
Geotechnical Engineer: Haley and Aldrich
Construction Management: Consigli Construction
Mason: Connecticut Mason Contractors
Landscape Contractor: Glen Terrace Landscaping

As seen in LASN magazine, February 2018.

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May 19, 2019, 12:27 am PDT

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