In 2011, California State University Northridge (CSUN) in Northridge, Calif., conducted a survey to evaluate the health of its students and found the two top health concerns affecting academic performance were stress and lack of sleep.

Benchmarking the results against data from the American College of Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, however, showed that CSUN students ranked higher than the national average: 31 percent reported issues dealing with stress, compared to the national average of 28 percent, and 21 percent experienced sleep deprivation, compared to 19 percent.

“Those were their road blocks impacting academic performance and success,” says Winston Bao, an associate and project designer at LPA Inc. in Northridge, Calif. CSUN set out to address the issue by providing a wellness component on campus to help students foster a better mind-body relationship, partnering with LPA in 2013 to renovate the lower level of a two-story classroom and office building into the Oasis Wellness Center.

While an existing rec center provides an active setting for fitness and student life activities, the wellness center was designed for a more intimate experience where students could go to access such amenities as peer counseling rooms, massage therapy, and nutrition and wellness counseling. Students can even take a nap in specially designed pods located in a relaxation room, complete with low light levels, textured glass walls, and a water feature.

“We challenged them to create a space that transported a student to a place where they no longer felt like they were amongst the hustle, bustle, and stress of campus,” says Jimmy Francis, director of Student Recreation Center at CSUN. “We wanted an intimate, personal retreat, which had connections to nature and biophilic design elements.”

The 5,800-square-foot center, which opened in August 2015, is located across the walkway from the rec center to create a synergy between the two facilities. A new red tower housing an elevator bank and stairwell was added to provide access as well as create a beacon on campus.

Inside, the wellness center uses a similar materials palette to the rec center also designed by LPA, such as wood plank ceilings, but in a darker stain for a more tranquil and residential feel. “It’s a yin and yang relationship where they complement each other,” Bao says.

The project also transformed 10,000 square feet of underutilized landscape into a variety of small and larger gathering spaces, including shaded lounge areas with a fireplace and outdoor settings such as a Zen garden, labyrinth, and reflection patio.

In addition, the center provides another touchpoint for CSUN’s traditional therapy services to reach students with its Klotz Student Health Center, University Counseling Services, and the College of Human Health and Development all offering programs and services at the Oasis Wellness Center.

Bao says the center represents a new way of providing health, fitness, and wellness together in one place for students. “They’re trying to prepare students for the rest of their lives by helping them create healthy habits,” he says.

Anne DiNardo is senior editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at