Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts


Interior Design

First Advisor

Roberto Ventura

Second Advisor

Robert Smith

Third Advisor

Sara Reed

Fourth Advisor

Camden Whitehead

Fifth Advisor

Emily Smith

Sixth Advisor

Lexy Holcombe


Holistic approaches in healthcare address a problem from its root causes. The American healthcare model – both its treatment and distribution methods – is among the many issues that divides the nation. We have found ourselves with millions of uninsured people among a growing population where chronic illness is on the rise among adults and children, especially within low-income demographics (Goodman & Conway, 2016). Though this is a widespread epidemic, only recently has there been any effort to question and reform traditional healthcare.

The way that wellness is assessed in America has been detrimental to patient outcomes. The over prescription of and dependency on pharmaceutical drugs has resulted in widespread addiction (World Health Organization, 2017). Too often, individuals wait until a problem is beyond fixing and are prescribed pharmaceuticals to simply cover the symptoms. These go-to drugs simplify the patient’s issue, contributing to the impersonal, rushed treatment that people have become accustomed to.

This is especially true for women navigating a healthcare system that is not only uneducated in (Perez, 2019), but dismissive of female specific chronic conditions. It has created a cycle that we now must dig ourselves out of, and people are talking about it. It is becoming clear that, “for everyone, life is a preexisting condition waiting to happen” (Gawande, 2019).

While access to healthcare and wellness resources is limited for many due to financial factors, race and gender bias also play a role (Blair, Steiner & Havranek, 2011). Hesitation to seek advice and treatment often comes from the anticipation of discrimination. The holistic approach of functional medicine is on the rise and addresses this bias by emphasizing individualized treatments and empathy.

Holistic medicine is derived from nature and aims to treat the causes of chronic pain or illness, rather than merely treating its symptoms. These types of treatments include massage and bodywork, nutritional counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic care, herbalism and stress management.

A key aspect of functional medicine is that it fosters community. By considering the interconnectedness of the human body and mind, grassroots holistic practices work to overcome discrimination by focusing on accessible resources, meaningful patient to physician relationships and education that raises awareness.

This research, supplemented by surveys and interviews with practitioners, experts and business owners both outside of and within Richmond’s wellness community, explores the ways in which the built environment can influence empathy and empowerment within healthcare. It will emphasize the value of community in healthcare environments, supporting the idea that functional medicine within a group setting promotes wellness and an overall better quality of life. Research findings support the development of a design concept for a functional medicine facility centered around a space for gathering, dialogue and education.


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