The New School will hold a free lecture and panel discussion on Wednesday, February 2, to introduce a new model for the design of therapeutic environments. The Healing Empowerment Center, an unbuilt work by the late Sam Hanser, an alumnus of Parsons The New School for Design who passed away at the age of 27 in 2010, recognizes the interconnections between sustainable design, East/West mind-body healing, somatic therapy, and spirituality. Conceived by Hanser while a student at Parsons, the center addresses a current question faced by designers and therapists alike: can a designed environment serve as a vital component of therapeutic treatment?
The lecture and discussion will take place on February 2 at 8 pm at The New School's Wollman Hall at 66 West 12th Street. This consideration of Hanser's work is the inaugural event in the four-part spring series at The New School, "Mind-Body Healing Through the Arts," sponsored by the Creative Arts Therapy program.
Hanser, who graduated from Parsons in 2001, was a visionary student who believed that the link between structure and function was key to improving a healthcare environment that, more often than not, failed to support patients' capacity to heal. "It's hard to feel free and possible inside a body without relaxed muscles, easy breathing, and a balanced system," Hanser wrote in 2009.
His design for the Healing Empowerment Center, applies the same principle of structure-function relationship to create "a building that would support the work of going inward and working with therapists that could meet clients at the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels of their being."
After graduating from the BFA Interior Design program at Parsons in 2004 and practicing in San Francisco, Hanser went on to earn an MA in Counseling Psychology in Somatic Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies. There, he began to see his career at the intersection of good design and spiritual practice, incorporating a keen understanding of tantric practice into improving systems of clinical care.
"Sam Hanser saw connections everywhere," said Louise Montello, Director of the New School's Creative Arts Therapy program, who knew Sam throughout his life. "He was an acolyte for the core principles of Creative Arts Therapy, that the deeply expressive aspects of body, mind, and spirit can be located in creative arts-including interior design-to facilitate healing."
Suzanne Hanser, Sam Hanser's mother and director of the Berklee College of Music Therapy Program, will present the project, followed by a panel discussion with Jean Gardner, Associate Professor of Social-Ecological History and Design at Parsons; Robert Norwood, senior associate/designer at NBBJ; and Dr. Montello.
"The Healing Empowerment Center was a response to the hegemony of allopathic medicine," wrote Sam Hanser of this project. "I decided it was time we reclaimed our power to heal ourselves."
This event is free and open to the public.