Announcements 06.26.2019

Meet Caroline Brigham, an E. Todd Wheeler Health Fellow, Class of 2020

Where are you from?
California, MD (yes, that is a city in MD!)

In what city do you live?
Houston, TX

What is your degree, and what institution is it from?
Bachelor of Architecture, with minors in Water and Energy Sustainability, Global Health Technologies, and Poverty Justice and Human Capabilities, from Rice University

Why is healthcare design so important to you?
I am especially passionate about the integration of architecture and healthcare. My mother is a pediatric nurse practitioner, and as a child growing up, I saw first-hand how impactful healthcare spaces are on people during some of the hardest and happiest times of their lives. In addition, through experiences in Houston, South Africa, and Malawi, I see great need for more access to adequate healthcare facilities and services.

My sophomore year, one afternoon on a run, I met a woman named Tami, who lived under a bridge along Buffalo Bayou. I remember seeing her under the bridge, sitting in a wheelchair, holding her knee tightly, with her face in pain and tears slowly trickling down her cheek. I asked her, “Are you alright? Can I take you to the hospital?” and she replied, “My knee cap collapsed and now I cannot walk. I tried going to the hospital, but they wouldn’t see me because I do not have an ID.” I remember thinking how terrible and unfair it seemed that the hospital turned her away. I learned that lack of a stable residence and poor health are heavily connected. This upset me and caused me to want to research how to address this clear injustice. This led me to gather a team together for the AIA SES Health Competition to design a “Clinic for Homeless Houstonians” and also led to my capstone for the Certificate in Civic Leadership, called “Housing and Healthcare for the Homeless in Houston.” Tami’s story hit me hard – stories like hers fuel my passion for healthcare architecture.

Similarly, when I spent a summer working in the Lavender Hill Township in Cape Town, I learned that poor nutrition, hygiene, and environmental conditions often give way to many fatal diseases, especially in children. I remember one of the young community boys who I knew experienced horrendous dental pain due to inadequate access to healthcare. He could not see a dentist because the clinics are too overcrowded and expensive. He grew malnourished and one afternoon, I witnessed him collapse to unconsciousness. His heart nearly stopped beating and it took all day for an ambulance to come deliver him. This caused me and community members to take action together. We decided to design a network of low-cost, solar-powered mobile clinics to run throughout the townships to provide preventative, safe, sustainable care. My last week there, I presented the idea to the Mayor of Cape Town, and he was open to it. This is a future mission to see through to completion soon.

And finally, while in Malawi, I sadly witnessed babies die before my eyes, as I sketched existing and new plans for the neonatal wards with input from the healthcare workers in those spaces. Though it was hard, I enjoyed this work because I knew it would enable more babies to live.

Healthcare design is important to me because serving people, pursuing justice, and promoting well-being are important to me. Saving lives and minimizing suffering drive my passion for healthcare architecture.

Why did you want to pursue a career in healthcare design?
Throughout my life and career, I would like to actively serve basic needs of others. I am particularly interested in serving communities like the above mentioned, who are in need of more attentive design and systemic access. I believe we have the capacity to care for all those who are hurting and in need, but sometimes, we enable limited resources or inadequate care for some. Sometimes there are resources available, but not adequate enough spaces to facilitate care. So much of healthcare is architectural and environmental. I learned this distinctly in Malawi.

Creating the 22 neonatal renovation plans throughout the summer of 2016 was a turning point in my career vision. I experienced the most joy I ever had while doing architectural work; in fact, this experience restored my joy for architecture. It provided purpose and meaning to the restless nights I spent in studio all three years prior. As we traveled to each of the hospitals to perform ward assessments, my team and I befriended healthcare workers and developed relationships with mothers in the neonatal wards. We asked them openly, “What does your dream nursery look like? How can we serve you?” The plans for each unique hospital are the communities’ own; each is inspired by the needs of its users and particular context. I simply had the privilege to listen and draw the ideas, then generate architectural plans that met the needs and desires of the families and providers. Many of the needs are architectural and environmental: including infection control, insufficient space for more babies and life-saving technologies, lack of sustainable and reliable electricity to ensure constant access to important technologies which keep patients alive, and irregular climate control which makes it difficult to overcome common and fatal symptoms like hypothermia in newborns. Now, all babies in Malawi, no matter where they are from or how much money their parents make, will have access to better care. It is our hope that no sick babies will be turned away due to lack of space, and that infants and families will enjoy newly healthful environmental conditions.

Considering all that I learned in Malawi, I am interested in reproducing work like this in many contexts. In some cases, this may look like designing a whole new hospital, but I suspect that in many cases, improving healthcare will involve equipping existing hospitals with more adequate spaces and technologies. Renovating existing infrastructure will save money, time and greater environmental consequences. Adaptive reuse is environmentally responsible, being that existing buildings already account for significant carbon emissions. I am very interested in sustainable design, so renovating existing buildings to better serve patients while improving environmental sustainability is particularly interesting to me. I believe that as architects in the midst of severe climate change, we must be very conscious of the consequences of our work and aim to make as positive an impact as possible socially, environmentally, and architecturally.

What was it about the E. Todd Wheeler Health Fellowship that attracted you?
I have had an interest in healthcare architecture for several years. I researched many healthcare architecture fellowships and was particularly drawn to the E. Todd Wheeler Fellowship at Perkins and Will. I admired reading how Mr. Wheeler led dozens of hospital projects, and became a hospital design expert. Then, I began researching Perkins and Will more and realized that my interests align quite closely with the firm in general. Not only am I passionate about healthcare but also about sustainability. Perkins and Will is devoted to both of these topics. Finally, during my interview, I greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet multiple talented, kind, encouraging mentors, many of whom happen to be women. I am excited for the chance to work with and learn from each of them.

What does it mean to you, personally, to have been selected as an inaugural health fellow at our firm?
It is a privilege to be an inaugural healthcare fellow at Perkins and Will. I am excited to jump in and start working with you all! I am humbled to have been selected, and look forward to collaborating with colleagues and the fellows to innovate and shape the fellowship experience together.

What do you hope to learn from the experience?
I hope to learn about the process of programming, designing, and building a hospital. I also hope to gain more experience in the integration of healthcare architecture with sustainable design. I hope to interact with users of hospitals to gain feedback and insight as to how to improve and progress healthcare design to better meet basic needs in different parts of the country and world. I hope to collaborate with organizations like WHO on population health studies of some kind to seek to improve global healthcare access and quality. I understand that there may be an opportunity to travel to a context outside of the USA to evaluate how Perkins and Will may be able to get involved in more global contexts. It will be a great privilege to learn from all of these unique experiences, and I am grateful for the chance to.

In which Perkins and Will studio will you be doing your fellowship?
I will be based in Houston, with some research work in LA and possibly other studios.

When you’re not designing healthcare projects, what do you do in your spare time?
I love to spend time outside and with people! I like to run, swim, and dance. I especially love to run on the beach and enjoy hiking.  I am also a singer, play the harp, and draw/paint (although, I have to admit, not as much anymore because of the time commitment of architecture school; therefore, I am looking forward to getting back into these hobbies!). I am energized when serving others, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. I often volunteer with groups like Habitat for Humanity, Food Banks, and Homeless Outreach groups. I support groups like International Justice Missions, a group of lawyers around the globe who deliver children and women from human trafficking. It is a great joy and passion to integrate architecture with service, as well. I have served with architecture in several parts of the world, like in the Dominican Republic (school project) South Africa (community center project) and Malawi (healthcare projects). I have also lived in Italy, performing in operas. I enjoy living in and visiting different places. I am in Iceland as I write this, as a post-graduation trip with my family. I believe there is much to learn from travel and diverse life experiences. I enjoy connecting with people from different places and cultures. Most importantly, I seek to love God and love others in whatever small ways I can. I am active in church communities and help lead Bible studies. I am going to be on Associate Staff with the Navigators Ministry at Rice University this year, while our Campus Directors take a Sabbatical.

What do you hope to do, see, or experience in the city where your fellowship is taking place?
Since I’ve been living in Houston while attending Rice the last six years, I am looking forward to getting to know the city even better now that I have a used car to go explore in! One reason why I chose to stay in Houston this year is that I have a solid community of friends here, so I am looking forward to spending more time with them while meeting new friends.

Fun facts about Caroline

Favorite ice cream flavor:
Mint Chocolate Chip

How you prefer your coffee:
Iced or hot with skim milk and a bit of sweetener

World’s best restaurant (in your opinion):
Emporium Brazil Steakhouse in NYC

The last thing you laughed about until you cried:
A joke from my boyfriend, a pun-loving jokester who grew up in India

The one song that always makes you feel like dancing:
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams