Announcements May 18, 2023

Remembering Robin Guenther, 1954 – 2023

Health Architecture and Sustainability Pioneer

The architect

Robin was a pioneer in the field of architecture; her work focused on the intersection of sustainability policy and health design. She directed the sustainable design strategies of numerous innovative healthcare projects in the U.S. and abroad, many of which have been featured in leading design publications. Some of the highlights of her work include the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford—the second children’s hospital in the world to earn LEED Platinum certification—in Palo Alto, California; Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital—which was designed to continue operating during catastrophic flooding—in Charlestown, Massachusetts; and Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth Ambulatory Care Center—the repurposing of a 1980s office building using biophilic design—in Middletown, New Jersey.

Robin’s impact on the practice of architecture extended well beyond the projects she personally worked on. She played a key role in the development of Perkins&Will’s 2008 Precautionary List, a public compilation of substances of concern commonly found in building products worldwide. Revolutionary for its time, the Precautionary List helped ignite an industry movement toward healthier built environments and more transparent product manufacturing. Robin and her team later helped create the Transparency website, which—in addition to hosting the Precautionary List—provides chemical descriptions, data on human and environmental health hazards, information on ways people can be exposed to those chemicals, relevant government regulations and industry rating systems, and associated building products.

The activist

Outside of practicing architecture, Robin was a tireless advocate for regenerative design and inspired legions of fellow architects, clients, and others to be better stewards of the planet and humankind. She was a senior advisor for Healthcare Without Harm, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the environmental impact of hospitals and turn them into exemplars of sustainability, and coordinated the organization’s Green Guide for Healthcare, the sector’s first quantifiable sustainable design, construction, and operations toolkit. The guidelines—which seem obvious today but were not common practice at the time—include ensuring daylight and views of nature; using energy-saving technologies; minimizing the use of hazardous chemicals that cause disease in humans and pollute the environment; and implementing green operations, like organic food service, as well as green housekeeping and landscaping protocols.

This essential guide to healthy healing environments incorporates the latest sustainable design approaches and information as applied to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

Robin contributed regularly to CleanMed, the premier conference for leaders in healthcare sustainability. She also served on the LEED for Healthcare committee and was an author, along with Gail Vittori, of Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, which includes case studies, essays, healthcare system profiles, and research. In his forward to the book, Rick Federizzi, president, CEO, and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council, wrote: “Robin Guenther and Gail Vittori show us how critical our green building mission is to the future of human health and secures a lasting legacy that will continue to challenge and focus the green building movement, the healthcare industry, and the world for years to come.”

“Robin was a giant who I had the privilege to collaborate with for over two decades,” says Vittori, who today co-directs the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems in Austin, Texas. “As with many, she inspired me to do more than I ever thought possible, recognizing that the work at hand had the potential to change people's lives and the world for the better. Robin lived her life with remarkable optimism and hopefulness, and with grace. She will forever be a guiding light; I will miss her.”
Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth Ambulatory Care Center
Middletown, New Jersey
Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth Ambulatory Care Center
What was once a vacant 1980s office building is now a biophilic outpatient treatment facility.


Among her many laurels, in 2005, Robin received the Center for Health Design’s Changemaker award for her leadership and innovation in the design of healing environments. In 2010, Healthcare Design magazine named her the “#1 Most Influential Designer in Healthcare.” In 2012, Fast Company included her as one of the “100 most creative people in business.” She appeared as a TEDMED speaker in 2014. And in 2018, she was honored with “Women in Design” awards from Healthcare Design and Contract magazines.

In accepting the awards from Healthcare Design and Contract, Robin had this to say: “My career has always been about disruption. It’s about disrupting the status quo. I believe that that kind of disruption, in the most positive sense, requires not only design innovation, but (also) education and advocacy at very deep levels. We have to create a different future in the built environment.”

“Robin was one of the most empathetic architects I have ever met,” says Phil Harrison, our CEO. “First through her own practice, Guenther 5 Architects, and in the nearly 15 years since she merged her firm with Perkins&Will, Robin championed healthy and humane environments. In her early years with Perkins&Will, she developed our approach to designing for health and well-being, with a focus on removing toxins, and in recent years she has been in a pivotal role as a leader in our healthcare practice globally. She worked tirelessly and passionately in everything she did. She has had a huge impact on our firm and on many of us personally.”

Robin appeared as a TEDMED speaker in 2014, exploring some unusual connections between health and environmental design.
“Robin was one of the most empathetic architects I have ever met. She worked tirelessly and passionately in everything she did. She has had a huge impact on our firm and on many of us personally.”

Phil Harrison, CEO, Perkins&Will

An early start

Robin was born on October 2, 1954, in Detroit, Michigan. It was during a drive with her parents through downtown in 1962 that she realized architecture was her calling. She was just 8 years old, but something about the buildings she saw made her want to grow up to design her own. What she didn’t know then is that she would design some of the most important healthcare buildings of modern times.

As a teenager, Robin had an after-school job that finished late at night. To avoid walking home alone, she would go straight to the nearby Detroit General Hospital, where her sister was a nurse in the ER. Every night, Robin’s sister would drive Robin back home when her ER shift was up, but while waiting, Robin would finish her homework in the ER staff lounge, or volunteer around the hospital. Many years later, when Robin took her first real job at a healthcare design firm, her colleagues were amazed by her vast knowledge of how hospitals operate—especially emergency departments.

Robin studied architecture at the University of Michigan and the Architectural Association in London. In 1979, after completing her degrees, she moved to New York City, where she took her first job at Norman Rosenfeld Architects.

In 1991, Robin co-founded Guenther Petrarca, an architecture firm specializing in healthcare and sustainability, which became Guenther 5 Architects in 2001. It employed 18 people in 2007 when it merged with Perkins&Will. Robin served in several leadership roles with us, most recently as chair of our global health practice.


Robin is survived by her husband, Perry Gunther, an artist and psychotherapist; two daughters, Jyllian Gunther and Nicole Marie Palms; two sisters, Lynn Monahan and Sharon Barnes; and many nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Circle of Friends for the Dying and Commonweal Cancer Help Program.

All of us at Perkins&Will will strive to carry on Robin’s legacy of leadership and positive disruptions in transforming the built environment to be healthier for humans and the planet we all share.

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