KFW just completed a restroom addition to a much larger, earlier project, the Texas Bank Sports Complex.Read More
Godfather of Texas Modern Architecture
One of the nation's best unknown architects…Read More
As the ASU Museum project progresses, the time to pick finishes has come…Read More
As we dive into the design of the ASU Museum, we're looking at existing brick patterns on campus for clues...Read More
How my new experience turned into a National Championship title…Read More
We had the pleasure of touring this little jewel…Read More
Just thinking about next week excites my inner foodie…Read More
A friend offered Susan and me her apartment for a week stay in New York City--she made us an offer we couldn't refuse. Since we lived there in the 80's, we've been back perhaps five times and it's always intriguing to see how the city has changed while remaining, in many ways, the same. We said "yes!".
The endless energy remains, like an angel hovering over the city, driving innovation and pushing for the new. The neighborhood where we worked, lower Chelsea, has been transformed from derelict to divine due to the Hi-Line park being a stratospheric success and generating countless new "starchitect"-designed buildings by Renzo Piano, Frank Gehry, the late Zaha Hadid, Enneagram, Diller Scofidio, and others. Construction cranes tower over many areas. Times Square is glitzier than ever. New bike lanes are a welcome addition. Central Park continues to be the green beating heart, keeping the city sane and breathing.
The Hi Line
Yet, I can't help but miss many of the things that are now of a bygone era. The unique districts have lost much of their distinct purpose, having become homogenized thru countless chains strung along the streets and by the extraordinary rents that forced many of the Mom and Pop's to leave. Nowadays, it's hard to tell that there was a Garment district teeming with teenagers pushing carts of hung clothing along the avenues or a Meat Packing district where you could view innumerable hung carcasses by day and more colorful characters walking the streets by night. Some heat has left Hell's Kitchen as it lurches towards Purgatory and there is little Italian being spoken in Little Italy. Much of the grittiness has morphed into gentility. There is no more graffiti on subway cars and the place actually feels safe.
Garment District 1940's
Garment District today
Meatpacking District 1950's
Meatpacking District today
Still, New York City is a marvel, one of the real wonders of the world. World-class in so many large and small ways. Walking the streets is full of adventure and discovery. Many of the new buildings are laboratories of inventiveness. The detail of the city in old and new is palpable. New restaurants abound. It's easy to get around. While there, Halloween was about to happen and we got to review/judge costumes of young and old everywhere we went. The young won.
And now, safely back home, I read accounts of a sad young man fueled by bad religion, driving and killing people near the West Side Highway. Lord, have mercy.
Today I finished a painting that has been brewing for months and then materialized quickly in the past week. It is a commissioned copy of a work of genius that shined brightly and burned out in a drug overdose at age 27. Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), the child of a mother of Haitian descent and a Puerto Rican father, started as a graffiti artist in Brooklyn. His mother Matilde instilled a love of art in Jean-Michel, taking him regularly to the fertile sacred ground of the great museums in NYC. Child prodigy, tragic talent, hit by a car at 8, spoke English, French, and Spanish by age 11, musician, writer, social activist, pie-wielding high school drop-out. He suffered from depression and an appetite for narcotics. Within a short span, he was homeless eating 15-cent bags of cheetos, and then an instant celebrity. His influence loomed large throughout my years in art school in the 1980’s. He had a disdain for the art world and dodged questions about his own art in interviews. His life is a tiny complex crystal that few can resist straining to take in. In 2016, his painting at Christie’s drew the highest price to date for an American artist. $110,000,000. Diving into his work is a thrill, a cathartic party, especially with his life being so different than mine. I share this experience in our KFA blog because I suspect that fruitful creative processes have an origin in this kind of thrill.
We are thrilled to have been a part of a great project for San Angelo, The Stephens Performing Arts Center. Reclaiming and reinventing the old derelict Coke warehouse has been a very good thing for downtown and for the arts, giving life to both.
Hill Country Residence
During one of our office's Friday afternoon discussions over beer, we decided to document some things we like about San Angelo. I like old signs. I took a camera and began to record several of the old painted signs around town. This signage is often very simple or layered or weathered...but it works, especially when set against a great West Texas sky. See what you think as you CLICK THRU THE IMAGES BELOW...
Everywhere you look, from the grocery store to the clothing store and hardware store, consumers are presented with various products labeled with the word "recycled". Many people, myself included, gravitate towards these products because I believe we are making a better choice for our environment. However, I pose a question, "are we making a better choice?"
The year was 1970, millions of people stepped outside for peaceful demonstrations while demanding environmental reform in the first celebration of Earth Day. One product of this movement was a design competition led by the Container Corporation of America. The CCA wanted to create a recognizable symbol to be used by any manufacturer engaged in recycling. Gary Anderson, a young college student would be responsible for the circular arrow design we have come to know today.
There are several products we use every day that are made from recycled materials such as: cereal boxes, bottles, paint, paper, concrete and floor coverings. If you decide to purchase these products then you are completing the recycling loop. In addition, recycled materials also become new products that are different from their original uses. Many of these show up in the building industry such as carpet made from plastic soda/water bottles and asphalt or concrete that incorporates recycled glass.
Items such as paper and aluminum are also reported to be practical for recycling because aluminum can be used again and again and countries like China, depend on our paper waste to make paper goods.
As I continued to research and answer my own question, "are we making a better choice by recycling?" I discovered evidence that indicates maybe not every location should recycle certain items such as, glass. Not all recycling facilities can accept glass, and some facilities have to transport the glass recyclables at least 200 miles away. Furthermore, in some larger cities, residents are urged to recycle and they are provided separate plastic bins for separating recyclable materials. In doing this, cities also had to increase their fleets of waste disposal trucks to keep up with the demands of transporting these recyclables. While it sounds like the best of intentions, it does contribute to the growing pollution problem.
In an intervew with economist Holly Fretwell, Research Fellow at Property Environmentand Research Center and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University, she makes a claim that the U.S. at its current rate of trash production would have enough landfill space for the next 100 years on one of Ted Turner's expansive ranches with 50,000 acres to spare. Fretwell also makes note of the positive results that come out of landfills. They are carefully lined and sealed once full and then cities have built beaches, or parks, and even ski resorts all above a pile of waste.
While doing further research on landfills I stumbled upon another question - are landfills really that bad? I know, they have a pretty bad rap. They are unsightly, the smell can be rather intoxicating, and just plain gross. However, I came across several examples of what a landfill looks like once it's sealed and I was impressed. Some examples worth noting are:
One positive thing to take note of: now we have these beautiful park spaces and conservation land that could have been asphalt and concrete.
At the end of the day, are we making a better choice? I guess it depends on what you decide to recycle or not. Maybe it depends where you live. Maybe, we have to accept that both worlds need to co-exist. Landfills and Recycling Centers. At least we can ride on our recycled skateboards over the skate park - landfills.
Process (noun): a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end
Wandering alone through the downtown library, always searching for inspiration I spot an intriguing spine that reads, "spaces of chillida". Lower case text, black on white. I know if I don't pick it up and at least take a glance, I will always wonder what was inside. As I slide the book out of its spot on the shelf, a sense of familiarity fills me. When I open the book I instantly feel as though someone has taken ideas right from my head and filled these pages. The artist, Eduardo Chillida, was a sculptor from the Basque region of Spain. He studied architecture before delving into drawing and sculpting producing art through direct contact with his chosen medium: clay, iron or stone. It is notably present that his background in architecture provided a richer body of work through a sense of spatial relationships, scaling of elements, and structured organization. Above all, I believe Chillida was instilled with a deep appreciation of the process. Having gone to art and architecture school, I am all too familiar with this fundamental act.
After a brief introduction to Chillida's work, I can begin to see his process and how he landed there. His work draws on influences from nature and ancient civilizations. The process often begins with black on white paintings and cut-paper forms. Then his ideas are led into the next dimension, and this process incurs studies of light, scale, and space. One of the final steps in this process is to site the sculpture in a desired environment.
There are parallels between the art world and architecture world, that are often intertwined. Architecture takes on a very dense process to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the occupants as well achieving a particular end result derived from a specific vision. The process in architecture is sometimes broken into phases such as: conceptual design, schematic design, design development, construction documentation, and the construction phase. This process is intended to build upon the last phase completed.
Throughout my life, I have discovered that I am deeply fascinated with the process. I find it rewarding to not only see where you came from but how you actually get there. This finding has further instilled in me a deeper appreciation for objects around me, the daily spaces I occupy, to the food that I cook. This fascination has led me to choose my surroundings more carefully in a society of take and toss. I feel obligated to recognize the process, discover how it came to be and the effects it will incur along the way. As I continue my path of becoming an architect, I have discovered that the role of the architect is dynamic and the list of responsibilities continues to grow. The duty to always ensure the health, safety and welfare no longer applies to the occupants alone; we are charged with providing this duty to our natural environment as well.
In cleaning out the innards of our computer, we came upon some old projects that have not been heard from in years: old projects that were designed but never built or old small built projects that we seemed to have relegated to the digital dustbin. Finding them was like seeing an old friend on the street after many years. The connection is real and immediate. Here are some images of these "children"...for better and worse.
THE GIVING QUILT AT BAPTIST RETIREMENT COMMUNITY
The Giving Quilt - Donor Recognition Wall
COTTAGE ON LAKE TRAVIS
PREGNANCY HELP CENTER
SHADY GULCH OLD WEST TOWN
EARLY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION BUILDING - STUDIES
GLENMORE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL - LIBRARY AND CAFETERIA
NORTHEAST ELEMENTARY - EARLY STUDIES
DEER VALLEY RANCH - SITE PLAN STUDY
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE - CHAPEL
SHIRLEY FLORAL - Awning studies
WEST TEXAS RANCH HOUSE
Written by Shelby Rowe, age 17, Central High School senior, intern at KFA
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question is thrown at you the moment you walk into your first classroom. When you are little, answers consist of cowboy, cheerleader, racecar driver, and mermaid. Everyone is so excited for their future and just can't wait until they are old enough to fulfill their innocent dreams. The closer I got to grown up, the more unsure of my answer I became. Every year, my answer would change. Maybe a veterinarian, a concert pianist, a special ed teacher. I would pass by street artists drawing cartoon faces of people posing in front of them and think, "Well that looks fun. Maybe I should do that." Everything looks fun and exciting to a seven year old who's not worrying about how much money they will make and if that will actually make enough to raise a family on. The question only comes more frequently in high school. You get to arrange some of your courses to better fit your college and life plan, if you have one. Teachers, counselors, parents, nosy church ladies, all curious as to what you want to do with the rest of your life. "You are the future. What do you plan to do with it?" Everyone hates the "I don't really know," answer, but that was all I could come up with. I have so many hobbies, so many joys, how am I supposed to narrow it down to just one for the rest of my life? Growing up, I filled notebook after notebook with drawings, resisting the urge to not cover my textbooks with doodles. Every week, I looked forward to my art class in school and even better were the art classes after school that I was constantly enrolled in. Further into high school, it became clear to me, and anyone who met me, that whatever I did with my life, art would have to be a part of it. painting and drawing had always been my outlet, the thing I did by myself, for myself. No one taught me how to do it, I just did it because I wanted to, because it made me happy. It wasn't until the summer between my sophomore and junior year that I discovered a new form of art: architecture. History has always been my favorite subject in school because I am fascinated by people, how and why they lived they ways they did, their artistic and musical tastes, what materials they had access to and how they used them. That summer, my family and I took a trip to Europe, traveling to Paris, London, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. In Paris and London, I was intrigued by architectural staples such as the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey, but I also noticed the small apartment complexes, street pubs, tiny boutiques, aging churches tucked away and hidden by the busy streets. In Ireland, I fell in love with the intricate bridges and ancient monastery ruins, Scotland showed me castles and cemeteries. Everything was so detailed, the wood and stone carved by hand, each their own masterful piece of art. This art was different from any that I had ever created or imagined creating. This is when architecture became a very real thought as to what my future plan would contain. I had always thought of architects as the people who united America with uniform, blocky buildings, destroying the individuality of beautiful cities and urbanizing every inch of open space. Big cities across the country, across the world, are sacrificing their personalities to chain restaurants and department stores, Wal-Marts and McDonalds. Architects, however, fight this uniformity. They infuse cities with interactive pieces of art, adding a bit of their own personality. Why architecture? This is why. There is something very pleasing to see your art being used instead of simply framed and hung on your bedroom wall. This will be my contribution. I will add to the community character by revitalizing historical styles and incorporating them with my own taste. Architecture will allow me to turn my hobby into something productive and efficient, something needed instead of just something admired by a few of my friends. Architecture affects everyone. People spend their lives going in and out of buildings, up and down downtown streets, walking through parks, constantly surrounded by the work of an architect. As wonderful as a painting hanging on the wall is, I want to look at a home, an office, a school, a library and be able to say "I helped create that. We made that beautiful building happen." These are the places where people spend their lives. I want to make these places more than just four walls and a roof they visit every day.
Feeling apprehensive, I took a tour of our local Tom Green County jail. I know this sounds dramatic, but as our design team entered the facility with the Sheriff, it seemed as if we were entering a downward spiral to Dante's Inferno (that's the English Major coming out in me). That night, I lay in bed with images of my jail visit flooding in:
- Everything was painted grey and the jail spaces blended into a pervasive flat grey color--the walls, the cell bars, the concrete floors, the dirty ceilings, all was grey. Even the fluorescent light beamed a harsh grey-blue.
- Everything that could possibly be vandalized was vandalized--the TV's, the lower ceiling fluorescent lights, and the exposed plumbing. Graffiti was scrawled into every surface. Metal mirrors were so scratched that my image resembled a fractured Willem de Kooning painting.
- Since there was no natural light, it was hard to determine the time of day. I was told that prisoners stayed up all night when the lights were off and slept all day when the lights were on. So, during the day, to block the light, inmates tucked scraps of cloth and newspaper over the lower light fixtures so they could sleep.
- Inmates dragged their thin mattresses onto the floor and pulled their blanket or sheet over their head to sleep. They looked like mummies...or corpses with a sheet over them, the kind you see on TV cop shows.
- Ceilings were typically so low you could reach up and touch them without tip-toeing due to the jail being a renovation of an existing building. It felt like a coffin lid.
- The jail was like an underground rabbit warren of tunnels with corridors snaking this way and that. It was difficult to understand the layout and to understand where you were in the jail. Many corridors couldn't be monitored due to the layout. Many corridors were dead-ends and were only about three feet wide with cell bars stretching to the end of the corridor. Views were truncated due to the many bars. Looking down the corridors, you could see hands gripping the bars but no attached body due to the blocked view.
- I saw the misspelled word "desperite" scratched into the wall of a cell.
- There were similarities to a zoo: caged animals being observed as they lived their lives behind bars.
- The staff reported difficulty in keeping employees working over three months before they quit. No wonder.
Design a jail? Who would do such a thing? Architects are taught to design "pretty" buildings and jails are definitely not pretty. Right?
Turns out, some very good architecture firms design jails. My preconception was that, by necessity and by a general code of what Western justice means, jails needed to be as austere and minimal as possible: criminals need to suffer for their misdeeds and reflect on what freedom meant. Wasn't the sheriff in Arizona--Arpaio?--setting a great example? Weren't the criminals there repenting of their sins and swearing off a life of crime? Turns out, they are not. Turns out, the opposite appears to be true.
I came back from the jail tour confused and shaken. Jail design didn't interest me--at least it didn't before the tour. Honestly, I was more interested in the design of projects that had a decent chance of being what I deemed aesthetically pleasing. But, as I lay in bed, I began to ask myself questions.
Why practice Architecture? If architecture is going to make a difference, shouldn't it be involved in making things better? What happened to my understanding of architecture as a real force for good? Had I become more of a style-maker instead of a difference-maker?
After this tour, I went on another tour of a different jail in Lubbock County. This jail had a vastly different model of incarceration, one that is "kinder and gentler," where the treatment of inmates gets many people in these parts riled up because it's not the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" style of justice. The difference could not be more striking. The Lubbock jail has an abundance of natural light, ceilings are high, TV's are within reach and available, a self-serve drink bar and laundry are within the multi-inmate spaces, counseling is available, the noise level is much lower, and instead of bars there was glass. There was very little vandalism. If I were to pursue a life of crime, I would do the crime in Lubbock in lieu of Tom Green County, just in case. There seemed to be less tension and despair in the air. Perhaps the greatest difference between the two jails was that the Lubbock jail followed a "Direct Supervision" model where guards are in the same space as the inmates; at the Tom Green County jail, there was "Indirect Supervision" where guards are in a separate and secured space observing the inmates.
I live in a fairly conservative West Texas county where many of the populace sip the tea from the Tea Party. And so, when the officials most involved with the jail--the Sheriff, the Jailer, and our County Judge--expressed that they had been completely wrong in their thinking on justice issues, I was impressed with their humility and I began to really focus in on what they had to say. During several lengthy discussions with these folks, as we toured the different jails, I learned that the recidivism rates between these two jail models were radically different and this difference translated to money. The direct supervision model (Lubbock County) cost slightly more money to build and yet, because the recidivism rate is lower and because it's easier to keep trained staff on hand (and fewer staff), in the long run it is more cost effective than the indirect supervision model (Tom Green County). Being more humane is more fiscally conservative. Imagine that.
"Humans are animals and animals adapt to their environment," said one of the jail staff. I think what was meant is that if we place anyone in a brutal atmosphere, they adapt...and become brutal; and that if we build something that is more ennobling, people adapt to that environment as well. Perhaps another way to say this is by Winston Churchill: "We make our buildings and then they make us." Our built environment has a say in who we are becoming.
My hope is that the architecture we do in our small city does more than merely improving aesthetics and that our buildings can be instrumental in promoting a better way to live--even life in a jail.
Part I, History:
Our small city in West Texas has a river running through it. Yes, it’s a bit of an oxymoron.
San Angelo is at the confluence of three rivers--due to this, there is a lot of history and life involved. It was a Native American hub of activity as well as the location of a frontier fort. Because of the river, I believe our city is the envy of every other dusty city within 120 miles.
However, since the city's humble official beginnings as a western fort outpost called Fort Concho in the 1860's , the river has been neglected or worse. Early settlers treated it as a trash dump and sewage channel. Early buildings built along our main street ignored it, putting the backsides of buildings facing the river to allow for easier dumping of trash. There were a series of half-hearted attempts at "beautification" but not until the 1990's was there serious consideration of making the river a primary focus for the city. Still, the river was a slowly evolving project until 2006, when a half-cent sales tax was passed by voters to accelerate development.
Reflections on a River, Part II, The Commission:
There are a few architects in our small city but no landscape architects. So, when the Concho River Revitalization project was approved by voters to proceed, the City looked outside of San Angelo to a very large A/E landscape firm for services. However, the marriage between the City and the A/E firm wasn’t a productive one, and the City quickly tired of the designs presented, labeling them as "cookie cutter." They hired Kinney Franke Architects in their place. The work included extensive permitting through Federal agencies, bank stabilization, water quality issues, dredging, trails, plazas, lighting, fountains, etc. The hope was to revitalize and reinvent a key stretch of the river as it flowed through downtown, over a mile long.
There was a learning curve. Though we had completed parks before, a landscape project of this scale and scope was daunting. We immersed ourselves in landscapes: relearning landscape history, visiting other river cities such as Austin, San Antonio, and New Orleans, visiting a Landscape Architect friend in Midland, reading books, meeting with the Upper Colorado River Authority folks, etc.
Reflections on a River, Part III, Thoughts:
With this crash-course underpinning (and having walked and biked our river trail for many years), we proceeded to learn and create. Now, with the project built and embraced by the city, here are some reflections on the work:
1. The project was a success because the work grew out of collaboration. Citizens, City Staff, City Council, consultants, each individual in our office, contractors, stone masons, UCRA staff, and other subs all provided valuable input that we tried to heed. Perhaps because we didn't know a great deal about landscape architecture at the beginning, we were able to listen more closely and follow good ideas no matter where they originated. Many participated and have now taken ownership. A good thing.
2. Practicing good urban design was crucial: Tying seamlessly into the existing fabric of City (streets, sidewalks, landscaping, plazas, etc.), using sequential vision to create a sense of discovery, accentuating landmarks, and focusing and fostering activity zones were all key in creating a larger coherent fabric, with each individual element adding to the whole.
3. There was a lot to work with on an already beautiful river, even though much of what was built was tired...very tired. By building on these existing qualities and buildings, by "going with the givens," it allowed us to cost-effectively enhance the character of distinct areas. For example:
- The "wasteland" areas below bridges were eroded and full of trash. Yet, there was abundant shade and the temperature was noticeably cooler than adjacent sun-filled areas. And so, we developed these shade zones as areas to put seating, exercise areas, artwork, etc. They have become very popular on hot West Texas afternoons.
- The river had areas with distinct characteristics. And so, we were able to enhance these characteristics and create certain zones along a river trail: a Nature Zone, shade/shadow zones, a Cultural Zone, a Kid Play zone, and other future development zones, like pearls on a long necklace. We simply built on what was already emerging. I believe this is what Christopher Alexander calls "listening to a place."
Reflections on a River, Part IV, More Thoughts:
1. We discovered that Landscape Architecture is not all that different from the architecture of buildings and places. Good design seems to be a universal--whether it be buildings, landscapes, objects, or places--that can unlock potential. This sounds very heady but during the design for the river, we became much more aware of simple elements such as plant types, xeriscaping, water use in a desert environment, hot/cool, shade/shadow/light, moving thru spaces, natural materials: we tried to use these as tools to create a sense of place...and sometimes of wonder, which seems to be at the heart of good landscape design. Used well, these elements make a place where folks want to bring kids. We are particularly fond of the large slab stones that were brought in to create a substantial and low maintenance pattern throughout the project.
2. I'm glad the City insisted on longevity and low maintenance. Too often architects design things that are beautiful...for a year or two. And then the earth starts to reclaim what it lost, the beauty gets swallowed by time, and maintenance issues increase. In light of this, everything we specified or designed was for the long term. For example the LED lighting along the trails rarely needs maintenance, requires less energy, and lasts ten years or more.
Reflections on a River, Part V, Even More Thoughts:
1. We learned a lot about water quality from the Upper Colorado River Authority. We visited the state of the art LCRA facility in Austin and traced where stormwater from the streets begins as black sludge and, after passing through several passive BMP's or filters, the water is purified and cleaned until it is clear as crystal. We tried to adopt as many of these Best Management Practices as possible so that our river can begin to recover from years of neglect. What is on the ground ends up in the river and the muck on the streets steals the oxygen from river water. So we tried to slow stormwater down to prevent erosion and we filtered it slowly through open fields or Aqua Swirl tanks or bermed detention ponds so that it would lose impurities as it made its way to the river. We studied ways to stabilize eroding riverbanks, arriving at rip rap as our best alternative due to costs and zero maintenance but also because rip rap boulders slow water down and creates habitat for aquatic life.
2. There is a thriving art community in San Angelo. Artists came forward to propose different art pieces for identified areas. A sculptor was commissioned to create limestone panels of scenes depicting local flora and fauna. Sixteen of these panels were set into a series of stone column markers with uplit light cubes at the tops. A series of mosaic pieces were installed in shaded areas below bridges: mosaic cars/trucks and a fantastic fifteen foot by thirty foot large mural. Overall, thirty new pieces were added to create a remarkable string of artwork along the trail.
When I first arrived in San Angelo twenty eight years ago, I remember jogging a broken pathway along the Concho River, amazed at the beauty and potential. I remember seeing heron nests in trees and ducks landing on water. Through the years, before the river project began, I biked often and slowly along the banks, getting a sense of the place, learning the history, patterns, the natural trails of wildlife, the smells, the hot/cool areas, shade/shadow/light at different times of the year, never imagining that we would be a part of revitalizing the heart of a fine city. You never know. I'm very thankful that our firm has had the opportunity to work on a project that brings such life. We were pleased that the project won the statewide award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for Best Park of 2014.
My father--91 years old, one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation--had been failing for several years before he died last month. Firsthand, I experienced his gradual decline and how the healthcare system he was in served him...or failed him. Here are some observations of the care he received, along with some lessons learned as we visited the numerous facilities that my father was in:
1. Experience matters. Yes, our seniors can teach us--but that's not the type of experience I refer to. Staff experience, training and , especially, a capacity for compassion were crucial. During Dad's multiple hospital and nursing home stays, I observed the workers who attended to his needs. On one end of the spectrum there were those who blustered into the room, waking my father for no apparent reason, not making eye contact, doing things to him but not seeing him. Dad would glaze over on these occasions and his great humor would evaporate. On the other end of the spectrum, I think of his last primary caretaker Sheku. Sheku entered quietly, held my father's hand, asked him what he needed, gave gentle instructions of what he was doing or going to do. They talked and began a real relationship. Sheku was like a Zen master. He saw my father, he had compassion.
Middle English, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French, from Late Latin compassion-, compassio, from compati to sympathize, from Latin com- + pati to bear, suffer with.
Of course most of the workers caring for my father fell somewhere between these two extremes. Working with Baptist Retirement Community here in San Angelo, I have been impressed that they view training as the first good of great elder care. They spend a lot of time with workers before they interact with elders. The training they provide enables workers a much better perspective on the clients they serve...they begin to see them and serve them as a mission, not merely a method (I understand they have one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the country). I'm not sure that compassion can be taught, at least not in a classroom setting...but it can be modeled, something I am witnessing daily. Maybe compassion is contagious?
We can have the best facilities imaginable but if there are not compassionate and trained workers employed, what good does it do?
2. Architecture matters. As Winston Churchill puts it: "We make our buildings...and forever after, they make us." The spaces that our elders inhabit make a real difference as life is lived out. Small but basic things such as privacy (not having to share a bedroom, having a bathroom in your room), views to the natural world outside, natural light, eliminating as many "beeping devices" as possible, entering spaces that felt home-like rather than hospital-like all played a part in making my father comfortable. I could see him relax or get agitated, depending on his environment. In one Assisted Living facility where my father stayed, I remember walking out of his room to find a seemingly endless corridor filled with noisy machines of all types and with food carts loaded with different trays. Workers reviewed charts to see what went where. A nurse station sat at the end of the corridor, much like a guard station. We can do better I thought. We must do better.
Maybe hospitals have to be somewhat institutional to work properly. Maybe. Efficiency and cost-control are obviously important. But when they dictate the architecture and the architecture then overshadows and crushes the spirit of the clients, what good is that? As I research health care facilities of all types, I notice that things are moving towards a distinctly non-institutional and more home-like environment, even in hospitals. Even large scale facilities can be broken into smaller, more intimate nodes. Colors and finishes are more important than ever. Natural light is crucial. Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing facilities are really beginning to embrace this new model. As an architect, I recognize that smaller scale and more intimate spaces cost more--we are continually seeking to balance costs with benefits. This is a real struggle as we search for more humane and meaningful places.
3. Options matter. One of the hospitals where my father stayed had first-rate medical care...but not much else. He stayed in his bed all day: unable to read, not interested in the reality tv or game shows on the television. Nurses would come check vital signs and then move on to the adjacent room. He was bored and I don't blame him. Were it not for visitations from family and friends, it would have been disastrous. On the other end of the spectrum, at one of the Skilled Nursing facilities where he stayed, there was an Event Coordinator who visited daily to make sure he knew of the ice cream social downstairs or the bingo event on the second floor, etc. A physical therapist made scheduled visits and got him up walking several times a day. These small calendar events were something to look forward to. Dad got to choose which events he attended and his family got to be in on these decisions. My father thrived in this setting which allowed him to heal from a fall much more quickly, which then allowed for a shorter stay in the facility--saving lots of money. It seems pretty basic.
In the better facilities, other small choices could be made: choice of small or large community room setting (rather than only one room or no community room at all), choice of large or smaller chairs along large windows or smaller windows, choice of various healthy menu options served on real plates. Yes, these are small choices but they added up to a more humane way of living. We all want to make choices.
In the not too distant future, we will be the ones who inhabit the health care spaces we (as a community) make--my hope is that the architecture of the spaces serves, ennobles, and inspires those in the final chapters of their lives. My father trained combat fighter pilots during World War II. I like to think of him up there in the skies in his AT-6, smiling, as he looks down on some good things happening in an often chaotic world.