School of Arch. builds sustainable healthcare

In the past decade, conservation has become a major source of concern when facing the already complex problems posed by healthcare and human development initiatives.

Too often the efforts made to fix one problem, such as rainforest destruction, can have unintended consequences on issues like public health. In order to deal comprehensively with sustainable solutions to development issues Tech departments have partnered with not-for-profit organizations to provide technical knowledge to a good cause.

A couple years ago, Tech’s School of Architecture became affiliated with a not-for-profit organization called Health in Harmony (HIH) which supports the Alam Sehat Lestari Project (ASRI) in the village of Sukadana which is located in West Kalminantan, Indonesia to build a healthcare facility.

HIH is a health and eco-conservation program focusing on affordable healthcare and environmental conservation strategies in West Kalimantan. HIH was founded by Dr.Kinari Webb, MD, who recognized the need for affordable healthcare facilities in the Sukadana area while visiting the nearby Gunung Palung National Park.

An interdisciplinary team of students and professors was established to create a hospital with HIH for the people of Sukadana. The unique aspect of the entire project is that students are working with an actual client, designing a building that will actually be constructed. The team had to overcome obstacles such as the difference in cultures and finding alternatives to traditional building materials. All materials and labor will come from West Kalminantan to involve the community and educate and provide economic support.

Webb first created this project while working with orangutans in Gunung Palung and recognized the community’s dire need for healthcare. While working in the park, she made several discoveries about the health of the people in Sukadana and the natural environment in which they were living.

“There were no health services available to the people, and malaria and tuberculosis were prevalent; the rain forest was being destroyed by illegal logging; and animal health was suffering also,” Webb said.

HIH partners with local communities to ensure quality healthcare while keeping it affordable. This helps HIH achieve three main objectives: provide superior health support to the community, provide incentives for the locals to increase conservation practices that limit illegal logging and deforestation that is crippling Gunung Palung National Park and provide work opportunities to patients so that they may pay for their health services.

According to the HIH website,, “25% of children die before age 5, mothers often die in childbirth, and even ‘simple’ injuries like a cut on the hand can lead to death.”

Another problem specific to the organization was lack of space to run necessary medical operations. In 2007, Dr. Webb was running ASRI out of a small two-room clinic treating a mass number of people.

For all she was doing, the two-room clinic quickly turned into inadequate space.

“[Dr. Webb has] seen 15,000 patients, gave sight to 78 blind people through cataract surgeries, has provided mobile services via an ambulance she was able to purchase through a fund raising effort, delivered 4,000 mosquito nets, and they have now planted ten acres of tree seedlings to replenish the rain forest, taught organic farming to the people, and have provided community outreach and training on medical services,” said Almont Pierce, ARCH ’58 and ‘59.

Two years ago, while in Washington D.C., Webb met with Pierce to ask for advice on how to expand the clinic into a hospital. Pierce came to Tech to pitch the idea to Dean Thomas Galloway at the COA, and it was approved a short time later. In the spring of 2009, a course was opened to allow undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Architecture to design the hospital.

Much of the designs combine elements of local Indonesian culture with eco-friendly alternatives. For example, instead of AC units, a ventilation system called “passive cooling” which only utilizes windows and fans will be used.

Sarah Hilton, M.S. Health Systems ‘09, a member of the team, said that one of the main challenges of the project was actually understanding and incorporating the needs and cultural requirements of West Kalminantan. One specific thing that she noted was that the team needed to be sure to design the hospital rooms to include room for family visitors to sleep with the patients.

The courses implemented to design the hospital lasted three semesters. Tech faculty members David Cowan, Craig Zimring, Tim Harrison, Franca Trubiano and Russell Gentry are leading the students with design elements and logistics.

The team is also made up of students of engineering and from Health Systems Institute. Funding and help is provided from companies and grants and donations. Architecture firms Stanley, Beamen and Sears and the Puetro Nuevo foundation provide pro-bono support with materials and expertise. While the course will end at the end of this semester, the hospital is meant to be a model for other possible hospitals.