Beccah Eldridge, AIA is most passionate about creating memorable spaces through a collaborative design process. She has focused her career on programming, planning, and designing healthcare experiences that solve challenges and serve diverse populations and user groups. Beccah’s process revolves around creating design solutions and using innovative problem solving to ultimately enhance the lives of clients. She believes that functionality and flexibility go hand in hand with sustainability, and that these values create timeless design.
Read more about why she’s passionate about healthcare design.
Can you tell us about how you started in architecture?
When I was ten, I would pour over house plans in home design magazines for hours on end. My uncle studied as an architect, so I was familiar with the field by the time it came to apply for my first internships in high school. I ended up going to college for liberal arts, knowing I’d likely pursue a master’s in architecture—I wanted to make sure that this was the path for me and the education I received has been fundamental in my career. When I graduated from undergrad, I first started working on the administrative side of the business at an architectural firm in Boston. In my spare time, I taught myself AutoCAD and, more or less, demanded I be put on a project. The rest is history.
Why healthcare architecture?
When I first started working at Shepley Bulfinch, I worked closely with healthcare principal, David Meek, Assoc. AIA on the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center Ambulatory Care Facility. It was his passion that got me hooked on healthcare. Had it not been for the time spent on that project with David, I probably wouldn’t have pursued healthcare design.
Since then, I’ve found that healthcare design impacts so many people, from patients and their families to all the people who work in the hospital (doctors, nurses, engineers, janitorial staff, and more). Each person has a clear direct need in healthcare facilities, and often aren’t there out of choice. I personally hate going to the doctor, even though I work with hospitals all day! There’s a unique opportunity to make difficult experiences a bit easier, with calming spaces and enjoyable working environments.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle for aspiring healthcare architects?
There is so much to know and learn about healthcare—the technical parts of medicine, why we design certain rooms differently, the diverse needs of different facilities, the variety of modalities, and the codes themselves. It can seem daunting.
Really, it’s about building trust with colleagues and the clinicians. You need to be passionate about learning as much as you can but also be willing to rely on the group knowledge base and pull in experts when needed. At Shepley, there’s such a depth of knowledge in the healthcare practice groups. I’ve listened to colleagues discuss surgical procedures with such expertise that you’d think they practiced surgery on the side.
To anyone interested in becoming a healthcare architect, my one piece of advice would be: don’t be afraid to ask questions! It’s the best way to learn.
You’ve recently been working on a number of small projects for healthcare clients. How does that differ from your large project work?
Small projects have all the same parts of a big project, just on a compressed timeline. It’s a faster turnaround, and you’re often involved from conceptual design at the very beginning to opening day. It’s exciting because you get to see the impact of your work much sooner and hear client feedback much sooner, so the lessons you learn can be quickly applied to the next project.
I’m also fascinated by the diversity in the type of work. The small projects I’m working on serve vastly different populations—from behavioral health and psychiatric emergency departments to radiology and outpatient clinic suites. Each of these projects require an understanding of very nuanced needs that you don’t get the same exposure to on a large hospital project. It’s really exciting to learn from the clinicians and form relationships with different types of modalities.
What do you do in your spare time?
After eight years on the board, I’m now on the scholarship committee for Professional Women in Construction, a program that gives out 13-15 scholarships to high school seniors and college students interested in architecture/design. Outside of architecture, I’m an avid reader and a huge fan of puzzles—I’m currently working on a triptych of the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Each Sunday, I volunteer with a group providing meal services to feed those with food insecurities in Hartford.