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Recognizing excellent design(er)

by Sarah Bousquet

Principal Uma Ramanathan, AIA, LEED AP, has worked in the New England area for 26 years, and is renowned as a leading pediatric planner and design expert by some of the world’s top healthcare organizations, AEC colleagues, and her peers. Today, we congratulate our fellow Bulfinch on being named a 2018 BSA Women In Design Award of Excellence recipient, and celebrate the many attributes that make her both accomplished and continually looking to what’s next.

It’s personal

One of Uma’s largest contributions to the region—and possibly globally—is Boston Children’s Hospital, where she has worked tirelessly to fold innovation into a conservative academic medical mindset. Her guidance and education has made a lasting impact in the past that will carry through to the future in projects such as the Main South Building—which helped put BCH back at No. 1 on the list of top children’s hospitals in the nation—and the Hale Family Clinical Building.

With a career deeply rooted in personal experience—a traumatic journey with her own daughter’s 3-week stay in the NICU that changed Uma’s trajectory and set her on the path to make better environments for people in need—Uma’s contributions to healthcare and design push boundaries, asking how institutions can and will deliver care and improve health. To Uma, it’s not just about creating a beautiful building, but about bettering outcomes and creating functional spaces that work—today and tomorrow. This foresight into planning and design helps clients adapt and advance, while challenging every member of her team to think outside the box and exceed the status quo.

The spaces Uma designs are highly complex with notable clients, and she handles both seamlessly with direct lines of communication and a vested interest. She listens to, respects, and harnesses the ambitions of her clients to push design and strategy forward purposefully. Furthermore, she asks for and expects innovation, leading by example as a master of the entire design process—from initial master plan to finished built environment.

It’s all in the approach

Uma approaches every project with compassion, humanity, and listening. Her longstanding relationships with various clients speak to the level of respect she’s earned throughout her career, and she is 100 percent invested in people, holding relationships in a higher regard than simply business interests.

Uma always strives for excellence, while employing experience and wisdom. She advocates for teamwork, and steadfastly approaches projects collectively by creating collaborative environments where everyone has a seat at the table. Uma recognizes the importance of empowering the next generation, and impels her teams of young designers to make decisions by giving them space to grow. She works diligently to break boundaries, and encourages all members of a project to listen and focus on the big picture.

While she has an unrivaled connection to the clinical side of healthcare, Uma is uniquely able to balance the needs of administration with the mission and values of clinicians. She thoroughly understands both client and project teams, and can swiftly negotiate potential political, operational, and design issues from becoming difficult situations. Uma thinks less like an architect and more like a person (or patient), which is rare. Uma shines here—seen in her ability to consider all angles and to ensure the right decisions for the greater good are being pushed forward. This intuition brings with it a level of communication and respect that make her a natural leader and mentor.

It’s about form and function

Uma has built a strong portfolio in healthcare with an expertise in pediatric institutions, and encourages her teams to bring a holistic design approach to every project. Her personal strengths lie in strategic thinking and planning, and as a programmer, Uma relies on conceptual, organizational, and functional diagrams before designing. She sees the abstraction of a space, and then works side-by-side with the design team to see the project through to fruition.

One of Uma’s strongest merits is her progressive thinking, which she uses to create not only intriguing, but more so functional programs and buildings. She’s a designer that makes spaces work for a very vulnerable population—sick children and their families—and her interest in their needs, combined with her clinical expertise, leads to exemplary pediatric buildings that push the limits on what’s next in healthcare.

“My passion for benchmarking and research are core to advancing design. There is an in-depth evidence and intention behind each of my recommendations, helping transform the delivery of care for future generations.”

Uma Ramanathan, principal, Shepley Bulfinch

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