Architecture For Humanity – BCI Medical Clinic with Deborah Buelow and Pollyanna Rhee
Role: SD, DD, CD, CA
_NY 1 New Yorkers of the Week, August 2008
_On Site Magazine, Issue 24, Small Architecture
Universal health care and universal health insurance are highly debated political issues in the United States. Under the current system, access to medical care is contingent upon a patient’s ability to pay medical or insurance fees. The millions of Americans who can afford neither receive medical treatment in the nation’s emergency rooms or from a network of dedicated non-profits who offer basic medical services for free or for subsidized rates. This system results in spaces of inequality that reflect and reinforce the disparities of the US health care structure.
In 2007, Care for the Homeless (CFH), a non-profit that provides medical and social services to at-risk populations, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to renovate one of its free health clinics. Unfortunately, the funding did not cover the entire cost and CFH was faced with possibly closing the facility. The clinic is located in the basement of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Morningside Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan. CFH shares their space with multiple homeless outreach services, including a soup kitchen and shelter operated by Broadway Community Incorporated (BCI). Working to maximize CFH’s restricted budget, a team of volunteers from the New York Chapter of Architecture for Humanity (AFHny) provided a design for the renovation and paired with a local contractor, GO Construction Corporation. Through creative thinking and the generous donation of time, services and materials, the renovation project was completed on time and on budget.
AFHny’s design concept integrated architectural strategies with CFH’s mission to make health care available and accessible to at-risk populations. Prior to the renovation, CFH had been operating in sub-par conditions – their entire team worked out of a closet that was 13 feet long by 7 feet wide. This space served as their exam room but the medical and counseling team, provided by The Institute for Family Health, did not have easy access to a sink and running water or private space to advise clients on intimate matters such as HIV counseling.
The renovation included a new exam room, triage space, two counseling rooms, two offices, reception, copy center, and storage. The total square footage of CFH’s medical space is now 500 square feet. Translucent sliding pocket doors maximize the limited space, built-in desks are topped with Corian for durability, and new lighting brightens the renovation. A refinished floor and steel plates now cover what was once an open plumbing trough. AFHny collaborated with CFH, BCI and the Church toward the goal of providing a clean, safe construction site with a minimal amount of interference with BCI’s outreach services. Since the space is occupied 24 hours a day, non-VOC paint and formaldehyde-free insulation were used, as neither product off gasses toxic volatile organic compounds.