The journey of designing a capstone project very close to my heart
Sitting here, writing this, I have just completed my senior capstone design project. For those not familiar, a capstone is the equivalent of a thesis without the long boring writing part. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just as grueling, all-consuming, and demanding as any career-defining assignment.
The basis of our capstone projects must lie in an issue that we as students can solve with design. Subjects from my talented studio classmates range from a new concept for a car dealership to an assisted suicide center to a ski resort helping people of all levels enjoy the slopes.
As for me, I’ve known what I wanted to delve into for quite some time.
When I was seventeen years old, on New Years Eve, I met my best friend who would soon become the greatest love of my life.
His name was Nick. He was extraordinarily charismatic, brutally honest, funny, generous, stubborn, and compassionate. He had the biggest heart I’d ever had the pleasure to know. We did everything together— embarking on adventures big and small, often driving in his red jeep with the top down, simply enjoying each others company. Before I knew it I was head over heels in love with him. He was perfect for me.
What was less perfect was that he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. On November 19th, 2016 around 3:00 am he left this world, but never my heart. He taught me everything I know about love and how precious this life is.
So, flash forward to this past fall when I started designing the ultimate healing project: The Commons, an oncology treatment and wellness center for young adults. There is no other way to interpret this project- it is for Nick.
This is my marathon, my offering, the greatest expression of love for him. It took absolutely everything I had in me.
Nick was lucky enough to be treated at Dana Farber’s Jimmy Fund Clinic in Boston, MA. They have the most incredible staff and state of the art technology and research. They’ve always been at the forefront of cancer treatment. But even the best option has flaws. What I observed from my time accompanying Nick to appointments, and what he shared with me, was that there wasn’t really a place for him.
There are over 72,000 young adults diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. every year. That’s one every eight minutes. What’s worse is that there hasn’t been an increase in survival rate in twenty-five years, largely due to non-participation in clinical trials.
Imagine being diagnosed with cancer anywhere from age 15 to 25. You have a million and one decisions to make, including: am I an adult or a child? There are amazing pediatric and adult oncology clinics all over this country, but why aren’t there more catering to the specific needs of young adults? They’re suffering through this horrendous disease at such a pivotal point in their lives. Undergoing treatment brings up unique issues such as depression, anxiety, isolation, fertility, body image issues, the list goes on!
Through my research, I gathered that 76% of Y/As undergoing treatment feel they would benefit from mental health counseling. 52% said they would benefit from strength training and re-integration into sports. These young adults are asking for better wellness resources- physical and mental.
I experienced first hand how working on personal fitness and mindfulness goals can improve a cancer patient’s life. When Nick’s cancer was back for the third time he understandably felt an incredible loss of control. Therefore he wanted to get his mind and body in the best shape possible so he worked with a personal trainer. Seeing his physical transformation was one thing- he was getting leaner and stronger- but his mental transformation was inspiring. He was confident and energetic. When I first met him he would have to save up the energy to do certain tasks. After months of training we barely even thought about going on long walks or bike rides. Having these fitness goals, general or specific, such as a five-minute plank, (he did complete that, by the way. On the spot. What a dreamboat) gave him something to focus on other than his cancer. It gave him the confidence to keep living his life.
The biggest moment that inspired this project is one of the most heartbreaking. In my Fall Quarter of sophomore year, Nick’s cancer started growing too rapidly to stop and I got the worst call of my life telling me I had to come home. I skipped out on my finals week, flew into Boston, went right to the hospital and stayed there for three days straight. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat. Nick was talking for about one of those days, and even that was difficult to understand. He had a hard time communicating and we all did our best to make him comfortable. On the second day, he was mostly quiet, when all of the sudden he wanted to move from his bed to the adjacent reclining chair. It should be noted that moving was incredibly painful for him, but stubborn as always he made it to that chair with the help of his two brothers, me, a nurse, and his parents. He finally landed in the chair, exhausted and I sat next to him in another chair, rubbing his head. I remember he checked to see if I was comfortable. Me. I told him I was, but I guess he thought I was lying so the next words out of his mouth were, “I want to move to the couch.” The room erupted in “no’s” and “that’s not a good idea’s” until I looked him in his eyes- the part of him that was still the same Nick- and quietly asked, “why do you want to move to the couch?” His sister heard and made everyone shut up to hear his answer. He mustered up all the strength he had left and said,
“I just don’t want to feel like I’m in a hospital.”
And guys, that broke me. Here before me was the strongest, most courageous, humble, spectacular person I had ever met. But he didn’t ask for any of this. He didn’t ask to be strong, or brave, or to be anyone’s hero. He just wanted to be normal. He just wanted to be a twenty-year-old kid.
He didn’t say much after that and all we had to listen to was the literal sound of his organs shutting down through his rough breathing. I will never forget that sound. He held on to life as long as he possibly could, until I finally, guiltily, realized I never told him it was okay for him to go. I hadn’t even thought of it because, well, it wasn’t okay. I would not be okay and I wasn’t ready. I still was holding on to the hope that he would open his eyes again and say, “Hey beautiful,” again. That he would get up and walk out of that hospital room. But I was being selfish and so at 2:30 AM on Saturday, November 19th I told the biggest lie I’ve ever told. Lying next to him, under various wires, holding onto him as tightly as I could, I told him that it was okay for him to go. That I had him. He was safe.
And then he was gone.
Moments like that don’t ever leave you. So Nick, here is my capstone project. It is for you, my biggest fan, the voice in my head telling me I need to believe in myself more (frustratingly right, as always). I will love you forever.
For the past twenty weeks, I have been researching and designing, designing and researching, doubting myself, loving my project, hating it, and finally being proud. I’m very excited to walk you through it.
First of all, the proposed building is located at 110 Arlington St. Boston, MA. The building is currently being used as a boutique hotel which is perfect for the boutique healthcare experience I wanted to create. It’s in the Park Plaza in a high-end hospitality area one block from Boston Public Garden. It’s in close proximity to theaters, sporting arenas, downtown, and transportation routes like I-90. It’s six floors including a basement, for outpatient and as-needed inpatient care. The overall space is small, totaling just over 15,000 square feet, but this reinforces the boutique, intimate quality, and acts more of a test run or example for these types of facilities.
When you enter The Commons the first impression to be warm and engaging. Bright wallpaper, fun colors and an intimate atmosphere. If this is a first- time visit, you can speak with the receptionist or have a consultation in a private room where you can sit down, sign papers, or have a discussion in a quiet, comfortable space. If this is a returning visit, you can check in on one of the iPad kiosks for convenience. These iPads and the screen behind the reception display the daily schedule so guests can see if their appointments are running behind or ahead of schedule. This information is also available on an app for smartphones.
To the left are window seats for lounging as well as private booths for phone calls or getting work done. Past that is the cafe available for guests and staff. The lobby will primarily be utilized by friends and family of the patients. On the wall leading to the elevator is a display screen inspired by the cracks in a tree. The entire concept of the space was driven by the concentric rings that show the growth of a tree. No matter what the tree has undergone that year, no matter how many scars it has, it can still continue to grow. This display screen is a “Wall of Hope” displaying stories of patients or staff members as an inspiration for all to see.
The majority of the clinical spaces are on the second floor. There is a small waiting lounge with the same display screen as on the first level (this is repeated on most floors), and then the space opens up to the infusion area. One aspect of real-life clinics that has been unsuccessful is the completely open bays. However, upon research, I discovered that some people actually enjoy open concept infusion because it provided the opportunity for more interaction. Therefore I designed semi-open infusion bays, offering auditory and visual privacy, while still being open and allowing for nurse efficiency. There is space for family and friends to sit as well as storage within the bays. The infusion chairs specified can recline in numerous positions, have a detachable surface, USB port, and include heat and massage for maximum comfort. There are also two clinical function rooms for specific appointments with the oncologists. For need or preference, two private infusion rooms are also available with the same comfort as well as an added sink and television. Additionally, a recharge room is on this floor if a guest needs a moment alone or for sound or light therapy.
The other half of the second floor is dedicated to the staff. They have a full lounge and kitchen, and their own recharge room. The lounge can be utilized for working or relaxing and the recharge room furniture can recline into a bed. Finally, there is a classroom for nursing or medical students who are invited to interact and learn from the patients at The Commons, furthering to foster a community of young adults.
The third level is where the wellness journey truly begins. The third and fourth level interact with each other the most since fitness opportunities are a big part of both levels. The locker rooms live on the third floor, along with two saunas for ultimate relaxation. There is an open cycle area for spin classes or a solo ride, as well as two fitness classrooms used for dance, yoga, tai chi, or stretching. The acupuncture and massage rooms are on this level along with a consultation room to discuss the needs and considerations of a guest before undergoing any physical training or wellness resources. This could also be used to talk about fertility or any other health concerns.
On the fourth level is the gym and the game lounge. The gym is a bright and open facility with state of the art equipment for patients to utilize at all hours of the day. They can drop in or schedule an appointment with a personal trainer to work on personal fitness goals. In the back is an interactive wall to write encouraging notes and share accomplishments. Stair seating is available for dynamic workouts or to catch up with friends while catching your breath. On the other side of the fourth level is the game lounge. Here guests should only worry about beating their friends in air-hockey or skee-ball, rather than their health diagnosis. This space is largely inspired by the outdoors and has floor to ceiling windows to let in as much sunlight as possible. Artificial turf lines the floor and an alternative floor seating option further allows for that outdoor feeling. A quiet room is available for privacy, and booths are in the back for working or group games.
On the top floor, are two luxury overnight rooms. In the case that a patient need overnight or end of life care, these rooms are available with adequate seating and sleeping arrangements for friends and family. One of the rooms has access to a private terrace to enjoy in the warmer months. The rest of the guests can enjoy the public terrace accessed through a quiet, library lounge. This terrace has various seating and a hot tub to enjoy above the city.
A major goal of The Commons is to create an all-in-one facility. This space would become a home away from home and hopefully, patients would find a family within the fellow guests, staff, and volunteers. The basement includes additional workspaces, imaging technology, and radiation therapy as well as laundry, mechanical and server rooms. Guests would no longer have to jump around to different hospitals and clinics for scans, admittance, and treatment. This will become a place they’ll want to spend time instead of dreading. It will remind them that their lives are not less valuable and don't have to be less joyous just because they’re sick. They can still play, have fun, and be a kid. Their health does not define them. These young adults deserve a beautiful space. This is their life. They shouldn’t have to wait for their struggles to be over to start living. They are still in control, still powerful, capable of anything. Their lives are beautiful right now.
To see more of this project, click here!