A community beacon for health, hope and optimism on Buffalo’s West Side

A walk through Buffalo’s West Side is a wonderful immersion in human culture. Rich with immigrants and refugees, the West Side offers diverse languages, food and aromas, social icons and civic energy.

By Michael Tunkey August 10, 2020

It is a proud and remarkable community that has been significantly underserved for decades, leading to prevalent poverty, food insecurity and limited access to healthcare. Buffalo’s West Side echoes clear needs, and if our team is proud of anything about the D’Youville Health Professions Hub, it’s that the building hears those echoes.

The significance of this project comes across clearly listening to D’Youville president Lorrie Clemo. In comments she shared at the building’s raising event she said, “The Hub will be a world-class structure that will be the future of healthcare and a beacon for preparing providers to deliver superior quality care to those in need, starting here on the West Side of Buffalo. It will not only have a visual impact in beautifying our neighborhood, but much more importantly, it will have a far-reaching social impact on our multicultural underserved community.”

On track to open in early 2021, the Health Professions Hub will help its surrounding community address complex challenges around limited access to care and the aforementioned poverty. Concurrently, it will help the Buffalo Niagara region address an anticipated critical shortage of healthcare professionals in excess of 10,000 by 2024.

The Health Professions Hub will convert these challenges into opportunity as a “first-of-its-kind” health center featuring innovative learning spaces, a workforce center, extensive virtual training resources, and a clinic offering primary care, rehabilitation medicine, nutrition, nursing, pharmacy, neighborhood cafe, demonstration kitchen and more. All at once, the building will improve community access to healthcare services, introduce educational opportunities focused on breaking the cycle of chronic illness, prepare a new workforce to seize in-demand healthcare jobs, and support a living-wage ecosystem for Buffalo’s West Side residents.

There are numerous facets of the Health Professions Hub worthy of their own focused piece, but I wanted to briefly call attention to key project threads:

We listened: If the Health Professions Hub succeeds at helping Buffalo’s West Side community and future students, it is because the team listened to its numerous stakeholders. Students, faculty, staff, immediate community neighbors, regional health leaders and more, we held dozens of stakeholder meetings ranging from intimate small room discussions to assemblies in gymnasiums. Our team took the time for all of them. This is a building designed not just for its community, but truly by its community.

Through these engagement sessions we worked out issues both broad and nuanced. They helped us develop a framework that guided the building’s ultimate purpose and how it would align with D’Youville mission. In other meetings, we worked out tactical aspects around material choices, public art inclusion and more. We approached every conversation as a chance to surface ideas and connect. Designing with the community in this way not only makes our work stronger, but also represents a paradigm shift in how we originate and prototype ideas at such a team scale.

Designing without precedent: From the outset of this project, D’Youville made it clear they wanted to create truly first-of-their-kind spaces and environments for students. This is an exciting challenge but one that pushes design teams to work without a roadmap. Fortunately, our team welcomed the challenge and thrived.

To help guide us down an unprecedented path, we created a framework. While most academic projects respond to a very specific program, the Hub project focuses on bringing these themes to life. The result is truly novel learning and simulation spaces informed by additional insight from Catholic Health to ensure they and the pedagogy supported are aligned with future job needs. At a recent meeting, D’Youville leadership shared how thrilled they were with the numerous levels of innovation infused in the building.

Future of nursing: The Health Professions Hub will graduate leaders of the next generation of nurses for Buffalo and this country. And, D’Youville knows it must graduate nurses ready to thrive in a changing world. These nurses will enter a workforce with high demand for their services, evolving roles as health systems shift to more team-based care models, and immense pressures from day-to-day realities and the threat of crisis like the current pandemic.

Understanding that complex reality, the Health Professions Hub is equipped with spaces and tools to help nurses thrive in this shifting world. A perfect example is the building’s simulation center which is undoubtedly the most advanced in our region if not the country. The center is a high-tech transformer of space with a black box studio, walls that can be moved and repositioned by teachers and students to rapidly ideate and test new scenarios. This setting will help faculty immerse students in real-world scenarios that are directly applicable to the future emergency departments, operating rooms, home care and other health settings where they’ll some day work.

Public art: Since developing the Master Plan for D’Youville our team has had a vision of public art playing a strong role in defining the street-level experience of the campus. Building on that vision, President Clemo challenged our team to use public art as a way to invite the Buffalo’s West Side into the building.

We’ve worked with the Albright Knox Curator for Public Art Aaron Ott and others to develop an exciting site-specific concept that will involve an active community participation and education component working with West Side high schoolers to identify and abstract patterns and colors representative of their culture. The art signals to the community they are part of this project. It is rare to see academic institutions prioritize such overt, meaningful opportunities for community connection.

The Buffalo Office Design Voice: It can’t be said loudly enough, this project is an incredible team effort. Our Buffalo team cares deeply about designing projects where our community is part of our team. We’ve created dynamic platforms like the Buffalo Urban Futures Forum to hear the needs and ideas of Buffalo’s communities, our designers are leading key local programs like Arch+Ed to inform our future designers, and consistently serving on boards, donating time and engaging in the community we call home.

It’s wonderful to see that approach being realized through projects like D’Youville Health Professions Hub and others including 201 Ellicott and the University at Buffalo’s Heart of the Campus among others. These projects also build off our firm’s living-centered design platform through which we work to create spaces and experiences that help people and communities flourish.

It all adds up to a pivotal building for D’Youville that powerfully responds to its surrounding community. We’re looking forward to its opening next year, but even more excited to see its impact on the community and students’ lives in the years ahead. It’s a project ready to make those walks through the West Side of Buffalo more vibrant, energetic and hopeful for generations

This article originally appeared on CannonDesign’s websiteCannonDesign is a CFE Media content partner.

Original content can be found at www.cannondesign.com.

Author Bio: Michael Tunkey, AIA, principal, Cannon Design