Robin Guenther, an architect and environmental health advocate who designed green, sustainable healthcare facilities and co-authored the first guide to building them, died May 6 at a Manhattan hospital. She was 68.
The cause was ovarian cancer, her husband Perry Gunther said. (The couple’s surnames shared pronunciation but not spelling.)
Ms. Guenther, a New York-based architect who began designing medical facilities after graduating from architecture school in the late 1970s, was among a group of environmentalists and architects who began to fight the use of toxic materials in construction in the 1990s. .
She focused in particular on PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, one of the most widely used plastics worldwide, used in everything from pipes to flooring to medical devices. It is made from vinyl chloride, a known human carcinogen. Ms. Guenther began looking for alternatives and lecturing and writing about its dangers.
When she founded her firm, Guenther 5 Architects, in 2001, she took the Hippocratic oath of first doing no harm as her mission, said Chris Youssef, an interior designer and sustainable design consultant who worked with Ms. Guenther at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn in the early 2000s, which it was built with a minimum amount of toxic material.
Ms. Guenther’s awareness of PVC proved to be the first step in her understanding of all the health and environmental impacts of healthcare facilities. She and others began to catalog these effects, which included carbon emissions (hospitals are energy intensive); Warrenlike layouts illuminated by artificial light that affected both health professionals and patients; and materials, including PVC, that could harm the health of the communities where they were made, as well as the space where they were placed.
Ms. Guenther was one of many architects advocating for sustainable and resilient buildings—for example, using renewable energy sources and designing buildings that could survive the extreme weather associated with climate change. And she practiced what is now called regenerative or restorative design, creating spaces that promote health with natural light sources and access to nature, and that connect with and support the surrounding community.
“It changed the nature of healthcare construction,” said Bill Walsh, the company’s founder A network of healthy buildings, one of the many environmental organizations that has had Ms. Guenther as a board member and advisor. He added that she was a leader in devising strategies for removing vinyl from buildings. “It wasn’t all sizzled and no steak,” he said.
One of her exceptional works was discovery center in Harris, NY, a 27,000 square foot treatment facility in Sullivan County for children and adults with severe neurological disabilities that opened in 2002. Structureairy and barn-like, it is made from renewable, non-toxic materials and heated and cooled by a geothermal system.
In 2003, Ms. Guenther, working with a team that included Gail Vittori, a sustainability expert who had been designing policy initiatives and protocols and creating standards for green buildings since the 1980s, and Tom Lent, then policy director of the Healthy Building Network, created Green Guide for Healthcare, a set of health-based green building standards tailored for the healthcare industry.
Modeled after the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification program for assessing building sustainability, the guide covered a wide range of topics, including how to avoid toxic chemicals, the importance of natural light to support circadian rhythms, and the need to provide places to rest. and connection with nature.
By its second year of publication, the guide had been downloaded 11,000 times in every US state and over 80 countries. It became the basis for LEED certification specific to the healthcare sector.
Still, skeptics believed that green buildings in healthcare would be cost prohibitive. So Ms. Guenther, Ms. Vittori and others did two studies that showed these projects cost almost as much as conventional ones. In 2007, Ms. Guenther and Ms. Vittori published “Sustainable Healthcare Architecture,” which included case studies of more than 50 projects. In 2014, Ms. Guenther gave a talk at TedMed titled “Why Hospitals Make Us Sick,” which has been viewed ten thousand times.
In an email, Mr Lent said that “Robin understood at a deep level the responsibility of the architect, engineer and interior designer (indeed anyone involved in bringing buildings into the world) for the health, environmental and social impact of the materials they specified. and the designs they made.’
He added that she had “worked tirelessly to awaken the healthcare industry and the design and construction firms that work with them to this responsibility”.
Robin Gail Guenther was born on October 2, 1954 in Detroit. Her mother, Elinor (Brown) Guenther, was a homemaker and her father, Robert Guenther, was an executive at Ford Motor Company. She received BA and MA degrees in architecture from the University of Michigan and a diploma from the Architectural Association in London.
In addition to her husband of 38 years, Mrs. Guenther is survived by her stepdaughters, Jyllian Gunther and Nicole Palms, two granddaughters, and her sisters, Lynn Monahan and Sharon Barnes.
In 2007, Guenther acquired 5 Architects in Lower Manhattan, where she also lived, Perkins & Will, a global architecture firm; Ms. Guenther led its global healthcare practice.
She oversaw similar projects with Perkins & Will Monmouth Memorial Sloan Kettering Ambulatory Care Center (also known as MSK Monmouth) in New Jersey, reimagining a drab 1980s office building into an airy space overlooking a forest; and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford in Palo Alto, California, which opened in 2017 and won a Healthcare Design Award from the American Institute of Architects. It features an abundance of natural light, water recovery systems for landscape irrigation, a shading system that reduces the need for air conditioning, recycled building materials and a healing garden.
In 2012, Ms. Guenther was among Fast Company magazine “The 100 Most Creative People in Business.” It noted that she developed 12 design best practice principles and printed them on posters that she placed around her workspaces.
“If you don’t know what’s in it, you probably don’t want what’s in it,” read one. Another said: “Consult your nose – if it stinks, don’t use it.”