The American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA) has announced that Kirsten Waltz, Managing Principal of SBA’s Connecticut Office, has earned her Board Certificate in healthcare architecture. Waltz recently passed an accredited examination, which assesses the knowledge and understanding of architects who practice as healthcare specialists. She joins the ranks of over 400 ACHA colleagues in the US and Canada who have received this important architectural credential.

In order to even take the exam, applicants must submit data heavy portfolios outlining their range of experience, including six recommendation letters from clients and peers. The ACHA requires its certificate holders to work towards the improvement of healthcare architecture on behalf of the public, to practice in an ethical manner and to maintain the highest standards in the specialized field of healthcare architecture.

Go Kirsten!

Post by George Balsley, AIA

George has worked in the field of architecture for over 30 years in all types of building design, core & shell design, production and technical specifications.  His diversified background includes residential, educational, commercial and healthcare architecture.  Using his lifelong experience with deafness, he created a new specialty called Designing for the Deaf and has been involved in the field of universal design.  It’s a movement that calls for design for all inclusive or lifespan design. 

In my architectural work on deaf design and universal design, I encounter many different situations that call for many different solutions. When I move into the realm of deaf-blind facilities, for example, I often grasp for self-education, performing independent research and talking to deaf-blind individuals. I find that, like everything else, there is no one set of simple design principles or solutions, as it varies from project to project.

My research has put me in contact with institutions like the Helen Keller National Center in Sands Point, New York, and the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. When I’ve asked these organizations whether they use certain design guidelines, both have said that there are none, except for a few common-sense ideas that help their occupants move around in space.

Unfortunately, there is currently no published literature to help architects design for the deaf-blind community. However, we do know what their basic needs are to get around. Below is a list of key considerations that I’ve gathered through my experience on previous projects. These basic environmental factors can help the deaf-blind community to function more independently and can help architects initiate conversations with their clients to derive the most effective design solutions for their constituents.

Key design considerations could include:

  • Using light/dark color contrasts, which can make doors and stairs easier for those who have partial sight capabilities. Contrasts help people define boundaries between edges and will enhance residual vision.
  • Selecting surfaces that reduce or avoid glare, such as non-skid, non-glare flooring and non-glare wax.
  • Choosing appropriate background colors. Stripes, plaids, and patterns could be visually confusing and over-stimulating as backgrounds for visual communication. Bright colors are encouraged.

Space planning strategies:

  • Avoid the use of curved walls, which can be disorienting.
  • Minimize the use of columns outside of walls. Since deaf-blind occupants will use walking sticks to feel along the wall’s base, if they run into a column it can confuse their spatial perception. At a project at Gallaudet, for example, we extended this base from the wall to the column so that individuals could feel their way around.
  • Closet and cupboard doors should be self-closing in order to minimize accidents. All doors should be fully opened or closed, never left halfway closed, in order to prevent accidents.
  • Bedroom closets should be well lit.
  • Nightlights should be used in bedrooms, hallways, and bathrooms.
  • Careful placement of light switches (from doorways and near beds) and electrical outlets should be considered.
  • Televisions should be kept away from lamps or windows.
  • Furniture should be placed away from main traffic pathways.
  • Bathroom features should be maximized for ease of sight and use, including: toilet seats in contrast with toilet (ex: a black seat); contrasting non-skid tape or a mat placed at bottom of the tub; and extra lighting over the tub or shower.

Furniture selection:

  • Edges of tables should be of contrasting color from the table surfaces.
  • Sofas and armchairs should have skirts that extend down to the floor, with no exposed legs. Shadows caused by legs can be confusing for deaf-blind residents.
  • Strong contrasts between edges of chairs to the floor.
  • Countertop colors should contrast with base cabinets so that countertops can be seen quickly.

Emergency alert systems:

While there is no set of guidelines for deaf-blind facilities, a few recommended solutions can help the owner, electrical and A/V consultants, and the architect develop the best possible system for the space:

  • For deaf-blind facilities, individuals should carry pagers that vibrate in response to fire alarm systems.
  • Bed vibrators should be tied to fire alert systems for when residents are sleeping.

The Baystate Children’s Specialty Center and the Mattapan Community Health Center have both been chosen by the Boston Society of Architect’s (BSA) 2014 Healthcare Facilities Design Awards Jury for recognition. Award winners will find out which level of award each project has received at the BSA’s annual awards gala in January. There are three levels of awards: Honor level, Award level, and Citation level.

The Mattapan Community Health Center is a new 50,000 square foot, ground-up construction, community health center located in the heart of Mattapan Square and will help lead the revitalization of the area. The 3-story center is seeking LEED Silver certification and includes several sustainable features, including a green roof. The design also maximizes natural light by keeping the central area of each floor open, so that light can pass from one end of the central transparent volume to the other.

Mattapan Community Health

Mattapan Community Health Center (MCHC) is a federally qualified independent health center affiliated with Boston Medical Center and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/ Partners Healthcare.

Mattapan Community Health

The ground floor of the center features the health center entrance, which is flanked by two retail spaces, a conference area, and an open stair between ground and first floors.

Mattapan Community Health

The first floor has dental services, lab space, WIC, building services, community function space and waiting rooms.

Mattapan Community Health

The second floor is occupied by clinical exam rooms, behavioral health, social services and additional waiting areas.


The Baystate Children’s Specialty Center was not simply engineered—it was “imagineered.” The design process kicked off with a charrette with former Disney Imagineers, which resulted in a whimsical and high-tech child-centered, interactive experience attractive to both young patients and older adolescents.

The design goal was to alleviate the sometimes negative connotations associated with visiting the doctor for families and patients by providing them with a fun and interactive environment. The project also had to conveniently organize all 15 of the pediatric specialties under one roof and put patients and families at the center of well-coordinated care. You can learn more about the Children’s Specialty Center by reading this blog post from April.

Joyful Diversions

The Children’s Specialty Center is filled with joyful diversions, such as the interactive fish pond, to distract from what could potentially be a stressful experience.


Children's Specialty Center

Baystate Children’s Specialty Center


Springfield, MA— The day started with donuts. Carpet flew from second story windows, invading brush was chopped down to the roots, and pizza was devoured at the Habitat for Humanity build day on Friday, Oct. 3rd.

Ten volunteers from SBA Connecticut’s office spent the day with Habitat for Humanity’s Construction Manager, Kristopher McKelvie, preparing an abandoned home for a revitalization of new finishes. SBA volunteers had jobs that ranged from removing carpet, to clearing out the basement filled with old toys and clothes, to removing faceplates of outlets and patching holes in preparation for paint.

Volunteers also worked on exterior landscaping, as the lawn and garden had overgrown and was invading neighbor’s yards. A great time was had by everyone involved.

Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity services the Greater Springfield area in Western  Massachusetts.   To learn more about the organization, or to volunteer, please see the Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity Website,


The whole crew!

The whole crew!

Habitat 2014

Interior designer Carly Shaver taking down the blinds.

Habitat 2014

Architect Derek Noble installing smoke detectors.

Habitat 2014

Interior Designer Paulina Martinczak poses by the window.

Habitat 2014

Architect’s George Balsley and Eddie Widofsky pose for a picture after cleaning out the basement.

Cleaning the Basement

Office Coordinator Jen McCarthy and Managing Principal Kirsten Waltz sorting trash from donations.

Spotlight On! is an #sbablog feature that gives readers a close-up look at SBA’s architects and designers.

Meet Derek. As a designer, architect (and occasional artist), Derek is driven by a collaborative process and innovative problem solving, which lead to strategic and thoughtful intentions.  His exceptional design and visualization skills produce compelling spatial environments that produce memorable experiences.  Responding to the specifics of each unique project rather than imposing a design style, he strives to find the overlap between space and place making.

Derek’s expertise ranges from complicated renovation projects to new construction with challenging programmatic requirements.  Derek contributes over 20 years of design experience in architectural and interior design, space programming and planning, site design, and construction methodology to the firm. Derek works across a number of market sectors, and specifically specializes in academic and healthcare design. His work reflects his passion for teaching the next generation about architecture and design, from mentoring SBA interns, to being involved with local college architecture programs.

Office you work in: Enfield, Connecticut

Alma Mater: RPI

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

It all started when, as a child, I was given an Etch-A-Sketch and a set of Legos to keep busy.  These so-called toys led me through a childhood filled with sketchbooks, broken pencils and dried up makers. Architecture seemed like the right profession.

How do you approach the design process? 

Design is an activity enhanced by the opportunity for dialogue, reflection, and experimentation.  I believe design is an open-ended and evolving process that requires ideas to be continually assessed and reassess through an iterative process.  I like to start somewhere in the middle.

Best vacation you ever took:

Just this year I went on a two week trip to Paris and Barcelona with my family.  It was a fabulous mix of visiting historic and contemporary architectural sites. My kids especially enjoyed our visit to the Cementiri Nou a cemetery in Igualada, Spain by the architects Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós.

What charitable orgs are you involved with?

I’ve been involved with a few organizations that focused on teaching children.  I’ve been a volunteer teacher in public schools with Learning By Design and taught elementary students about architecture and design.  I’ve also been a “Citizen Teacher” through Citizen Schools and developed a hands-on, after-school program to teach inner city kids about architects and architecture. 

Five items you can’t work without:

Open mind, time to reflect, someone to work with, mistakes to learn from and snacks.

Five Six items you can’t live without:

Family, friends, creativity, laughter, my iPhone, and something to draw with.