The building of Atlanta Birth Center is driven by the countless hours donated by our many community volunteers. We’d like to take some time each month to highlight a volunteer and share our gratitude for all their hard work.
Our volunteer of the month for January is Timothy Harrison. He is an experienced and gifted architect who has helped us put our vision onto paper. You can see his proposed draft for Atlanta Birth Center here (to be adapted and refined once we settle on a particular location).
Atlanta Birth Center: What is your background?
Tim Harrison: My practical side was honed with an undergraduate degree in structural engineering, followed by a strong education in design at Harvard. For more than 10 years I practiced with preeminent Atlanta firm, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, and got wonderful experience on all types of projects (libraries, museums, campus centers), mainly for non-profit institutions whose mission and vision were central to the design and construction process. From there, I developed my enjoyment of both the strong sense of purpose as well as the managing of complexity that is inherent to these types of projects.
Since having my own children (yes, Margaret Strickhouser delivered them both!), I have had my own practice and have also been teaching design and structures at Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture. I have pioneered an unofficial outreach program at the school, in which I connect students with non-profits who need design services but can’t afford them. In one case my class designed a low-income clinic, which is how I first gained the experience and satisfaction of creating patient-centered medical space.
Perhaps my greatest distinction is that my wife and I enjoyed the inaugural labor in Margaret’s first official birthing tub!
Atlanta Birth Center: How did you get involved and what contributions have you made to Atlanta Birth Center?
Tim: In April 2011, I met with Atlanta Birth Center’s leadership team and developed a space program based on their goals. I toured a potential facility and formalized a set of architectural goals for the project, including preliminary plans for occupying almost 30,000 square feet of this facility. The goals came directly from the leaders to create a professional but home-like space – soft, welcoming, warm, with a variety of areas for consulting with patients and the miraculous and natural process of birth. Light quickly became the dominant theme, with a need for daylight and a sense of connection to the cycles of the day, but also the ability to have a dim space, a cozy “cave” for the parts of labor where that feels comforting and important. On a more practical note, I contacted potential contractors and healthcare architects in this phase, to advise on specific questions of cost and code compliance. I solicited pro bono services from Perkins + Will, one of the most prestigious firms in the city, to provide initial code research and rendering services to create a fund-raising package. These services will get underway in the next month. As the business plan has been refined and other facilities have become available, I have continued to advise on questions of space program, design, and construction.
Atlanta Birth Center: What has been your motivation for donating your time to Atlanta Birth Center?
Tim: As with so many I have met through this process, my wife Elizabeth and I owe the profound satisfaction of our birth experiences to Margaret’s steadfast guidance in that first 24 hour labor. For years I thought the best I could do was send every pregnant couple that I knew to see Margaret and her practice. When I heard about the birth center plans through one of these references, I immediately asked if I could help in any way. Though creating beautiful and functional space is of course a motivation for an architect, I’ve learned that these satisfactions grow exponentially when you resonate with the mission and values of the client.
Atlanta Birth Center: What has been your favorite part about your role as a volunteer?
Tim: Working with thoughtful, optimistic, and passionate people for a cause in which I believe.
Atlanta Birth Center: What are some challenges you have faced?
Tim: No challenges, just opportunities! Without that perspective, practicing architecture would feel like one big challenge after another, which can be exhausting (not unlike midwifery!). The possibilities for this project are tremendous, and with that comes tremendous opportunity for discovering new ways to manifest the greatest intentions of humanity through creations in the physical world. It occurs to me that this is something the best midwifery and the best architecture have in common, which perhaps accounts for the special connection I feel with this project.
We are forever grateful to Tim Harrison for his talent, his vision, and his understanding of conscious design. With the ambitious goals of transforming the way we deliver maternity and family health care, we need an architect to be at the foundation. Thank you so much for your dedication and contributions, Tim, and we look forward to continuing to work with you to build Atlanta Birth Center!