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A Conversation with Tama Duffy Day

Construction Academy:
Industry Leader Insights

Tama Duffy Day
Principal, Global Senior Living Practice Leader

Tama Duffy Day is a Principal and Global Senior Living Practice Leader at Gensler, a global architecture, design and planning firm with 48 locations and more than 6,000 professionals networked across Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas. A leader in the healthcare industry for decades, Tama challenges conventional design and develops solutions to reimagine longevity in an age-inclusive world.

How did you become involved in the construction and design industry?

Both of my parents unconsciously influenced my career choice. One was constantly building, and the other always engaged in various aspects of art, so “making” came naturally to me. Where I was raised in North Dakota at the Canadian border, necessity was often the mother of invention and creativity was rewarded. Because of the rural nature of my upbringing, I found great joy in spending significant time outdoors, building forts or snow igloos, climbing trees and planting vegetable gardens. I was always inspired by the seasons, the migration of birds, the starlit night sky and the spectacular northern lights. I’m truly drawn to nature and love to saunter in national parks and local urban gardens to nurture my spirit, which has been much needed during the pandemic. On this intuitive, personal level, I have known about the positive influence that being outdoors has on well-being long before coming across all of the recent data that confirms it.

As I was graduating, I discovered the grassroots movement focused on improving the patient experience in healthcare, and this has become my calling, my purpose. I find great satisfaction in designing spaces that positively impact human health; be it senior living, adult day care, clinics, hospitals or community health centers. Much of my research focuses on ways the built environment and nature can work hand in hand to improve the human condition.

What is something that your company is doing that you consider innovative?

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. Its impact on global wellness and the economy has forced organizations in every industry — including our own — to flex and evolve, both in real-time and in the long-term. In this collection of ideas, tips, thoughts and strategies, we explore how design can play a role in making the world a healthier place and have a website devoted to these learnings.

What poses a challenge, risk or opportunity for your clients and what is your company doing to address it?

We feel strongly that design plays an important role in keeping older adults safe, connected and engaged in their community. We developed five strategies for reimagining longevity in an age-inclusive world:

1. Reconnect with nature.

2. Redefine public and private spaces.

3. Embrace technology.

4. Encourage a diversity of spaces to promote wellness. 

5. Eliminate ageism.

We are using these five strategies as a lens for our design in all places we live, work, heal and play. You can read more on this topic in a recent blog post on longevity that I co-authored with my colleagues Lester Yuen and Cristi Moore.

What is something you view as an emerging trend in the industry, and what are your perspectives on it?

In the 1930s, 40 percent of patient encounters occurred in the home. Today, house calls are making a comeback, driven largely by society’s need to care for the increasing population of patients who are aging and homebound. The narrative around where healthcare meets patients is changing, and people are coming to understand that the healthcare experience should be based on the individual relationships between patients and providers, because that experience is so incredibly personal. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine predicts that these experiences will increasingly be delivered in the home. This healthcare delivery model is exceptionally humane, and it has the possibility of enabling our older adults to age more comfortably in their homes.

So, that is one trend. A second, related trend is more concerning, and it deals with the idea of trust. In Spring of 2020, Gensler undertook a major 50-city pulse survey “to understand how the global pandemic is influencing attitudes, decision-making, experiences, and expectations for healthcare.” That survey showed some sobering news: 35 percent of respondents reported having reduced confidence in the overall health system. These respondents have less trust that the health system “will keep them safe from infection or other harm.” We do not know how long the pandemic’s aftershocks will linger. But we know that designing safe, comfortable and effective spaces will play a key role in rebuilding public trust in the healthcare sector. That is how I hope to see this situation play out.

Any final thoughts on what to keep an eye on in the near future in the construction and design industry?

Early in the pandemic, it became apparent that virtual care could rise to more than 1 billion visits by the year’s end, catapulting us into what would be the largest change of workflow and expectations around patient-doctor interactions in the modern medicine era. If telemedicine becomes a titanic industry changer, it will do so in large part by enabling genuine human connections — between practitioners and patients separated by vast distances, as well as among practitioners separated by just a few feet. Such fostering of human connections presents a significant design opportunity. Large-scale telemedicine spaces that get it right will enable healthy, happy and meaningful experiences for practitioners, all of which could result in more effective delivery of care. Gensler is excited to be on the forefront of designing these interactions.

Personal thoughts: Planet health and human health are interconnected. Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, had a sense of this all the way back in the 19th century when she first prescribed sunshine and fresh air as treatments for the sick. The profound link between nature, the design of places, and our physical and mental well-being never ceases to amaze me. Humans are hardwired by evolution for a health-nature connection. Knowing what we know now about things like breathing buildings, microgrid utilities, biophilic design and even forest bathing, we have an incredible opportunity to seize that connection and build healthier societies.

Learn more about Gensler:

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