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Architecture lecturer, student take expertise to Kenya

Monday, August 12, 2013

LAWRENCE — Frank Zilm, the Department of Architecture’s Chester Dean Lecturer, and Vincent Cunigan, Homewood, Ill., recently put their health care design expertise to work in Bomet, Kenya.

In June Zilm and Cunigan journeyed to Tenwek Hospital, a missionary medical facility in Bomet. It has provided critical medical care for the Kipsigis, Luo, Masai and other tribes since the 1950s. In addition, the hospital runs a nursing education program and resident training for physicians from Kenya, the U.S. and other areas. 

While there they spent a week providing architectural design services to the hospital. They worked with doctors, nurses, administrative staff and representatives from Engineering Ministries International.

EMI is a nonprofit group of architects, engineers and designers. It helps people in developing countries become more self-sufficient by helping them construct many types of architecture and infrastructure projects.  

Zilm and Cunigan led the development of design concepts for a new emergency department for Tenwek. The new design would nearly triple the hospital’s emergency capacity from eight beds to 22. They also extensively reworked existing plans for new inpatient and women’s health units.

Zilm says that a high number of casualties could come from any number of circumstances, such as an industrial accident, a bus crash or even tribal warfare. These kinds of incidents would quickly overwhelm the current emergency department. That makes the expertise he and Cunigan provided crucial to the welfare of those living in the region.

“The hospital does do truly lifesaving work,” said Zilm. “But, we have to recognize that we are designing to a different standard than we do in the United States.“

Zilm has taught in the Department of Architecture’s Health and Wellness program for many years, and he was Healthcare Design Magazine’s educator of the year for 2013. Recently he was the only American invited to teach at a five-day emergency department institute in Florence, Italy.

This is the second trip to Tenwek for the internationally recognized authority in emergency department design.

It was the first trip outside the U.S. for Cunigan, a graduate student in the architecture department’s Health and Wellness program. The sojourn enabled him to meet the study-abroad requirement that applies to all KU master’s of architecture candidates.

 “I wanted to go to Kenya for a cause so I could apply what I learned at KU in an international setting,” Cunigan said, “not just as a tourist. Experiencing the culture was amazing for me.

“It was also the first time I had a chance to work with real clients in a professional setting. In my classwork we have studied the American health care facilities. I was not expecting what we found here. It exposed me to something very different. It was a great way for me to learn,” he said.

Zilm said this was the first time the school had authorized a student to earn foreign studies credit by working on a volunteer basis overseas.

“I felt it was extremely successful, and I hope that we can establish similar initiatives that combine education with meaningful service,” Zilm said.

The projects that Zilm and Cunigan designed are now in the process of being funded.