Tonia Burnette is an architect who’s dedicated her career to healthcare design. We had the pleasure of working together on Baltimore projects when she was in a local firm. As my life evolved toward Haiti, writing, and cycling, she moved in the opposite direction. Tonia became a health practice leader at Cannon Design, a large architectural practice with sixteen regional offices. We met for lunch at Platt Street Ale House, across from Baltimore’s Convention Center, near the Inner Harbor. Despite the heat we ate an outside table.
“Baltimore has become a young person’s town. There’s a free circulator bus. There’s no need to own a car.” The resurgence of downtown Baltimore has helped Tonia grow Cannon’s Baltimore office from eighteen to thirty in the past five years. “There was a time when everyone wanted to be in D.C. Now, They are happy to come to Baltimore.
“My thing is designing for health, from cities to chairs. It’s all important.” Recently, Tonia became one of thirty professionals from a range of disciplines selected by Harvard’s School of Public Health (in conjunction with US Green Building Council) to interface research and practice. Each fellow ‘reads’ existing research and proposes new areas of environmental research that might lead to improved health. “How do we get clients to make the number one issue for every new development the health of those who use the facility? They’ll need a profit incentive.”
Tonia’s focus is fresh air. In many urban environments, well-filtered interior air can be statistically cleaner than the outside atmosphere, but Tonia believes other factors make fresh air important. “There are advantages to having access to the outdoor environment. Our offices are on the 20th floor and we have an outdoor deck. I love to go out there, breath deep, and then get back to work. I’m doing this without evidence, just common sense. I believe even five minutes, three times a day can make a difference.” I understood why Tonia suggested an outdoor table. Now, her challenge is to frame a research project that will test her thesis.
How will we live tomorrow?
“Hopefully, healthier in mind, body, and spirit. The US is out of control. You’re never off, never on vacation. I don’t know how we’re going to stop, but we have to.
“I love the Millennials’ dedication to work/life balance. I enjoy my work, but have let it become my life. I don’t know how to stop. They do. Instead of asking, ‘Why aren’t the Millennials like us?’ I ask, ‘Why aren’t we more like the Millennials?’
“Our measure of success is to ‘do’. Millennials want to ‘be.’”
Then Tonia’s thoughts took a completely different tack:
“The opposite of love is not hate. It’s void. Void creates fear.”