Honoring a Commitment to Improving Healthcare Spaces

Penny Pan.jpg

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For the first several years of her architectural career, Yin “Penny” Pan, AIA, aspired to work on many different project types—schools, office buildings, residential developments.

That perspective changed in 2011 when she visited her 95-year-old grandfather at a Shanghai hospital after he broke a hip.

“The doctor gave our family two choices: for him to stay in bed and see if his bone would heal by itself or to undergo surgery, but that wasn’t recommended because of his age,” says Pan.

When she arrived at the hospital, Pan witnessed a less-than-ideal healing environment. Six patients were crowded into the same room, with a communal restroom located in the hallway. “It was a double-loaded corridor packed with families and very loud,” she says. “And the nurses were overloaded because there were so many patients.”

In short, it wasn’t conducive to her grandfather’s recovery.

“I saw him go from a very healthy person to deteriorating quickly,” Pan recalls. “In a few short months, his mind also started to cloud and he would get confused easily.”

Eventually, her grandfather passed away and Pan had a light-bulb moment. “It just dawned on me that I wanted to do something to improve healthcare facilities,” she says. “If a mid-sized hospital in Shanghai was in that condition, I couldn’t imagine what inner-city or small-town hospitals might be like.”

Enhancing Healthcare

Though she lived in St. Louis—more than 7,000 miles from Shanghai—Pan committed to focusing the balance of her architectural career on improving the quality of healthcare spaces.

At the time, she was working at an architecture firm that didn’t specialize in healthcare projects. So she accepted a position at BSA LifeStructures, an architecture and engineering firm with significant healthcare expertise.

“It’s been just over four years, and I’ve learned so much about healthcare design,” Pan says. “The more I learn, the more I feel there’s a whole lot more to learn.”

Her current projects include a new outpatient surgery center at Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, Ill., and renovations of hospital pharmacy facilities at both Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center and Siteman Cancer Center in south St. Louis county. She also works on an ongoing operating room renovation project at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill.

“I like problem-solving,” says Pan. “I like meeting with users to hear what they need and want, then working to accommodate all of their requirements.”

Sustainability is one of Pan’s passions. She’s a LEED accredited professional (from the U.S. Green Building Council) and a WELL accredited professional (from the International WELL Building Institute). She’s also active in the St. Louis chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council and American Institute of Architects and is a committee member of the AIA Women in Architecture Forum.

Pan believes architects play an important role in helping to improve the operations of healthcare organizations. “I use hospitals and other healthcare facilities as a patient too, so I see lots of opportunities for improving operations,” she says.

An addition to the SIU Center for Family Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, opened in September 2016.  Photo courtesy of BSA LifeStructures.

An addition to the SIU Center for Family Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois, opened in September 2016. Photo courtesy of BSA LifeStructures.

The renovated Habif Health & Wellness Center at Washington University in St. Louis opened in December 2017.  Photo courtesy of BSA LifeStructures.

The renovated Habif Health & Wellness Center at Washington University in St. Louis opened in December 2017. Photo courtesy of BSA LifeStructures.

Journey to Citizenship

Born in Shanghai, Pan grew up in the fast-growing cities of Shenzhen and Guiyang.

Her father was a practicing architect, but she rarely discussed his career with him.

“By the time I was getting ready for college, my dad actually tried to discourage me from going into architecture because it was a difficult career, she says. “But I did it anyway.”

After completing her undergraduate degree in architecture at Shenzhen University, a visiting professor from Washington University in St. Louis encouraged her to consider continuing her education there. She applied and was accepted to the master of architecture program at WashU.

“I came to the U.S. thinking that I’d be going back to China after grad school because it’s a very fast-growing market there,” Pan says.

Instead, she met Wei-Min Hung, a WashU classmate from Taiwan who ended up becoming her husband. He’s currently an architect specializing in higher-education projects at KWK Architects.

“We’ve been living in St. Louis for 17 years, so it’s the city I’ve lived in for the longest time,” she says. “This is our home now.”

To formalize their commitment to their adopted homeland, she and her husband were both sworn in as U.S. citizens on December 1, 2017.

“Being a permanent resident was not enough for us. We wanted to be more involved in the community where we now live,” she says.

Unfortunately, their status as U.S. citizens has complicated the process of visiting their families in China and Taiwan.

“I will have to apply for a visa to go back home to China to see my parents, but we feel like it was the right step to take forward,” says Pan.

She and her husband are currently planning their future home in the St. Louis suburb of Olivette. Together with their 9-year-old daughter, they hope to move in by the end of 2019.

Not surprisingly, both architects have strong opinions about the home’s design. “We mostly have the same tastes,” Pan says, “but still find ourselves very different when it comes to the little details.”

Yin Pan and her husband, Wei-Min Hung, became U.S. citizens in December 2017.

Yin Pan and her husband, Wei-Min Hung, became U.S. citizens in December 2017.