Jenny Cestnik is a self-described early bird optimist inspired by buildings that heal. She’s driven to create spaces where people feel happy and well.
By day, Jenny is a medical planner, designer and architect based in our Portland office, focused on healthcare work for some of the region’s leading medical institutions. Her favorite projects are messy ones with complex, challenging constraints and teams that share a meal or two together along the way. Away from her desk, you’ll find Jenny exploring national parks, tiki bars and dusty roadside attractions.
We got to know the Northwest creative a little better in our latest Q&A.
When did you know you wanted to be an architect?
Like many of us, I knew at an early age. My parents lovingly encouraged my creativity and curiosity for as long as I can remember. I think my fate was officially sealed when I lugged a 3-foot-tall diorama of a restaurant for dinosaurs into my third-grade classroom. From high school drafting class to undergraduate and master’s studies, I became enamored with the history and future of architecture and remain passionate about lifelong learning. There is always something new to discover and the possibilities for our work are endless. I’m still waiting for the opportunity to revisit Chompers Café professionally.
Why did you become so interested in health and wellness?
I believe that there is something wholeheartedly rewarding in projects that benefit the welfare of others. It’s a way to give back, even just a little, to those who care for our communities and loved ones. In high school I volunteered at our local medical center, which turned into a part time job in college as a rehabilitation medicine clinic office manager. My first architectural internship project was an emergency department and I knew I found my perfect career. I have always loved working with different clinicians and support staff and being in the middle of the controlled chaos of a healthcare facility. Multiple doctors have tried swaying me to their side. Unfortunately, I also discovered at an early age that many depictions of bodily harm or medical procedures cause me to faint. It hasn’t been a problem in my work yet, but I have some great embarrassing stories for happy hours.
How can design decisions impact the health, safety and wellbeing of patients and staff in healthcare facilities?
Design decisions influence everyone who interacts with a healthcare facility. If 2020 has taught the industry anything, it’s that the need for quick reaction and flexibility is paramount to everyone’s wellbeing. When we design spaces that can be adaptable, such as rooms that can change from to low acuity to critical care or circulation to accommodate one-way travel, facilities don’t need to waste precious time developing costly and resource-heavy workarounds. They are prepared to provide the right care at the right time.
Community health and safety will be at the forefront of conversations going forward. The importance of building codes, life safety and infection control will of course remain, but what about bigger social determinants? How will we design spaces to help foster equity so everyone feels safe and welcome in pursuing care? As we come out of this pandemic, our lives and feelings about health have drastically changed. Our spaces must change too. It might be designing for conversation instead of examination to empower providers to ask, “What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?” It might be the ability to wait (if you have to wait at all) for your appointment outside or near an open window so you know the air is fresh.
You’re actively involved with the AIA Architecture for Health Committee. What does that entail and how can other healthcare designers get involved?
The Architecture for Health Committee is a Pacific Northwest cohort of people interested in the healthcare industry and improving the quality of its planning, operation, design and construction. Comprised of architects, designers, builders and facility owners, our diverse membership meets regularly to exchange ideas and learn from each other and from leaders in health research, evidence-based design and facility operation. We are celebrating our 40th year this year!
As a board member and current Co-Chair, I help organize a series of conferences on challenges, processes and creative solutions being developed to meet the rapidly changing needs of environments for health. In 2021 we’re focusing on resiliency. We’ve gone virtual for the time being which has allowed us the benefit of extending invites to speakers and attendees across the country. We would love to have you join us, too!
What are your hobbies outside the office?
My partner Nate and I love road trips in our crazy adventure van whenever possible. Our favorite place is Grand Teton National Park. We can’t wait to get out exploring again. I have my HAM radio license and get a kick out of listening to chatter on our trips. No matter where we travel, our two must-visit stops are national parks and tiki bars. We’ve been to some awesome ones and some doozies.
I also have a side project called The National Palettes, which started as a travel sketchbook and has spiraled into a nerdy deep dive of the National Park System. I’m studying color through an analysis of the unique geology, past and present inhabitants, and infrastructure of each park. To paraphrase the first director of the NPS, Steven Mather, each park is highly individual but the whole is a revelation. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My first professional mentor, also known as my dad, once told me, “If I teach you anything, it’s that you are the one in control of your life.” He’s embodied this through his actions for as long as I can remember, and I carry his words with me literally (on my phone) and in my heart through all that I do. While it’s not always easy, I’ve learned to speak up for what’s important to me, follow my dreams and interests with full intention, and aim high in hope and hard work to ensure my success. His words are in part why I came to ZGF. I know it’s a privilege to do what I do, and I’m so grateful to be part of a team that fosters the creativity and curiosity it takes to truly serve our communities.