Jason Chan ’99 had to travel roughly 10,000 miles to satisfy a childhood curiosity. “I grew up in Singapore and the rate of urbanization is incredible there,” explains Chan. Interested in engineering and design, “architecture felt like a natural step.”
Chan, who specializes in medical and research facility architecture, first pursued his passion in Pullman. “I definitely had to look at architectural history and design studies with critiques. (Being a Cougar) helped me develop design skills,” Chan says.
Now a principal and regional leader for the research sector at Perkins+Will in Houston, Texas, his design prowess is on full display in concrete ways.
The Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the country, is home to the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. Chan was part of the Perkins+Will team tasked with that project—one of the first research institutes in the nation dedicated solely to battling childhood neurological diseases. The 13-story building has since received several design awards and a LEED Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Going from the infant stages of a project to completion plays out over a handful of years. “The beginning of a project is a chance to be really creative,” Chan says. “You sit with the stakeholders and you have design charrettes, work sessions, and meetings. You consolidate every need and wish. But we also have to balance that with a budget and a schedule.”
Chan has also been part of a $110 million renovation and expansion at the Louisiana State University College of Engineering, and the Neuroscience Engineering Collaboration Building at Wright State University.
However, construction’s end is actually a continuation of Chan’s work. Post-occupancy discussions give him unofficial feedback from the people using a facility. As the tools and technology available to researchers change, Chan and his peers have to think about long-term viability. “In terms of research space, there could be a new discovery the next day,” Chan says. “Spaces have to be adaptable and flexible so the client is not locked down.”
Because of mobile tools and changing work sites, there is an advantage in maintaining a versatile building. The previous focus on four walls and big boardrooms has changed as video conferences have become more common. “Technology also affects the way a building is designed and operates,” Chan says. “Research buildings often operate 24/7 instead of 9 to 5. We need to have an energy efficient system that does not compromise the safety of the scientists.”
In Chan’s estimation, medical research facilities make up the most challenging section of the architecture field. Balancing the flow of people and research subjects with the research process, while maintaining a safe environment, is key.
“When a project is done, it is something visible that benefits society,” Chan says. “It has to create better places for people, improve the quality of life, and enhance the environment.”
Chan and his wife, Grace, reside in Houston with their two boys.
Afterword: Many employees at Perkins+Will in downtown Houston were affected by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in late August. Jason Chan reported in September that those affected by flooding or evacuation are all safe.