2011-07-14 / News

Local architect becomes first-of-its-kind specialist in state

By Ken Shane

Jamestown architect Shahin Barzin was recently designated as an Aging-in-Place specialist, a certifi cation awarded by the National Association of Homebuilders.

Barzin is the only architect in Rhode Island to hold the certification. “I’m the only one and I don’t know why,” he said. “Rhode Island has the second oldest population in the country. There is a huge need for this kind of service in the state.”

Barzin, who got his architectural degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, moved to Jamestown from New York City 14 years ago and has been a practicing architect for 30 years.

The Aging-in-Place certification is recognized by groups like the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Council on Aging.

“My wife Victoria inspired me to look into it. She is in the process of getting a certification from the Rhode Island Geriatric Education Center,” Barzin said. “She is also a designer, but she is very much attracted to working with the elderly. It inspired me to look into how I could get involved in that world as an architect.”

Barzin has also worked with a group called Northeast Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity, an organization of medical volunteers. “We go every year to Central America,” he said. “As an architect I don’t have any medical background, but what I ended up doing on these trips was working on wheelchairs. I learned how to adapt and modify them for a rugged environment.”

Two friends of Barzin, who are also architects, joined him at Northeast VOSH and they formed a group called Health Architecture. The group goes to different villages to assess the homes and cooking facilities. “We try to make recommendations to make them more effective,” he said. “This made me think about the needs of handicapped people in their home environment.”

Barzin described the role of an Aging-in-Place specialist. “It enables me to go into a home of somebody who is handicapped or elderly and make some adjustments,” he said. “I can talk to the health provider or the people themselves and assess the house and see what their needs may be, and how we can modify the house or add to it to make it more practical and functional for them.”

The architect sees several segments of the population that could benefit from his architectural services. “One is the group of people who are aging,” Barzin said. “These could be people in their 60s or 70s. They don’t necessarily have any illness or handicap, they’re just looking ahead as they’re aging to how they could build a new house, or modify their house, so that as they age in that home, things will be working for them.”

Barzin continued, “Another category would be people who go through trauma, something that changes their lifestyle overnight. It requires their whole environment to be redefined and adjusted.”

People with progressive diseases are close to Barzin’s heart. His father had Parkinson’s disease and Barzin said that he watched him deteriorate physically over a fiveyear period. “I saw how difficult it was for my mother to take care of him,” he said. “They had many issues that they had to deal with because of the physical condition of the apartment they were living in. I can work to assess a patient’s environment and see how we can make it better for them. I think they can have a better life.”

Even as he begins working with his new certification, Barzin has continued with other work in Jamestown. One current project involves the renovations at the Slice of Heaven restaurant. He said that Steven Liebhauser, the owner of Slice, wanted to get away from the “deli look” that the restaurant has. “He wanted an environment that would be more suited to serving nice courses of dinner. We tried to enhance the place with the use of bright materials and color and keep it as simple as possible.”

Barzin was also the project designer and architect for the Environmental Packaging International building on Narragansett Avenue that was completed last year. He worked with project manager Mary Meagher to create an environmentally sound building.

“That is a green building. Almost self-sufficient with geothermal heating and solar panels,” Barzin said. “We followed the protocols as if it was going to be green certified.” Barzin said that the approach he is taking is to create an environment that does not have a clinical look.

“You can do it intelligently and still have a homey environment, and you feel good being in the space,” he said.

Barzin added that space has a psychology of itself and it affects the person who lives in it. He said that whether a person wakes up in a dark room or a sunny room can affect their mood. He said that there are subtle ways that a space can affect a person and he finds it exciting that he can provide these types of environment for people.

Barzin summed up his professional philosophy: “The practical aspects, combined with the psychology of the space should make it a more comfortable living environment, which ultimately uplifts the spirit of the occupant,” he said. “If a person goes through trauma, we should make the home environment as uplifting as possible, whether it’s through the way the light comes into the house or the way the colors are chosen.”

Return to top