Five Questions With: Phil Tobey

Rhode Island School of Design alumnus and honorary trustee Phil Tobey, an architect with SmithGroupJJR, was honored by the U.S. Army June 7 with an Outstanding Civilian Service Award for his work designing effective health care facilities. 

The award recognizes his work on two veterans treatment facilities: the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md.

The CFI, which opened in 2007, provides state-of-the-art rehabilitation for soldiers recovering from severe injuries, burns and amputations, as well as sophisticated translational research in prosthetics, robotics, virtual reality and biomechanics, according to RISD’s website. 

Since opening its doors in 2010, the NICoE has been recognized worldwide as a center for advances in research, diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury, one of the most common and complicated problems facing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NICoE was specifically designed to foster a multidisciplinary approach to rehabilitation that integrates next-generation clinical and research technologies with deeper family involvement, according to RISD.

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PBN: What is the primary downside of modern hospital architecture?

TOBEY: Rather than a “downside,” I suggest a better term would be the challenges of modern hospital architecture. These include hospital/health system’s uncertainty revolving around the future of health care and changing delivery modes, the political climate, intense competition between health systems and increasing consumer demands, all impacting design decisions; increasing pressure for facilities to do more with less; competition driving speed-to-market construction methodologies; and the increasing cost of hospital construction.

PBN: What do you like to build into your hospital designs?

TOBEY: In our hospital designs, we strive to achieve a balance between high-tech and high-touch. We believe that today’s hospitals must project an image of delivering sophisticated medicine while at the same time providing the positive patient/family experience. Also, our hospitals must be designed to be flexible and adaptable to address the ever-changing nature of health care delivery.

PBN: Please describe your work at the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md. What were your primary goals in drafting those designs?

TOBEY: I personally served as principal-in-charge for both projects. In each facility, our goal was to create noninstitutional, highly thoughtful solutions that signaled to wounded soldiers and families that these facilities were not typical medical buildings, but that they were designed and constructed in every way to honor their sacrifices and service. I knew these goals were achieved the day one of the patients met me in one of our buildings and said that every time he entered this building, he knew that someone cared for him.

PBN: In planning with clinicians and researchers, what was the most surprising thing you learned about the needs of soldiers recovering from serious injuries?

TOBEY: I was surprised at how prevalent post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury were in the military community and how, at that time, there remained so much to be done to address these issues. It was surprising and gratifying to see how involved some of these patients and families wanted to be advising in and guiding us with design ideas to help create the appropriate healing community.

PBN: What are you working on now?

TOBEY: I am currently working on projects at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, criteria development for the Veterans Affairs Cleveland Clinic and community hospitals in Ohio and Georgia. Recently, I have been appointed to a congressionally mandated panel to “assess capital needs at the National Institutes of Health.”

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at