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Eleanor Lee

Eleanor Lee isn’t afraid to take on challenges. As the project's chief project officer, she oversees everything from planning, design and construction of the new 10-storey hospital.

 
An architect by trade, Eleanor joined the redevelopment project in late 2009 and was involved in developing the business case and leading the project’s master planning process.

 “What interests me so much about this project is its commitment to the core values of evidence-based design and family-centred care,” she says. “I know as a parent, when I was living through the process for my son’s surgery, it was so important to be there as support for him as well as for my own piece of mind. To me, it’s one of the most wonderful things we’ve been able to incorporate into the facility; families can stay with their children.”

Eleanor also understands this on a personal level as a parent of former patients.
“My daughter was born at BC Women’s Hospital, and both my children have been patients here at BC Children’s,” she says.

“I think about the staff and what goes into caring for patients,” she says. “If they can provide great care in the facilities they have right now, how great could it be if they’re in a new contemporary facility designed with the latest technology and ideas in health care?”

She’s the most proud of incorporating nature into the design of the new building – elements that contribute to the overall healing environment. This includes more windows for natural light, outdoor spaces and gardens and incorporating interior design elements and icons from nature. 

Eleanor’s confidence and drive to take on such a landmark, health-care project comes in part from overcoming past challenges in her career. 

After completing her bachelor’s degree in commerce at McGill University in Montreal, she went on to graduate from UBC’s School of Architecture. 

“I graduated from architecture school and there was a downturn in the construction industry, and there were no jobs,” she says. “It’s hard to believe these days with the abundance of construction cranes around town.”

Eleanor eventually landed a job with a design and construction company and worked primarily on residential projects.

“The wonderful thing about that experience is that because it was a design and construction firm, I learned everything from putting it down on paper right through to managing trades and learning how to build,” she says. “It was an incredibly valuable experience, because in a small firm, you had to do everything out of necessity.”

She eventually went on to work for an architectural firm specializing in commercial, industrial and health-care projects.

As a woman leading the design of major construction projects, Eleanor has encountered situations where she was underestimated because of her gender. It was rare at the time for women to hold leadership roles.

“Design and construction was, and in many ways still is, a man’s world.” Eleanor says. “And being a young woman, and an architect and designer, it was very, very difficult for them to take direction from someone who was opposite to them in many ways.” 

She was often the youngest and the only woman attending construction meetings with 20 plus people, and she admits she had to sometimes work two or three times harder to prove herself and to be recognized as a leader.

“You have to earn their respect before they will work with you,” she says.

Eleanor believes in mentoring other women in the industry and is glad to see that things have changed.  It’s no longer a world where women have to choose either a career or family, she says.

“I am thrilled that there are many more women now in architecture and on construction sites,” she says. “It certainly changes the vibe of how projects are managed.”

The mom of two says juggling family and a demanding career is a way life for her.  

“Sometimes I take my work home with me and project manage my family, too,” she says, laughing. “That’s when I need to turn it off.”

So what new challenge is next on the horizon for Eleanor when the redevelopment project is complete?

“I’m open to anything at this point,” she says. “It’s all about experiences, and this project has changed me tremendously. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have worked on such an important project that will make such a difference to kids and families.”

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