BSA’s Zahra Zamani on the Importance of Research

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May 17, 2024

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For nearly 50 years, BSA has sought to create inspired solutions that improve lives. We specialize in the markets of healing, learning, and discovery, meaningfully impacting the communities of our projects. Changing lives happens through solving real problems that healthcare and higher education facilities face, and we seek to partner with clients whose vision aligns with that quest.

Zahra Zamani, Ph.D, EDAC, LSSYB, is the Director of Research for BSA. Her primary focus is investigating the impact of physical environments and planning decisions on various aspects of the human experience. In our conversation, Zahra shared how BSA leverages evidence-based design across Healing, Learning, and Discovery, what she’s working on, and her favorite part of working at BSA.

What was your background before joining BSA in 2021?

Before joining BSA, I worked as a postdoctoral researcher in academia. My research projects covered diverse topics such as tourism, childcare development, and healthcare design. However, I transitioned to the industry because I found applied research more fulfilling than theoretical research. Consequently, in 2017, I began working at EwingCole as a design researcher.

How do you define evidence-based design?

Evidence-based design (EBD) is an approach to designing environments—such as buildings, landscapes, or interiors—based on credible research evidence and data. It integrates findings from various fields, including architecture, psychology, sociology, and medicine, to inform design decisions. Evidence-based design aims to create spaces that promote health, well-being, productivity, and safety by considering the impact of design elements on human behavior, performance, and experience. This approach emphasizes the importance of empirical research, observational studies, and user feedback in guiding design choices, ultimately aiming to optimize the functionality and effectiveness of built environments.

How does BSA leverage evidence-based design in our Healing, Learning, and Discovery projects?

BSA leverages evidence-based design (EBD) principles across our projects in Healing, Learning, and Discovery to create environments that prioritize the well-being and effectiveness of the users. In Healing spaces, such as hospitals and healthcare facilities, we integrate research findings on patient outcomes, staff efficiency, and therapeutic environments to design spaces that promote healing, reduce stress, and enhance patient comfort. This may involve considerations such as access to natural light, views of nature, noise reduction, and flexible layouts to accommodate evolving medical practices.

In Learning environments such as schools and educational institutions, we apply EBD principles to support optimal learning outcomes and student well-being. This includes designing classrooms, libraries, and common areas, facilitating collaboration, concentration, and engagement. We incorporate research on educational pedagogy, environmental psychology, and ergonomic design to create environments conducive to effective teaching and learning.

Similarly, in Discovery spaces such as research laboratories and innovation hubs, we utilize EBD to foster creativity, productivity, and collaboration among researchers and innovators. We design environments that encourage experimentation, knowledge sharing, and breakthrough discoveries by integrating evidence from workplace psychology, ergonomics, and organizational behavior.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, my focus is on developing two discrete event simulation models for a hospital system in Texas. These models aim to predict future processes to enhance patient flow and overall experience. I’m exploring various scenarios, which include determining the optimal number of kiosks needed, assessing the adequacy of exam rooms, and optimizing patient flow processes. Using FlexSim Software, I evaluate how design and operational modifications impact different outcomes, such as patient wait times, length of stay, and resource utilization. This approach helps identify potential bottlenecks, optimize workflows, and ultimately improve the efficiency of these healthcare facilities for future patients.

What is your favorite aspect of working at BSA?

My favorite aspect of working at BSA is the collaborative environment that fosters a sense of empowerment and a shared vision to improve lives. At BSA, I’m surrounded by talented individuals who are passionate about their work and dedicated to making a positive impact. There’s a genuine spirit of collaboration where ideas are freely exchanged, and everyone’s input is valued regardless of their role or background. This collaborative approach empowers each team member to contribute their unique perspective and expertise, allowing us to tackle complex challenges more effectively and innovate together.

Favorite thing you’ve read recently?

Recently, we had a presentation focusing on strategies to alleviate staff burnout and stress within the A/E/C and healthcare industries. I delved into several articles proposing interventions to address staff stress and burnout during this process. This topic is critical as a US survey revealed that 41%, 23%, and 19% of physicians cope with burnout by isolating themselves, drinking alcohol, and binge eating, respectively (Kane, 2019). An insightful literature review by Kerlin et al. (2020) explored the epidemiology of burnout syndrome among ICU clinicians and its effects on clinicians, patients, and healthcare services. This article highlighted the importance of adequate sleep, exercise, and engaging in mindfulness and meditation practices to enhance resilience and mitigate staff burnout. Simple strategies such as providing spaces and resources for mindfulness activities like meditation or yoga can equip healthcare professionals to respond with detachment to stressful situations, thereby reducing stress reactions. For instance, recent research conducted a randomized controlled trial involving 80 healthcare professionals assigned to either a mindfulness-based yoga intervention or a control group. The study found that participants completing the yoga intervention experienced statistically significant improvements in health and well-being, particularly in measures of stress, perceived stress, burnout, vitality, sleep quality, serenity, and mindfulness (Hilcove et al., 2020).

What new skill have you recently learned unrelated to work that you’ve enjoyed?

Recently, I’ve been enjoying taking yoga and Pilates classes, which have been a fantastic way to unwind and stay active outside of work. Learning the various poses and techniques has improved my flexibility and strength and helped me cultivate mindfulness and relaxation. It’s been refreshing to explore these practices and discover how they contribute to my overall well-being, providing a nice balance to the demands of everyday life. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to meet new people and connect with a community focused on health and wellness.


Kane: Kane L. Medscape national physician burnout, depression & suicide report
Kerlin, M. P., McPeake, J., & Mikkelsen, M. E. (2020). Burnout and joy in the profession of critical care medicine. Annual Update in Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine 2020, 633-642. https://www. Accessed 5 Sept 2019.
Hilcove, K., Marceau, C., Thekdi, P., Larkey, L., Brewer, M. A., & Jones, K. (2021). Holistic nursing in practice: mindfulness-based yoga as an intervention to manage stress and burnout. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 39(1), 29-42.