Stephen Parker got his first design job at 15, when he asked an architect at his church if he was hiring. That architect, Greg McFarland of Pike McFarland Hall Architects in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said yes. “I then asked if he paid and he said, ‘We’ll see’ … thankfully, he did.”

Parker worked at the firm until he graduated from Clemson University in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. He next attended University of Maryland College Park for graduate school, where his thesis focused on wounded warrior polytrauma care—an interest that stems, in part, from a tradition of military service in his family. It also cemented his career path.

“I hope that by designing the best healthcare environments possible, I can have a positive impact, however small,” he says.

He joined SmithGroup (Washington, D.C.) in 2014, where he’s since been involved in projects including development of the VA’s latest pharmacy design guide and the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center bed tower in San Diego.

Parker was also selected to participate in SmithGroup’s healthcare design research program, IdeaLab, delving into the impact of artificial intelligence on healthcare settings.

“It can help create a holistic experience through seamless transitions from one care environment to the next,” Parker says.

What was your first healthcare design project?

During a healthcare internship at AECOM as a graduate student, I worked on the Stony Brook University Medical Center’s new Medical and Research Translation (MART) Building and new bed tower on Long Island, N.Y., in conjunction with Pelli Clarke Pelli.

What lesson did you learn on that project that you still carry with you today?

The Facility Guidelines Institute’s Guidelines for Design and Construction document is the planner’s bible.

Three words to describe your design aesthetic:

  1. Harmonious
  2. Purposeful
  3. Sincere

Outside the office, you’ll likely find me….

As a serial networker and leadership junkie, probably at an AIA Strategic Council meeting or running one of our pro bono community design projects. (Shown is an image of me at the DC Building Industry Association Community Improvement Day.)

Three items on your desk:

1 Death Star with an orbiting Millennium Falcon that I designed for a 3-D print competition 

2 a set of magnetic wood blocks gifted by my last AIA committee chair

3 my first architect’s scale (it’s originally from Germany, where my grandfather was stationed when my mother was a child)

Dog or cat?

Dog, preferably something big and loveable.

Coffee or tea?

Sweet tea with mint.

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl.

Fiction or nonfiction?

Sci-fi with a side of alternative history. My favorite alternative history book series is “1632 (Ring of Fire).”

Window or aisle seat? 

Window, just to watch the National Mall while flying in. It never gets old. (Personal sketch shown)



Quote: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Obi Wan Kenobi, “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”

City to visit: Dublin, a city with a balanced ensemble of historic fabric and progressive design.

Movie character: Han Solo. My wife, Carrie, and I have matching shirts that say, “I love you” and “I know” … because we’re nerds.

Weekend activity: Ideally, traveling. Truthfully, napping.

Band/musical artist: Band, probably Phoenix. Music in general, electro swing.

Color: Sage.

Guilty pleasure: Fresh focaccia. It reminds me of my studies in Genoa, Italy.  

Hobby: DIY. Carrie and I just finished crafting a set of benches, side tables, and a coffee table (with hidden roll of trace underneath) from recycled butcher block. We’re fashioning a desk out of a salvaged I-beam next.

App/website: Noun Project, a website that aggregates and catalogs symbols that are created and uploaded by graphic designers around the world.

Sport: Is watching “The Grand Tour” considered a sport?

Team: Clemson, of course.