Design For a Better Future: Meet Tim Zeitler

Tim Zeitler, currently studying for his MA in architecture at Harvard, came to Lima last summer to help MEDLIFE out with our growing community development program, which aims to treat the root causes of disease by improving infrastructure. Here in Peru, he’s put that academic training to good use, surveying future project sites with MEDLIFE and making plans for a variety of important public spaces. Last summer, he created the architectural layout for the now under-construction Wawa Wasi daycare project. Now he’s back, working on some exciting new projects, including a ramp for Dixon. Find out more about Tim and his work:


What was your first experience here like? Was there anything in particular that surprised you?

My first experience with MEDLIFE was during a week of mobile clinics. I had more interest in the ongoing development project that week which was the construction of a concrete staircase in one of the communities. To make the staircase possible in a place beyond where any vehicle could travel, it was necessary to lift the sand, water, and cement uphill, one bucketful at a time. This was tremendously hard work, and yet it was accomplished so joyfully by the community members.

One thing that surprised me was the extent to which the communities were self-organized. For their days of community service, they made sure that every family had a representative there to share in the work that would ultimately benefit the community as a whole.

Why are you back?

I am back here in Lima because there is much more yet to do. As a designer, I see so many opportunities to work with the communities that MEDLIFE serves. The projects I am involved in are wide-ranging in scale and complexity, and each one teaches me so much about architecture and construction. The practical construction experience is something that will always draw me into projects like this. It has complemented my education at Harvard in a way that is essential for my development as an architect.

What projects are you working on this summer here? How are they progressing so far?

My colleague Parisa and I are working on the design of an extensive ramp and community space in Nueva Esperanza, a community in Villa Maria del Triunfo. The project is unique in that it involves the opportunity to create a shared community asset in an unbuilt portion of the existing densely packed residential community. There exists a great opportunity for the community to rally around the new circulation path and green space. We have an upcoming meeting to present our design and discuss it with the community next week. We will get to see how it is received and what the community has to say about how we’ve worked within the constraints of the site.

How is being an architect here different from in the US? What are the challenges in working here from your perspective as an architect?

Being an architect here seems to be very similar to the US. Parisa and I have been meeting with and networking with as many local architects here as we can. Their firms seem to function similarly to firms in the US. The constraints that architects operate under are somewhat universal. In the US and in Peru, we are seek to incrementally improve the safety, functionality, and beauty of the built environment through the implementation of building codes, local construction best practices, and by working with project stakeholders to design and program meaningful projects.

For me, the challenges of working in Peru have revolved around climate and materials. I tend to approach an architectural project by first designing for climate and by immersing myself in the material possibilities of a project throughout the schematic design phase. The climate of Lima is so different from New England, and so the constraints of designing for climate are completely different. For an architect, these new constraints can be disorienting, but at the same time the loss of certain constraints that dominate architectural practice in the US can be quite liberating.

What has been your favorite part of traveling to Peru?

Peru is a very beautiful country in many different ways. My wife and I took a short vacation out to Cuzco and Arequipa last summer. We got to see the majestic Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu. Part of Peru’s richness manifests itself through its historical and cultural layering. I particularly love to bear witness to this layering when it plays out in the realm of architecture.


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.